Difficult question: Why?

About a week ago, forumer @jonathanBieler showed a (scanned) shot
taken with an almost antique Zeiss Ikonta lens: Swiss mountains with Ikonta

My immediate reaction was something like
Oh, Wow! Beautiful. So very much Anselm Adams.

Then I started to think.

Why do I consider this beautiful?

  • Because it looks like Ansel Adams’,
    and that we are taught that all his shots are beautiful?
  • Because it was shot using an old lens?
  • Because it was in black&white?

What makes a shot look like Ansel Adams’?

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


I do like the shot and think it is well exposed, but to me it does not look like Ansel Adams - I associate heavy dodging and burning with AA.
We do not get to see too many landscape shots in black&white (and to me, its way harder than colour), so that might be the association?
Here is a fun video, by the way: Ansel Adams Vs Amateur Snapshots Prank - YouTube

Have a good evening :slight_smile:

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Good question Claes! I have missed that photo so thanks for pointing at it.

I agree it does have some AA vibes, perhaps due to the kind of black and white treatment that Jonathan has used? Which is to say, lots of middle greys and not a harsh black/white treatment that is probably more common in digital black and whites? (I know this was a scan of a real bw negatives, but others have played with it and increased the contrast making it a bit less Ansel-esque for me).

It also reminds me of something I was thinking a couple of weeks ago, when I was browsing my copy of The New West by Robert Adams; this is another kind of bw photography that is utterly alien to me – primarily for the kind of subject matter (those empty, almost barren natural spaces with signs of human artifacts, are not to be found in Italy) but also for the way these spaces are represented with very flat greys.


I think the shot could indeed use a bit more dodge and burn, it’s a bit uniformly gray in my edit. In my experience these black and white digital negatives can take quite a bit of processing.

The look is also due to the Zeiss Ikonta (the lens mostly) l think, from what I’ve seen online even other medium format camera don’t look quite the same.

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Thank you for the infos :slight_smile:

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For the image you referenced, I think it’s the following:

  1. Subject: Adams’ images were often expansive landscapes…
  2. Tonality: Adams’ attention to such through the Zone System made the most of textures of natural objects. The reference image is a bit more high-key than Adams’, but the gist is there…
  3. Generational context: By this I mean, what’s appealing to our generation, @Claes :laughing: . We grew up with monochrome images, so our expectations and predilections are still aligned such.

Even if you hadn’t pointed it out, I would have thought the same about this image…


historically AA’s art is rooted in 19th century, especially romantic landscape painting
it’s somehow anachronistic, it’s something like “how would Caspar David Friedrich have painted if he had seen the Alps”, so it’s more than 100 years too late