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ANSEL ADAMS: Classic Images
Surf Sequence 4, San Mateo County Coast, California, c.1940
To learn more about this photograph see the information below. To see a larger view of this image as an Acrobat Reader PDF file, click on the image...

Surf Sequence 4, San Mateo County Coast, California, c.1940 by Ansel Adams

This image is copyrighted by The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust and cannot be printed or reproduced in any way. The use of the photograph is limited to viewing in the context of this web site.

 

Surf Sequence 4, San Mateo County Coast, California, c.1940
Plate 29 in Ansel Adams - Classic Images

Main Source: Examples - The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams, pp 23-26


A. How did Adams arrive at taking Surf Sequence?
B. Why is Surf Sequence significant?
C. What special problems and opportunities did the subject bring?
D. What difficulties were presented during printing?
E. How did Adams meet the darkroom challenges?
F. Technical Aspects
G. Related links in this site


A. How did Adams arrive at taking Surf Sequence?
One morning Adams was driving along the coast and frequently stopped the car to look out from the cliffs at the lively surf below. "At one location I noted that below me was a nice curve of rockfall fronting the beach. The surf was streaming over the beach, barely touching the rocks and creating one beautiful pattern after another. I realized that I could perehaps make a series of images that might become a sequence..." He set up his camera and waited for an "appealing arrangement of flowing water and foam."
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B. Why is Surf Sequence significant?
According to James Alinder in his introduction to Ansel Adams - Classic Images, the book on which this exhibition is based, this series is the product of one of his "most innovative moments... It has quiet musical and poetic changes," relating to his love of music and poetry. Alinder add that "Adams created a consecutive image relationship that was unprecedented, one that prefigured sequential concerns among creative photographrs some thirty years later."
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C. What special problems and opportunities did the subject bring?
The weather concerned Adams. "It was a crisp shining day with an approaching band of fog over the sea. There was a question of exposure because as the white water came in and out, the light readings varied. He chose an average. This subject was moving, unlike most of his other subjects. He set the shutter at a fast speed, at 1/100 second. The movement caused Adams to "try to anticipate the position of these moving shapes in time." He failed with several of the exposures, ending up with five satisfactory compositions out of nine negatives made. The movement presented a new opportunity for Adams - the possibility of sequential patterns. Adams became "aware of the relation of one image to those preceding and following," as he imagined the final prints. He believes they can be displayed in any order desired.
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D. What difficulties were presented during printing?
Adams said that printing was not as easy as expected. If the prints were to be shown as a sequence, there was need for tonal balance. But the density was not even in each negative for two reasons due to the conditions during the twenty minutes during which Adams took all five exposures. The first reason was that "the sun continued to rise and the general luminance value increased; each negative was a bit more exposed than the preceding one..." The second reason was that as "foam and water receded from the beach, the revealed sand would change value , gradually growing lighter as the sand absorbed the water. After the next wave it would return to its darker value." Another problem was that he found on three of the negatives a distracting detail..
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E. How did Adams meet the darkroom challenges?
In addition to trying combinations of various papers and developers (see technical aspects), he engaged in "rather intricate dodging and burning." This means he increased (burning), or decreased (dodging) the light from the enlarger through the negative to the photographic paper to achieve the balance of values he visualized. In this case he also used cropping. Because he wanted all five prints to be precisely the same size, and he had to crop (cut off) the right side of three of the prints to eliminate a distracting shape, he had to crop all five. He says this attention to small detail is a matter of his "desire for perfection."
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F. Technical Aspects

  • Camera: 4 X 5 view camera
  • Film: ASA 64
  • Lens: 10-inch (250mm) Dagor - long focus
  • Light meter: Weston. Set for an average of 200 candles per square foot
  • Exposure: 1/100 second at f/11
  • Paper: Agfa Brovira Grade 3 with Kodak D-23 Developer
    Then Ilford Gallerie Grade 1 with quite full development in Dektol
    Grade 3 Gallerie with Kodak Selectrol-Soft developer
  • Toning: All prints were toned in selenium

To correct for darkroom difficulties, if he were to retake the photograph he would use:

  • Camera: Hasselblad with the prism finder
  • Lens: 120 mm or 150 mm
  • Film: medium speed, Plus X
  • Exposure: very fast shutter speed to arrest motion
  • Developer: Normal-plus-one in fairly concentrated developer solution.


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G. Related links in this site

Exhibit Home | Gallery | About Ansel Adams | About Photography | Lesson Plans & Activities | Student Projects | Resources | Programs & Tours | HMA Home

Housatonic Museum of Art
Housatonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT 06604
For information call Robbin Zella, Director, 203-332-5052