September 04, 2013

"test of time" 4 of 30 - soot, chalk & Ansel Adams, 1963

photo by Donald Kinney

Okay, tomorrow I'll tell you all about how I coerced the great Ansel Adams to take a look at my photos--twice--for free--back in 1964, but this is one of the photos I showed him on my first visit. He didn't like it.

Yep, the way I had printed this image did not meet with his approval. "Soot and chalk"; he exclaimed! "I see Zone-0, Zone-5, and Zone-9, but where are all the OTHER tones that should be in this image?" Then he showed me a simple little trick of illuminating the the print with a strong light through the back. And there they were--invisible when viewed normally--all of the subtle mid-tones I had "murdered" by using a high-contrast printing paper. Oh, I guess I was going for a "graphic look", but way too stark for Ansel's design sensibilities.

Not that I hadn't heard of Ansel Adams' "Zone System", but until then I really hadn't understood or used it. It is the key to a full range of tones. Detail in the shadows and high values with texture.

Now, the Zone System is a bit more complicated than this and the technique mainly applies to black and white film, but the photographer bases the exposure on the dark values of the scene, and then adjusts development time based on where the photographer plans for the high values to fall. Basically, a shortened development time will produce a soft image, whereas a lengthened development time will boost contrast. Everything is planned.

When Adams most generously granted me a second review a few months later I had buckled down and was using his Zone System. The improvements in my work were major.   What a kind man...   More tomorrow.

CLICK for 40 photos on what I call my "big site";
CLICK for "Photographing Marin County"; my Marin County exhibit.

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