Outdoor Photography | The Ansel Adams Process

Photography techniques from Ansel Adams

Nature Photography

Learn how to take better pictures the Ansel Adams way. These photography techniques and practices used by Adams will help you become a better outdoor photographer. Ansel Adams’ work continues to inspire generations of outdoor photographers. That inspiration is equally important for professionals and amatuer photographers alike. Photographs compliment your adventures by inspiring others and forever saving that moment in time. With that in mind we thought we would share the Ansel Adam’s photography process.

The best photography tip is to think about photo composition

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand”

(All quotes Ansel Adams)

Knowing where to stand is not something that comes natural for most of us.   Think of your favorite pictures you’ve taken over the years.  How many of them were taken along the side of the road?  Sure, a couple here and there, but we’d be willing to bet that many of them are when you were in the backcountry on the trail.  When you are hiking you take your time, look at your surroundings for unique perspectives. The picture that comes to mind for us is the tunnel view in Yosemite, a beautiful image no doubt, yet millions of tourists each year turn off the road and take that picture. We are not suggesting you don’t take the tunnel view shot… it is a classic, however what about walking the valley floor or climbing a steep trail in search of different places to stand.  Adams would spend hours hiking from dusk till dawn lugging heavy gear up mountainsides in search of finding the right place to stand.


Nature photography should capture feeling

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

Capture feeling.  For us, this is what Adams did best.  Close your eyes… imagine the feeling you got the first time you saw Yosemite Valley or stood on the shore of Wonder Lake looking up at Denali.  Capturing that feeling of you being a minute part of nature is capturing the enormity of scale.  Stop and think about your feelings before you take a photo.  How can you convey that feeling to yourself when you look at your image and to others?  “Ask yourself, Why am I seeing and feeling this? How am I growing? What am I learning?"  "Remember: Every coincidence is potentially meaningful. How high your awareness level is determines how much meaning you get from your world.”  Capturing feeling is aided by pre-visualization, which is the concept of seeing the final photograph before the image has even been captured.  To put into perspective how important visualization was to him, it is the title of the first chapter of his first book on photography.  When taking pictures look deeper than the surface “a photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.”  And that is when you capture a moment of feeling.

Experiment with photography techniques

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Perhaps not rules, but of course there are guidelines for taking excellent pictures.  For the most part these are general good ideas, however like most rules you can bend, manipulate even break them.  There are no hard and fast guidelines that say your image will be terrible unless you follow said rule.  Disrupt your comfort zone by thinking against the grain.  If you feel frustration boiling within, remember “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.”  But, in the shadow of disappointment lies the light of satisfaction and a captured moment that will elicit the same feeling of awe for years to come.


Understand your photography equipment

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Know your equipment!  While this likely goes without saying, understanding your equipment is often the difference between capturing a fleeting moment and watching it fade away as you fiddle with your camera.

It’s okay to edit your pictures

“Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.”

Don’t be scared to edit.  While the purest will disagree and say you should not change the landscape.  We’ll allow Ansel to make the argument that “dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”  We are not saying apply 12 different Instagram filters, but minor Photoshop touch ups are not going to hurt anything.  Whereas Adams was famous for spending hours upon hours in the darkroom obsessing over a single print, with digital editing we have the distinct advantage of being able to quickly manipulate and save multiple versions of a photo.  The lesson to be learned - processing can be just as important as the technique.