History of Photography | Ansel Adams

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


Inspiring words said by one of, if not the greatest photographer of our time, Ansel Adams.

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Ansel Adams


You’ve probably seen the work of Ansel Adams somewhere on a postcard, or on the wall at the doctor’s office. His photos are so ever-present that we easily take them for granted, failing to notice what effort went into making them.

Ansel Adams was born on 20 February 1902, in San Francisco. He gained his fame as a photographer of the American West, specifically Yosemite National Park. It’s because of his iconic black-and-white images that helped establish photography among the fine arts.

“I see the picture in my mind’s eye and, I make the photograph. Then I give it to you as the equivalent of what I saw and felt.” – Ansel Adams

Like every master, Ansel also had to begin somewhere. His first photographs were beautiful but still lacked something.

Have you ever seen a beautiful view, then tried to take a photo of it but when you look at the finished result, it’s not what you saw in your mind? Ansal Adams went through exactly the same thing.

Half Dome, Yosemite

This photo is from a trip he took at the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

He saw something in his mind’s eye and knew exactly what he wanted his photo to look like. Now it was just the struggle to turn what he saw into a photo.

He first tried his yellow filter and it produced the image above.

It’s very beautiful yes, but it’s not what he saw. It was too plain and simple. He was an artist. He wanted to make his photo.

Then he tried his red filter. He set the exposure at f-22 and exposed the plate for five seconds…and this is what it produced.

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Monolith, the Face of Half Dome

This is exactly what he envisioned in his mind’s eye.

The red filter made an incredible difference. Look at the beautiful sky, filled with drama and contrast, creating the perfect tonal balance of blacks and whites.

This photograph showed the world the potential Adams had and marked his first successful “visualization” – A term Adams coined for carefully planning all the elements of a photograph before taking the picture. 

“As a photographer, I believe that creative photography, when practised in terms of its inherent qualities, may also reveal endless horizons of meaning” – Ansel Adams


31 thoughts on “History of Photography | Ansel Adams

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  1. What is “The Mind’s Eye”? That is a strange idea. Does The Brain have an eye? Similarly, we say, “I’ve Lost my Mind” but we never say, “I’ve lost my Brain”.
    The Mind’s Eye occurs within an Inner Chamber, The Cartesian Theater. There is a Little Person inside my Bigger Person; ‘a ghost inside the machine’ and they are “watching” the movie of my life. And inside that homunculi is a still smaller person still watching the movie of that smaller person watching the movie of my life.
    This can go on for a long time, in years and in Little Persons.


    1. What a beautiful analogy. In this context, I think he was talking about visualization. Seeing something in his imagination, and trying to recreate it in a photograph, so that others may also see with their own eyes what he “saw” in his “mind’s eye”.


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