Influences Ansel Adams Revisited

In my earlier post,  Ansel Adams post one , I gave my initial initial impressions of Adams work. I have subsequently continued to review his photographs. I have also recently obtained two books which make comments on his work and place it within the context of the landscape genre. These are American Landscapes Photographs from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art and Ansel Adams at 100. Both books are by John Szarkowski the renowned Director of Photography at MOMA in New York and were the accompanying books for Exhibitions.

American Lanscapes Photographs from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art traces the history of American Landscape photography from its beginning until the 1970s through the museums own collection. It allowed me to consider where Adams sits in the broader context of American Landscape photography.

The early pioneers were the likes of Timothy O'Sullivan who had made his name as a documentary photographer of the American Civil War. O'Sullivan was hired to take photographs as part of a scientific expedition. However there is evidence that O'Sullivan had made aesthetic judgements vis a vis the framing of his subjects and so his work might now be viewed as not simply scientific in nature.

These early pioneers were followed by the likes of Muybridge and Carleton Watkins operated less as explorers and more as 'laureate(s) memorialising known wonders', devising creative strategies for depicting well known motifs in a fresh manner.

Thereafter followed great photographers such as the young Edward Steichen working in a Pictorialist mode, seeking to emulate the art of painting, with inviting subjects, soft focus and movement.

The Pictorialist ethic was roundly rejected by Modernists such as Edward Weston, although Weston himself was intimidated by the chaotic nature of nature. Starting with intimate landscapes Weston, Strand and others gradually tackled the wider landscape from the standpoint of formal integrity which represents the Modernist approach. They emphasised process and form above subject.

Whilst a Modernist, emphasising the perfection of the process - perhaps more than any other photographer - Ansel Adams has his own unique style. His greatest works visualise the landscape as an Event - a temporary piece of theatre created by the majesty of the scene, the light and the weather. Here is an Adams photograph from the exhibition:

Oak Tree Snow Storm, Yosemite 1948 by Ansel Adams

I chose this image because I am sitting in my study writing this post with snow all around our house. I have been outside taking some shots of snow covered trees also. It is interesting to see that Adams has retained a range of tonal values within the snow, giving it shape and texture. I have included one of my own images below to compare.

Snow covered Tree, Burnham by Keith Greenough

The tonal range of the highlights in my image is much more compressed. It is also clear that the tree itself if much less attractive - no leaves, less elegant, less symmetrical. My image also has less background interest.  The difference in tonal range is clearly seen when the histograms for the two images are compared...



I have much still to learn.

The second book I have reviewed is Ansel Adams at 100. This is another catalogue from an Exhibition curated by John Szarkowski. This time the exhibition was staged by the San Francisco Museum of Modern art - an organisation which Adams had much involvement with. The book provides an interesting essay which traces Adams development as a photographer.

It was interesting to hear Szarkowski's view that Adams work varied from the superlative to the mediocre. He was particularly disparaging about Adams work outside of the landscape genre.

As a 'straight' photographer Adams work depended on both shape and texture. Interestingly it was Szarkowski's view that Adams work moved from being described very much in graphic terms in the mid thirties to becoming increasingly dependent on perfection of the tonal range some ten years later. He suggested that this might become abundantly clear if one were to take an earlier and later image and compare them when they are reduced to postage stamp size. The former whilst damaged would still be intelligible the latter most likely would be unintelligible. I thought I would try this as an experiment. The two photographs are:

Mount Robson, Jasper National Park
Canada, 1928 by Ansel Adams

Cleaing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, 1942 by Ansel Adams

Here are the two images as postage stamps...

I think this proves the point which from my own perspective shows how important the management of tone is in creating an atmospheric image. Graphic designs is important in composition but light and tone can create more subtle and emotive image. As is waiting for the moment of theatre which will lead to the exceptional image.

I will wind up this with another of my favourite Adams images, Lake and Cliffs Sierra Nevada 1932. This is a very graphic image - perhaps reflecting a personal bias. I selected this image because it is intriguing. It is hard to make out what it is. I love the variation in tone and texture which are fantastic and the way he has captured the reflections in the still water of the lake. It  has a very flat perspective which adds to the abstract nature and its appeal. It is wonderful to realise that nature can offer such glorious scenes of abstract design.

Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada 1932 by Ansel Adams


Influences - Paul Caponigro

Was browsing today looking for information on John Szarkowski's MOMA exhibition 'Mirrors and Windows'. This exhibition was staged in 1978 and presented American photography since 1960. Szarkowski's view was that over the previous 20 years the dominant motif of American photography had moved from Public to private concerns.

The exhibition was organized around Szarkowski's thesis that the personal visions of photographers fell broadly into two categories who see the photograph either as a - Mirror: a romantic expression of the photographers sensibility as it projects itself onto the things and sights of this world; or as a Window: through which the exterior world is explored in all it's prescence and reality.

This concept is very pertinent in terms of my review of Fay Godwin, as she appears to me to have worked in both styles.

My research also revealed the work of Paul Caponigro. I found his intimate landscapes to be very delicate and intriguing, making full use of the emotional impact of texture, weather conditions and light. He also seemed quite adventurous as evidenced by One of his photographs where he has used a negative print.

Here are a few of his photographs:

Paul Caponigro Negative Print, Dutch Pipe Vine,Brewster, NY, 1963

Paul Caponigro Morning Mist, Redding Woods, CT, 1969 Silver Print

Paul Caponigro Frosted Window, Ipswich, MA,1960
Silver Print

All of these images have a silvery feel, which gives them a unique feel....love this work.


Day out at Kingston Lacey

I went out for the day to the National Trust venue at Kingston Lacey. The main point of interest was the avenue of Beech trees which border the main road through the National Trust estate. The visit was organised by Light and Land and Charlie Waite was leading the group.

The day was very well spent and I had an opportunity to talk to Charlie about developing a personal style. Interestingly Charlie felt that this would tend to emerge in one's work over time. He also felt that in his case it was his decision to concentrate on Landscape work which helped him to develop his personal signature.

In truth it was not the best time to visit the beech avenue as the leaves had all gone and sadly the light was very flat and the sky grey....so it was not a day for capturing one of my best images. In fact I was quite disapponted with my work from this trip and so I have decided to show one of my images here and to analyse how I might have done better...

Beech Avenue Kingston Lacey

As I indicated above, better light and autumn leaves would have made this a better image so I will focus on issues of composition. My ideas was to use the row of beeches as a leading line towards the gap at the end of the row of trees which in my concept would be a point of interest. In fact the gap at the end of the trees is not very disctinctive....a splash of colour, light or some other interest would be needed to create this. In my image there is no focal point. The second thing I am unhappy about is that there is a gap in the row of trees - between the second and third tree. This reveals the road behind and more importantly breaks up the leading line intended to lead the viewer deeper into the image. Finally I really find the unattractive large branches (including the one which has been cut off) very distracting and ugly. These break up the rhythm created by the curves of the smaller branches which make up the archway.

What might I have done about these issues....well I should have spent much more time looking for a suitable location to capture my shot. There were plenty of potential locations. I should then have spent a lot of time considering the detail of my composition - avoidance of the ugly, making sure the leading line is continuous, ensuring continuity of the rhythmic nature of the branches and considering the focal point at the end of the arch...I need to return.

Assignment Three: a linking theme - Tutor Feedback

I have now received feedback from my tutor on my third assignment. Generally my work was well received, but there were three images of which my tutor was more critical and so I thought it would be useful to look at these again and consider the comments my tutor made.


My tutor commented on the strong colours in this image but felt that whilst the pine trees are a focal point they are not sufficiently distinctive. I have to agree with this point. Sadly the light on this occasion was not that great....the sun breaking through backlighting the trees would have been far better.

Overhanging Branches

My tutor felt that this image lacked a clear focal point for the eye to fix on. In my original idea I was homing in on the repetitive curved shapes of the branches to create interest through the rhythm they have. I was in two minds about this and it seems that the idea may not have been a great one. It is worth me noting that as for the first image the issue my tutor has raised is one of defining a clear point of interest in my frame.

