Photography can be a fun activity for families to explore together. You don’t need fancy equipment to get started; just take inspiration from Ansel Adams to create digital photos of the world around you using the camera on your phone or tablet.
Ansel Adams, Mount Williamson, the Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California, 1945, gelatin-silver print, 15 3/8 x 18 1/4 in., Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, Calif.; Image courtesy Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
1. Make a photograph instead of taking one.
Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Each picture is the result of lots of planning before one even uses a camera. Unlike today—when cameras can take many photos at once—it took Adams up to 20 minutes to prepare and take one picture! To get everything just right, he would first imagine the exact image he wanted. Then he would set up his camera and wait patiently until the light, breeze, and atmosphere matched the picture in his mind. Look at Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada, From Lone Pine, California. What did Adams need to wait for to get this scene just right? How would this picture be different if he took it later in the day? During a different season?
To make your photo, first come up with a plan. Find a place that inspires you, and look closely to imagine what your picture will look like. Where is the light coming from? Is any object moving or changing? You can move to another viewpoint or rearrange the things you see to get it just right. Hold your camera steady, and when everything on the screen is just how you imagine it … take the picture!
Ansel Adams sets up a shot on his car-top camera platform. Cedric Wright, Ansel Adams: Photographing in Yosemite, 1942, gelatin-silver print, Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, © 1942 Cedric Wright
2. Create a black-and-white photo with high contrast.
Ansel Adams is celebrated for the rich tones and high contrast in his photographs. This means you can see many shades of white, gray, and black in one picture. Take a look at Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California. Which area has the brightest white? How about the darkest black? How many shades of gray can you find?
Change your camera’s settings to take a photo in black and white. You may need to adjust the saturation (how bright or dull the colors are) or select a black-and-white filter using an app. Make sure the sun or a bright lamp shines on some surfaces in your photo and keeps some objects in shadow. Take a few photos at different times of day to discover when you can see the most tones of black, white, and gray in your pictures.
3. Capture details in nature with a close-up.
Ansel Adams is best known for his big landscape pictures of our National Parks, but in the NCMA’s exhibition, you’ll find photographs that show the tiny details of nature, too, like grass or flower petals. Look at how he captured grass floating on water in Grass and Pool, The Sierra Nevada, California. Why do you think Adams took this picture? What story does it tell about the place he visited?
Look around to make a photograph of an object that’s small or hidden. Think about how your photograph can show the details of this object in a surprising or new way. Get close to the object or use your camera’s zoom function to create a closeup picture. Then hold your camera steady so the lens can focus, and take the photo.
Ansel Adams, Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, Yosemite National Park, California, circa 1938, gelatin-silver print, 14 3/4 x 19 ¼ in., Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, Calif.; Image courtesy Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
4. Make a photo that shows your emotions.
Ansel Adams created photographs that showed us how beautiful places could be, and he also made us understand how he felt about them. “A great photograph,” he said, “is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” Look at his picture Buddhist Grave Markers and Rainbow, Paia, Maui, Hawaii. What emotions do you feel looking at this scene? How do you think Ansel Adams felt in that place? Why?
Find a place to take a photograph that you really love. How can your photo make a friend or relative feel the same way you do? Think about what objects or people you can include in the picture to give a hint about your feelings.