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Nature Photography Is Art... Because Ansel Adams Says So!

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

Nature photography as fine art, as Ansel Adams would have it, is a concept deeply rooted in Adams' approach and philosophy towards photography. Ansel Adams was more than a renowned American photographer and environmentalist who is best known for his stunning black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, particularly the national parks like Yosemite to me. To me he was a singular inspiration for me to focus my life's goals on.

Portrait of Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams

It has been 40 years since Ansel passed away from us, but I have been following his inspiration still looking for little secrets in his work that I can connect with and infuse into my own work. Like Ansel I have viewed Nature Photography as Art, more than that I view it is a deep reflection of an artists inner self. Ansel spoke of how he could not tell the viewer what each photograph was about, he would just say it's in the picture, because if it's no he failed. I am much the same in my attempts at presenting my work. I cannot tell you exactly why I made my photographs, but the thing I wanted to show you and communicate to you is in it.

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is thereby a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”

Ansel Adams

Here are some key aspects of how Adams viewed nature photography as fine art:

1. Technical Excellence: Adams believed that a fine art photograph must exhibit a high level of technical proficiency. This includes understanding the use of the camera, composition, exposure, and darkroom techniques. He was known for his mastery of the Zone System, a method of controlling and visualizing exposure and development to achieve the desired tonal range in a photograph.

2. Visualization: Adams emphasized the concept of "visualization," which involves pre-visualizing the final image in the mind's eye before taking the photograph. He would carefully select the scene and anticipate how he wanted the final print to look, using the technical aspects of photography to capture that vision.

Ansel Adams Print of Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico
Moonrise over Hernandez, NM ~Ansel Adams

3. Emotional Impact: Fine art nature photography, according to Adams, should evoke an emotional response from the viewer. His iconic images often conveyed a sense of grandeur, awe, and wonder at the beauty of nature, drawing viewers into the landscapes he captured.

4. Environmental Advocacy: While creating fine art images, Adams was also deeply committed to environmental conservation. He believed that through his photography, he could raise awareness about the beauty of nature and the need to protect and preserve the environment.

Ansel Adams Standing on His Vehicle in the Yosemite Valley
Ansel Adams Atop His Suburban At Yosemite

5. Masterful Printing: Adams was as much a master in the darkroom as he was with the camera. He carefully controlled the printing process to achieve the desired tonal qualities and visual impact in his final prints. This attention to detail in the printing process is a hallmark of fine art photography.

6. Limited Edition Prints: To maintain the value and integrity of his work as fine art, Adams produced limited edition prints. This practice is common in the world of fine art photography, where a limited number of prints are made to ensure their exclusivity and collectability.

7. Artistic Expression: Despite being rooted in realism, Adams' photography also had an artistic touch, allowing him to express his personal vision and creativity in the way he captured natural landscapes.

A Photograph of James H Egbert by Rebecca Egbert
James H Egbert at Indian Peaks Wilderness

I will never say I have reached the status of ever being as good a photographer as Ansel Adams, but I will say I gave it one hell of a try and did my best to follow in his likeness of communicating through my photography what the natural world has been teaching me.

Ansel Adams' approach to nature photography as fine art has influenced generations of photographers and continues to be a source of inspiration for many aspiring landscape photographers today. His commitment to technical excellence, visualization, emotional impact, environmental advocacy, and artistic expression has set a high standard for the genre and has left a lasting legacy in the world of photography.

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