Red Tarn Beck at Glenridding

In this shot my tutor felt that she would have liked to see something static in the foreground to contrast with the water and to add another dimension. This would in fact have made the image less abstract and looking again at it I have to agree that this would have worked better. In practice this would not have been so easy as it was pouring with rain and I would have had to move further downstream to find some interesting foreground interest...perhaps I was not persistent with this one as my original idea was indeed to include some foliage in the foreground!...try harder next time.

I was pleased that my tutor really liked the photograph which I also felt was the best. This is one of a lone tree reaching out into Ullswater. I personally like the simple strong composition focussing on the tree, which is enhanced by the constrast with the silky smooth water. The blue tones of the water and the red/yellow tones of the foliage also work well together.....here is the photograph...

Ullswater Tree


Project 33 - using a tripod

I have for some time used a tripod for most of my landscape work. As I am generally stopping down my lenses to achieve the desired depth of field this has become an essential aid. I have several tripods but have come to rely heavily on a Gitzo 3541 Systematic Tripod.

I use this excellent tripod with a Arca Swiss Z1 ball head...

The combination is very stable and remarkably light. It is also very tall, which I find very useful for shooting over hedges and walls with the camera above my head. I use 'live view' to focus and frame the image in such situations....

Project 32 - telephoto views - variety of images

Yesterday I visited Avebury in Wiltshire to make some images which might prove to be useful for my Assignment 5 'In the view of Fay Godwin'. En route I stopped on top of Overton Hill just to the west of Marlborough. The views were interesting with sunlight peeking thought the clouds revealing 'gods rays' in the sky and painting the landscape with light. I took a series of shots from a single location....actually I had to cross the road to take some of the shots to avoid undesirable foreground action!

Sadly I did not capture any really strong images but the series did illustrate the variety possible, both in the landscape and the sky. Here is the series of shots, starting by looking north and working round anti-clockwise to the west, south and south east....

Overton Hill - North

Overton Hill West

Overton Hill - South West

Overton Hill - south south west

Overton Hill - south

Overton Hill - south with village of West Kennett

Overton Hill - south south east

Whilst these are a series of images of reasonable quality, I confess to being disappointed in not making a powerful image. The problem was I am sure that I stayed in one place and it was not the ideal spot....I wish I had taken a viewpoint with a better view of West Kennett village as foreground interest. Notwithstanding, the exercise did show me the potential for huge variety in a landscape from a single viewpoint with a telephoto lens.

Project 31 - telephoto views - compressing planes

I have experimented extensively using long lenses with the idea of compressing planes. I like the graphic feel that this offers. To begin with I had some difficulty with depth of field. At 200mm the hyperfocal distance even at f/32 is around 70mm. I had a few disappointments with images where I had focused on elements within around 30m and the background had been very soft.

Here are some examples of compressed planes which I took on my trip to Canada.

Harrison Lake, British Columbia Canada

Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada

Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada

Project 30: wide angle views - near and far

I carried out this project whilst on my recent trip to Hawaii. I used the approach of using the wide angle lens to use interesting foreground shapes combined with a distant view to 'place the viewer in the shoes of the photographer'.

Here is one of the images I made. It was taken on the sea shore at Kailua Kona on the big island of Hawaii.
The foreground interest is the rocks warmed by the setting sun. On the horizon are palm trees on a promontory. I used a 28 mm lens and an F/ stop of 8. The aperture was a compromise between depth of field and shutter speed. I wanted a slow speed to show movement in the waves lapping on the rocks. Here is the image:

Kailua Kona, Hawaii

This is a detail crop of the foreground:

And this a detail of the trees on the horizon:

I was pretty pleased with the results. In theory the aperture of f/8 would give a depth of field range  from 2.67 metres to infinity if I had focused at the hyperfocal distance of 5.5 metres. In practice this seems to have worked really well....I often use apertures of f/16 and above with wide angle lenses to get even greater depth of field....perhaps I don't need to stop down so much and avoid running the risk of deterioration of resolution inherent in smaller apertures.

Project 29 - rephotographing a famous image

For this project the aim is to re-photograph a well known landscape image and following the work to analyse how well the image replicates the original in terms of lens and viewpoints selection. A review of how the landscape looks today compared to the original including changes to the environment, light etc.

