Ansel Adams - Clearing Winter Storm
Yosemite National Park, 1940

Ansel Adams lived for 10 years in Yosemite National Park with his wife Virginia and family, from about 1937 to 1947.

Clearing Winter Storm
Ansel Adams

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The making of the picture

Virginia's father, Harry C. Best was an artist, they took over the management of the studio that he founded in 1901. They had to move to set up a professional studio as Adams professional work could not be carried out inside a National Park.

During the years in Yosemite there was an almost continuous opportunity to monitor the changes light and weather moods, hilly and mountainous regions regularly experience spectacular weather conditions. Such conditions however are often very fleeting and there is rarely the time to arrive at a suitable location for a photograph and set up the bulky and labour intensive 4 x 5 in or 8 x 10 in view cameras.

This picture of a clearing and spent winter storm was taken on a day in early December. The storm, first of heavy rain and then turning to snow, began to clear around midday so Adams drove to New Inspiration Point, a place where he had taken many pictures and which gave this breathtaking view of the Yosemite Valley.

There was the luxury of reasonable amount of time on this occasion and so the 8 x 10 in camera used could be set up for the fore-ground and immovable parts of the picture, while waiting for an equally appropriate arrangement of light and clouds in the upper area of the composition. There is little movement of the camera possible at this position and so it was a case of watch and wait.

The moving clouds meant that a reasonably short exposure was required, 1/5 of a second in this particular case at f/16 with a coloured filter to improve the contrast. As it was raining, the lens cap had to be kept in place until immediately before exposure when it could be removed. The scene is inherently low contrast with much detail but few highlights or deep shadows. Adams had clearly visualized the picture that he wanted to take and took particular care in the exposure readings and of the relative brightness of various aspects of the photograph, particularly of the waterfall.

The resulting negative was developed to bring out the qualities that were required, notably of the transparent effect and an increase in the contrast. Printing the negative proved problematic with several different papers being tried and also formulas of the paper developer used. After development, a toning process with selenium followed to optimize the middle and darker values in the picture.

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Bibliography- Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel E. Adams