What would Ansel Adams say?


I took a some quality time with my granddaughter MJ last week. Her spirit and enthusiasm can lift the heaviest sprit. We went for a walk and played outside. I grabbed my Canon Rebel XS and fired off a few shots of her being silly. Then she piped up: Hey Granddad Turkey toes, let me take some pictures!

Handing a 9 year old full of spunk a SLR is not something I would normally do , but in this case I was curious as to how 3rd grader would grasp the concept of the technology. Well you could have hit me between the eyes with a two by four, and I would not have flinched. This little piece of work dropped to one knee and started snapping shots of everything around her. She took time to frame the shots. The only thing I had to show her was where the button was! Cats, wood knots and me, of course, were her focus.

There wasn't a bad exposure! Some miss-framed images, and ugly turkey toe pictures, but that was it . I guess it says that a 3rd grader could give us all a run for the money with a little training in composition.

I pondered upon this all weekend. These days the photo industry, from one end to the other, has been both imploding and exploding at the same time. Twelve years ago my studio/photo lab closed because Superstore and Sobeys were installing one-hour labs with cut-throat prices. Not wanting to bleed to death, and being in a small portrait market, I turned tail and ran. Then digital came along and wiped out a whole bunch of independent photo labs- both pro and consumer. When the grocery and box stores started using photography as a loss leader the whole show started to swirl in a hand basket headed for hell. Add digital and the cost of retooling; boom there she goes. Ten years ago the average digital camera was expensive and still produced crappy images as a whole. Now a nine year-old can function a camera easily and produce better results then film would have on average.

I looked at this and said to myself; Self, what would the father of the zone system Ansel Adams say? I suppose he wouldn't have minded not having to drag a heavy view camera around Yosemite National Park. Although I doubt he would be jumping up and down when the stock image business became more diluted then an ounce of whiskey in the ocean.

Hey, but do you know what he would really say? These fancy digital cameras, all the printing systems and so on are still based on my zone system.

The truth is that the target reference for camera sensors, photo lab quality control materials and a whole slew of other things in the world of imaging is 18% grey, or zone 5, in photoshop info (126,126,126). Modern color film and B&W film still use the grey patch as the reference and target point of exposure. All other shades of the scale from absolute white (255,255,255) and black (0,0,0) fall around 18% grey. If you ask me its the one thing the world of technology got right. Our Chromira Prolab LED printer uses the grey scale to do basic balancing. Our custom profiles have the same patches in the reference image we use to create a custom ICC profile. Ode to Ansel!

I would guess that 99% of the world today does not know or care about Ansel or the Zone System. Cheap and easy is what we want, and that's what we got. As photographers and lab operators the only thing that sets us apart from the box stores and discount houses is two things; quality and service. Don't forget the nine year-olds that are just getting started.

Are you the kind of photographer that wants to offer the cheap and easy "fries are up" kind of experience, or will you take the time, like Ansel did, to improve an industry all around him that he loved?