For this work I have chosen a well known photograph of the Manger at Uffington by Charlie Waite. This is taken from Landscape The Story of 50 Favourite Photographs by Charlie Waite  pp 58...this is shown below:

The Manger, Berkshire by Charlie Waite

My image of the same view is below:

The Manger, Berkshire by Keith Greenough

As regards how well I have replicated the original image I have the following comments:

  • The field of view is very similar...I used a 28mm lens and I suspect that Charlie used an equivalent lens on his Hasselblad. 
  • My horizon is a bit higher in the frame and I think I have revealed more depth in the base of the Manger. This could mean that I was slightly higher up the slope when I took the photograph.
  • The grass in the foreground of my shot is much higher...could be as a result of the time of year.
Other differences I have noted in the images are as follows:
  • The sky in my image is largely a bank of dark cumulostratus...not so interesting. Charlie has managed to capture a more interesting sky with more varied clouds....I wonder thought if he might have darkened the sky too much with his ND filter(?)
  • The more interesting cloud action in Charlie's image can also be seen in the shadows it has created on the landscape. In my image there is very little hard shadow and the landscape is quite bland. In Charlie's the left bank of the Manger and the background landscape are in quite deep shadow thus revealing the contours of the Manger itself in a much more expressive way....Charlie's image is far superior in terms of light!
  • On my image the grass is quite green throughout...In Charlie's it is green in the base of the Manger and quite yellow and dry around the perimeter....again this accentuates the shape of the Manger far better and once again Charlie's image is superior...
It seems that the key lesson of this exercise for me is not just one of identifying the viewpoint and lens....which I certainly found useful and interesting...but it is also about the right light and also looking for other elements of the landscape which delineate and accentuate shapes. I wonder how many times Charlie visited the Manger to get his shot.

The project also called for me to make a second image from a viewpoint within about 100 ft from the first. In this case I decided to produce an image based on a slice of the landscape, which uses some sheep which had appeared as the key point of interest and the ripples in the landscape as an interesting backcloth. I decided to present this image as a black and white and here it is:

The Manger Variation Two by Keith Greenough

Once again sadly I think that the light is not helping this image, the scene is a little too flat. Aslo the key subjects, ie the sheep are perhaps a little too distant...a longer lens might have been better.


28mm Elmarit 50mm Summicron accreditation Alex Soth American West Ansel Adams Art of Snapshot as Assignment Assignment Four Assignment One Assignment Two ball head Beauty Berkshire black and white Brighton Photo Biennial 2010 british museum Buckinghamshire Burnham Beeches Canada Caponigro Central St Martins Charlie Waite city Cliveden cloud Club La Santa collage competition composition course criticism Daisy Gilardini David Alan Harvey davidnoton derby detail Dorset drama dusk exhibition f/64 Famara Fay Godwin Feedback Fernando Gomez figures Filters format framing Framing foreground interest composition Freeman Gabriele Basilico galen rowell Georgia O'Keefe grain Hambleden Harrison Hot Springs hawaii influence ironman Jasper Joel Meyerowitz John Davies Kingston Lacey Lake District Landscape landscape format Languedoc Lanzarote LEARNING LOG-April2010 LEARNING LOG-April2011 LEARNING LOG-August2010 LEARNING LOG-August2011 LEARNING LOG-December2010 LEARNING LOG-Feb2010 LEARNING LOG-February-2011 LEARNING LOG-January-2011 LEARNING LOG-July2010 LEARNING LOG-June2010 LEARNING LOG-June2011 LEARNING LOG-March-2011 LEARNING LOG-March2010 LEARNING LOG-March2011 LEARNING LOG-May2010 LEARNING LOG-May2011 LEARNING LOG-November2010 LEARNING LOG-October 2010 LEARNING LOG-September2010 leica Lely's Venus lenses light Light Science and Magic london LPOY2010 Malhotra man-made Marc Garanger Martin Parr Mirrors and Windows Mississippi Molly Landreth MOMA moon National Media Museum National Trust near and far Nick Gleis OCA one acre opening Overton Hill panorama perspective Phil Malpas photographer polariser Portfolio portrait format portraits post-modern projects Quotation realism Rinko Kawauchi Robert Adams royalphotographicsociety Running seasons Silhouette sky snow soft colour soft light Stephen Gill street street 35mm Summicron Studland style Sunrise Szarkowski team telephoto Terri Weifenbach test Timanfaya trees triathlon tripod TriUK Tutor two UK Urban Development USA water Watlington Hill weareoca West Kennett Western Art Weston wide angle Windsor Workshop Yosemite

