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The making of the
is Ansel Adams most popular single image.
It was taken at the end
of a day when Adams had been taking photographs in the
Chama Valley, north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
There had been frustrations
earlier in the day when he had tried to capture images
that he saw in his minds eye, but due to the precise
arrangement of background and other objects, was unable
to render a satisfactory rendition on a negative.
To all intents and purposes
the day's photography was over and it was while
driving home southward along the highway near Espanola
that Adams happened to glance sideways out of the car
window and saw the scene that was to become this photograph.
He quickly stopped
the car and set up his 8" x 10" view camera,
with the aid of his companions he arranged his lens,
a suitable filter and was ready to take the exposure
when he realized that his exposure meter was nowhere
to be seen. Time was running out - at sunset the scene
changes rapidly - soon the light in the clouds would
start falling off and the highlighted white crosses
would soon dim.
Experience saved the
day as Adams took the value for the brightness of
the moon that he knew from previous measurement and
experience and applied his "zone" system of
exposure to various aspects of the scene that his master
touch had perfected. He decided on an exposure of a
second with ASA 64 film at f/32. He also made a note
of the type of development that he would subject the
negative to once it was back safely in his darkroom.
Intending to take a duplicate
negative as he appreciated the uniqueness of the scene
Adams attempted to set up again, but it was too late.
Just as he was getting ready with a second negative
plate, the sunlight passed from the crosses and the
precise lighting effect of the scene was lost.
The development of
the negative was a painstaking process, being carried
out very slowly to give the maximum control of the image.
The resulting negative was difficult to print and several
years after it was taken the foreground was subjected
to a process of chemical "intensification"
that altered it in a way whereby "Printing was
a bit easier thereafter, although it remains a challenge".
The printing of the
image was also in itself a highly skilled task with
different areas being "masked" and given more
or less exposure than others until the overall balance
of tones was one that resulted in a satisfactory image.
Even differences in batches of what were supposedly
exactly the same type of photographic paper were noticed,
a result of all the variables involved led to the comment,
"It is safe to say that no two prints are precisely
Despite his enormous
attention to detail in taking his photographs, developing
the negatives and then in printing those negatives,
Adams was surprisingly vague about the actual date when
he took this picture. At various times it was quoted
as being taken anywhere between 1940 and 1944!
The debate was eventually
settled after a computer analysis of the scene and precise
position of the moon gave an answer of approximately
(!) 4:05 p.m. on October the 31st 1941.
It is a picture that
Adams was clearly pleased with in that it attracted
much admiration and comment from others. It represents
a fine example serendipity of the scene combined with
his technical methods, knowledge and skills in producing
the picture from the initial exposure of the negative
to the final "difficult" printing process.
Moonrise Hernandez by Ansel Adams
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