Analyzing Ansel

Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in ResidenceRegistered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
edited January 12, 2004 in Technique
In another thread, Baldy posted a picture by Ansel Adams. I thought it would be fun to do an analysis of the photo to see if we could find out how it was made. One possible solution stood out like a sore thumb.

This is the picture in question:
ansel1.jpg

One of the things you notice first off about the picture is of course the color, but I was also drawn to the exposure. How did Ansel expose this shot? We know he used the zone system, so does this image follow the zone system? And if so, how or where?

Well lets look at the histogram firstly:
anselh1.jpganselh1.jpg

Would you look at that! Look at that big huge peak centered smack dab on -2EV (or zone III on the zone sytem). Why is this so interesting? Because -2EV just so happens to be the darkest thing in the frame that still shows full detail, go darker, and the detail starts getting lost to the shadows.

So this leads me to believe that Ansel metered and exposed this image for the dark detail in the scene. This picture shows where all the -2EV portions are located:
ansel2.jpgansel2.jpg

Ah but you say, how do you know that is the -2ev portions? Easy, just look at the histogram one more time:
anselh2.jpganselh2.jpg

Look at that notch taken right out of the histogram at the -2ev location! That nails the identification of the areas shown in yellow as the -2ev locations.

This is interesting, because I might have metered for the bright part of the stone in the foreground. And where would a camera have auto-metered this scene? Probably nowhere near as recognizable as our buddy Ansels version ;-)
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Comments

  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Registered Users Posts: 15,471 Major grins
    edited January 10, 2004
    clap.gif Fantastic analysis, Shay. That really helps with my understanding of the zone system.

    Do you think he exposed it that way, or manipulated the image in the darkroom?

    Also, given how dark are the -2ev areas, why isn't the bright batch blownout? Isn't that a risk with a digital camera? Or do you think he shot it with so little light in the sky that he knew it wouldn't be blownout?
    Sid.
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  • BaldyBaldy SmugMug co-founder Mountain View, CaRegistered Users, Super Moderators Posts: 2,853 moderator
    edited January 10, 2004
    Wow, that's fascinating, Shay.

    I'm so much less sophisticated it's sickening. Basically, I avoid clipping the highlights like the plague unless it's an area of the background that I don't mind blown out like a window or a studio's white background. Nothing worse than a shot where someone's cheek or shirt or car hood is clipped.

    If I'm not clipping and the histogram looks reasonably spread out, click.

    I'll have to expand my horizons and try a few of those super-moody John MacDonald sunsets or maybe some drama indoors like Eliot Kuhner's:

    p22.jpg
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited January 11, 2004
    wxwax wrote:
    clap.gif Fantastic analysis, Shay. That really helps with my understanding of the zone system.

    Do you think he exposed it that way, or manipulated the image in the darkroom?

    Also, given how dark are the -2ev areas, why isn't the bright batch blownout? Isn't that a risk with a digital camera? Or do you think he shot it with so little light in the sky that he knew it wouldn't be blownout?
    He would have both exposed for the zone system and then developed for the zone system too. In digital, I mainly just expose for the zone system.

    The bright patch is not blown out likely for a number of reasons. One it is sunset so the brightness of the light, the dynamic range from shadow to highlight is less than it would be at high noon. But also he would have manipulated the highlights and or shadows to get what he wanted.
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • patch29patch29 C|34N3R Atlanta, GARegistered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 2,928 Major grins
    edited January 11, 2004
    He would have both exposed for the zone system and then developed for the zone system too. In digital, I mainly just expose for the zone system.

    The bright patch is not blown out likely for a number of reasons. One it is sunset so the brightness of the light, the dynamic range from shadow to highlight is less than it would be at high noon. But also he would have manipulated the highlights and or shadows to get what he wanted.

    Today we can also take advantage of technology. Shoot the image on a tripod and create a wide bracket. Then use the best image and you can blend in highlights or shadows, even add to shadow depth in photoshop. Almost like Ansel would have done in the dark room, only we can use several exposures to make one final image, where he had to work off of one sheet of film properly processed.
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited January 11, 2004
    patch29 wrote:
    Today we can also take advantage of technology. Shoot the image on a tripod and create a wide bracket. Then use the best image and you can blend in highlights or shadows, even add to shadow depth in photoshop. Almost like Ansel would have done in the dark room, only we can use several exposures to make one final image, where he had to work off of one sheet of film properly processed.
    Yes indeed, in fact this is one of my favorite techniques for doing night shots:
    tilpano.jpg
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • patch29patch29 C|34N3R Atlanta, GARegistered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 2,928 Major grins
    edited January 11, 2004
    Yes indeed, in fact this is one of my favorite techniques for doing night shots:

    That is a great shot. I was able to see the lights in person and they were very moving.
  • BaldyBaldy SmugMug co-founder Mountain View, CaRegistered Users, Super Moderators Posts: 2,853 moderator
    edited January 12, 2004
    Yes indeed, in fact this is one of my favorite techniques for doing night shots:
    tilpano.jpg
    Oh_my_GOSH that's a great shot!!!!

    So, um, would it be possible to use part of it on the Digital Grin banner in place of the night shot we have there now, which itself is a great shot from John Gomes?
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