Why Ansel Adams Made His Black Even Blacker

The Photographer Projected a More Perfect Union by Taking Artistic Liberty With His Yosemite Landscapes

Ansel Adams’ Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, is a classic landscape photograph, one that draws upon decades of dramatic imagery touting the far West as the ultimate expression of an expanding American empire.

It is also a textbook example of what Adams famously referred to as the “Zone System,” a technique that transforms the photographic surface into a study in contrasts. By manipulating the light-sensitive silver within the film and the printing paper, Adams created a gleaming array of ultra-whites, shimmering silvers, and inky blacks—transforming the composition …