Ansel Adams on Previsualization


You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
― Ansel Adams

In this rare clip, Ansel Adams talks about the concept of pre-visualization. Seeing an image in its final form before snapping the shutter.

A photographer truly becomes an artist when they move from operating by luck and happenstance, shooting hundreds of snapshots – hoping a couple of them come out great to in the words of Adams “making photographs instead of taking photographs”.

When a photographer truly masters the craft of photography – camera operations, post-processing etc and moves to a higher level of artistry – actually seeing and per-conceiving what they want to express as their artistic vision do the enter the realm of a true artist.

Snapping a bunch of random photos is not a well thought out artistic vision. Adams was a true master of his craft from being able to judge exposure simply by eyeing the scene to knowing how to bring out the best in the darkroom. The craft comes first and then the artistry becomes possible from one’s command of the mechanics of photographs.

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


As an example I’ll offer this photograph from my portfolio. A lot of my work is intended for the book cover market so I seek out and create image that have a bit of moody, atmospheric quality to them. Images in which something might happen, already happened or perhaps is about to happen.

I took a location scouting trip to a new spot recently. I found this small reservoir with this tiny kids picnic table beside the water. The day we went it was a bright sunny day with harsh shadows. Not the look I wanted to so I filed the location away in my “overcast days” file. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for a dark, overcast day, so I returned and composed the shot for a possible book cover use with plenty of copy space above the subject. I also used a short depth of field to muddy out the background and in post-processing added some eerie tones. As a result this typically happy place where kids probably go fishing with grandpa, now has a uneasy feeling of perhaps a crime is about to be committed for a detective to solve.

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