I have just started reading a new book about Ansel Adams that I think is superb, Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man, by Andrea Stillman. This is one of the few books I have seen, besides Adams book, The Print, that actually shows before and after images of some well-known images. In addition, the book includes other shots that were taken at the same time as many of these photos, too. Just the photos alone give an amazing insight into how Adams worked and thought about his photography. The text amplifies this and offers even more details.
Personally, I think this is a must book for any nature photographer working in digital today just to see how Adams would work a subject. In addition, the insights about his darkroom work offer a lot of ideas about how one might use Local Controls such as the Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.
Ansel Adams was definitely one of my photographic heroes as I was growing up as a photographer. His work still resonates with people today. I think it is fascinating how strongly it still appeals to people -- it is does not look dated at all, yet other photographers of his era did a lot of work, too, that somehow does look dated.
I think one thing that set Adams apart from many other photographers is that he strongly sought to create expressive images that truly connected with his passion for nature and photography. His craft was exemplary. I always have to smile and shake my head when I hear nature photographers today say something like this, "Oh, I don't do anything with the computer because I am a nature photographer and I spend my time outside photographing nature."
Well, Ansel Adams spent a huge amount of time indoors processing film and creating his prints. He could literally spend days on a single print simply because of the time involved in making a change to a print, something like this, starting with the first print (which Adams called a work print because it was only used to help him see where he wanted to go with the image): get enlarging paper out and place paper in easel under enlarger, line it up, check focus (1 minute); make an exposure for the print (1 minute); pull print out, put it into developer and process (minimum 2 minutes, often about 5); pull paper out of developer and put it into stop bath (1 minute); move paper to fixer (5 minutes); now the regular lights could come on and the print could get a preliminary examination; however, critical work required that the paper be dry (that would change the look of the image), so it had to be washed (10-20 minutes), then dried (time varied, but this is paper that has to dry -- Adams probably had a print dryer that would do this in a few minutes.
Elapsed time: 17-35 minutes ... and this was per print! Every change would take about this amount of time or more (the more came from the dodging or lightening and burning or darkening of multiple and specific, local areas in the image) before the change could be fully evaluated. Adams spent far more time on an image than we need to do in Lightroom, or even Photoshop (which is more time consuming), so to imply that people who are working on images in the computer are somehow "less" of a nature photographer is to imply that Ansel Adams wasn't much of a nature photographer at all.
Adams was interested in the craft of photography to get the most from his images, to create images that would affect people rather than simply creating excellent snapshots of scenes in front of him. That took time and effort, but when you see how much his work still affects people, obviously that time ans effort was worth it, and he truly did affect people with his work. He knew something that I find a lot of digital photographers have not yet learned -- the camera does not see the world the way we do, and sometimes, it is way off from giving an image that truly will connect with and affect other people.
My photo e-book, A Nature Photography Manifesto, is now available in a PDF file that can be viewed on any computer. It does not include the interactivity or the video of the iBooks version for the iPad, but the text is the same and most of the photos are there. You can find it on my website, www.robsheppardphoto.com.