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Ansel Adams On Pre-Visualization & Photographic Education

By Bilal Akhtar on September 14th 2016

Ansel Adams was a luminary in photography. His landscape work entertains a global audience, and even till this day, his black and whites are considered some of the best photos taken of Yosemite National Park. Needless to say, photographers pick a pen and notepad every time there’s an opportunity to learn from his work, as he is somewhat a father to landscape portraiture as we know it, and his work with the zone system is far reaching in almost every genre.

In the video below, Ansel’s son, Michael, gives a tour of his home, revealing some interesting facts about Ansel; what he was like, and in particular, the workflow of his father.

Ansel believed in a technique he called previsualization. Although he may not be the creator of this, Ansel definitely preached it in his workshops and books, stating that “the term [pre]visualization refers to the entire emotional-mental process of creating a photograph, and as such, is one of the most important concepts in photography”. A great photograph that encompasses this is, Cleary Winter Storm:


Ansel was extremely passionate about imparting what he learned in photography to the next generation, and Ansel created his original photography workshop in 1940. Eventually, the program became so popular that it became two back-to-back workshops, each a week long in Yosemite, and many have attributed Ansel as the first to start such a thing as a photographer. Through his sheer need to give back to the community and teach them about an art form that he felt so desperately to share, he soon became known for his work all around the world, not only with consumers but with content creators as well.



Ansel shot dramatically; rarely were his pictures as one would see it on location. Rather, he shot in a way where, “it’s not what you see, it’s what you want me to see”. That is to say, what he previsualized was a lot of times different than what the scene gave him -and he didn’t let that stop him from manifesting his imagination.

This unique style of shooting is what became his signature, along with large-format cameras that ensured sharpness in his landscape photos.



Although Ansel’s black and white work of Yosemite continue to be his most pronounced, he also shot in color and commercially. In the video, Michael states that subways in New York would have pictures such as the one below, by Kodak, which were taken by Ansel:


Ansel’s workshops continue today, and while the programs might be quite different, they stand as a legacy of what Ansel felt was his duty as a photographer. So many years later, his work is still revered.

What do you guys think of Ansel? Do you agree that it’s an artists duty to give back to their art? Let us know in the comments below.

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Bilal Akhtar is a 27-year-old LA native, who, when not taking photos, is using music, photography, and storytelling to create elemental art:

To see his work, visit his commercial and wedding portfolios:

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    When I bought my first SLR camera in 1980, I bought Ansel Adams 3 book series. I wish that I did my own developing and printing, but …
    I used the Zone System for exposure and I think it still applies today.

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  2. James Hale

    Ansel has always been my hero in photography. I can look at his landscape images for hours and feel like I’m there, or as is described in the video, feel like it’s where I want to be! Ansel’s dedication to the art is also something we all should subscribe to.

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    • Bilal Akhtar

      Agreed, James. I, even with all the colorful images of Yosemite, I default back to his black and white work, which truly takes in the beauty of the park.

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