Digital Zone System, Part 8 – The Performance Act I

Ansel Adams equated a photograph’s negative

To a musical score and

The print to the performance

Let’s see what he meant by that

Click to enlarge

12-7-2012 12-29-26 PM copy

Moonrise Hernandez (late afternoon, October 31, 1941)

Ansel Adams’ most popular image

Here we see the score at the bottom and

One of over 1300 performances at the top


The 8×10 contact print of Ansel Adams’s most popular photo is flat grey with some wispy clouds. He wrote this about it.
“During my first years of printing the ‘Moonrise’ negative, I allowed some  random clouds in the upper sky area to show, although I had visualized the sky in very deep values and almost cloudless.  It was not until the 1970’s that I achieved a print equal to the original visualization and that I still vividly recall.”

Below is the evolution of his Moonrise print from 1941 to 1975.

What he visualized and what he captured – especially the sky –

were vastly different

(a degree of alteration that would be disqualifying in some competitions 😉 )

Over time this image changed from the low light, late afternoon photo that it was

To a surreal night scene

The blacks kept getting blacker & the whites whiter

Artistic license

Click to enlarge

12-7-2012 1-00-22 PM


The techniques that Ansel Adams used to work his magic were mainly

Dodging (lightening) and Burning (darkening)

Apart from chemicals and paper selection

there wasn’t much else available

Wow! He’d have loved Photoshop.

This particular image was very demanding and labor intensive


Tomorrow’s post will demonstrate how “Ansel did his thing”, except

Translated to digital post-processing


Subscribe (see sidebar) and don’t miss anything. New posts daily.

  • No sidebar? Click the blog title at the top of this page.

Another option – Click on the “Follow” button at the bottom right of the screen.

  • Or – “Follow” in your admin bar, displayed at the top of the screen, for logged-in users.


0 thoughts on “Digital Zone System, Part 8 – The Performance Act I”

  1. Thanks for the feedback. Interesting.

    Your background is enviable. I never did any of the darkroom stuff – a latecomer to photography. After reading AA’s The Negative, just as well.

    Your 7900 is also enviable. Just a wee-bit bigger & better than my 3800.

  2. Isn´t it really encouraging for one´s own development to see that even the “master of masters” in BW photography did not stick at the “épreuve artiste”?

    I´ve spend endless hours in the darkroom, “brewed” my own chemicals for developing the Kodak Technical Pan and got amazing results. I loved this work but on the other hand I had always a bad consience because of the hazardous chemicals I used (of course I disposed them correctly). And the enormous waste of water for rinsing the Baryt Paper …

    Ansel Adams was an environment activist and I think he would have been happy to get rid of all this chemistry.
    Yesterday I got an Epson 7900, made my first prints and I´m sure he would have loved this excellent piece of technology, too

  3. Yes – “straight” is in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty.

    In the 1981 forward to his book, The Negative, he expressed his eagerness for “new concepts & advances” yet to come including the electronic image. Unless he was addicted to inhaling darkroom fumes, he would have embraced PS IMO.

  4. Very nice! I had read about the transformation, but never seen the evoluation of his prints of this one. So much for what people think of now as “straight photography”, since Ansel was one of its “inventors” (as a reaction to pictorialism). I believe one of Ansel’s sons opined that his father would have loved Photoshop.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.