About Me

I have been taking photographs since I was young boy some 45 years ago, but only seriously since 2005 when I enrolled to study at the Open College of the Arts. I am working towards a BA in Photography. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society. This log record details of my projects and assignments during my studies. It also records ideas, work by other artists/photographers, notes on books/websites/exhibitions, influences, discoveries, thoughts, research findings and observations as I work through my courses. You can contact me at keith.greenough@btinternet.com or simply leave a comment on one of my posts.

Landscape Photography Bibliography

  • Andrea G Stillman (2007), Ansel Adams 400 Photographs, Little Brown New York USA
  • Andy Grundberg (1999), Crisis of the Real, Aperture Foundation New York
  • Ansel Adams (2007), Examples The Making of 40 Photographs, Little Brown New York USA
  • Ben Maddow(1989), Edward Weston, His Life, Aperture Foundation New York USA
  • Charlie Waite (1989), Scottish Islands, Constable London
  • Charlie Waite (1992), The Making of Landscape Photographs, Collins and Brown London
  • Charlie Waite (1999), Seeing Landscapes, Collins and Brown London
  • Charlie Waite (2002), In My Minds Eye, Photographers Institute Press East Sussex UK
  • Charlie Waite (2005), Landscape, Collins and Brown London
  • Clive Minnitt and Phil Malpas(2009), Finding the Picture, Envisage Books London
  • David Noton (2008), PHOTOGRAPY ESSENTIALS: WAITING FOR THE LIGHT, David & Charles PLC, London
  • Fay Godwin(1985), Land, William Heinemann London
  • Fay Godwin(1990), Our Forbidden Land, Jonathan Cape London
  • Fay Godwin(1998), Glassworks & Secret Lives, Stella Press East Sussex UK
  • Fay Godwin(2001), Landmarks, Dewi Lewis Publishing Stockport UK
  • Galen Rowell (1995), Mountain Light, Sierra Club Books San Francisco USA
  • Galen Rowell (2001), Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Norton & co New York USA
  • Galen Rowell (2002),Galen Rowell's Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, University of California Press USA
  • Harry Callaghan (1993), Ansell Adams in Color, Little Brown New York USA
  • Hunter, Biver & Fuqua(2007), Light Science & Magic, Elsevier Oxford UK
  • James Bentley & Charlie Waite (1987), Languedoc, George Philip London
  • James Bentley & Charlie Waite (1987), Languedoc, George Philip London
  • Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, David Ward, Eddie Ephraums (2006), Working the Light, Argentum London
  • Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, David Ward, Eddie Ephraums (2007), Developing Style and Vision, Argentum London
  • Joel Meyerowitz (2002), Cape Light, Little Brown and Company New York USA
  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Penguin Modern Classics
  • John P Schaefer (2007),The Ansel Adams Guide Book 2 Basic Techniques of Photography, Little Brown New York USA
  • John P Schaefer (2007),The Ansel Adams Guide Book I Basic Techniques of Photography, Little Brown New York USA
  • John Szarkowski (1981), American Landscapes, The Museum of Modern Art New York USA
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 01 (2007), AA Publishing
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 02 (2008), AA Publishing
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 03 (2009), AA Publishing
  • Liz Wells (1996), Photography:A Critical Introduction, Routledge Oxon
  • Liz Wells (2003), The Photography Reader, Routledge Oxon
  • Marc Garanger (1989), Louisiane, Kodak
  • Robert Adams (1996), Beauty in Photography, Aperture Foundation New York USA
  • Robert Adams et al (2009), New Topographics, Steidl Germany
  • Stephen Shaw (2004), Uncommon Places The Complete Works, Thames and Hudson, London
  • Susan Sontag, On Photography, Penguin Books London
  • Terence Pitts (2008), Edward Weston (Icons Series), Taschen
  • TPOTY Awards (2010), TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR Journey Three, Travel Photographer of the Year Suffolk UK