Glossary of Photographic Terms

Aperture

The size of the opening of the lens, measured in “f-stops”. The lens aperture or f-stop is simply the diameter of the lens opening expressed as a fraction of its focal length. The aperture controls how much light is transmitted to the film, which, in conjunction with the film speed, determines the length of the exposure. The aperture also establishes the depth of field and the range of focus. A small aperture will result in a greater depth of field and generally a sharper image than a larger aperture.

Archival

A feature of some materials used in presenting or storing fine art work. Acids in paper, cotton, cardboard, wood and other materials will, over time, cause deterioration in the artwork. Archival materials are acid-free, and sometimes include a buffer to prevent acidic penetration of material. The term archival is sometimes used with respect to certain color photographic techniques to describe their longevity or color fastness.

Archival Processing

A generic term for multiple types of processes that have the intent of reducing as much as practicable, or stabilizing, the quantity of materials and chemicals that can lead to deterioration.

Condition

Refers to the physical condition of a particular print. Flaws or damage can include surface scratches, chipped emulsion, spots on the print or mount, mildew or other environmental damage. Because the condition of a print can have a significant impact on its value, it is very important to take excellent care of photographs. Our rating scale is pristine, excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor.

The Ansel Adams Gallery guarantees that every photograph we sell is in either pristine or excellent condition unless specifically stated otherwise. We are extremely demanding of quality and conservative in our evaluations of conditions, and will identify things most people can’t see. The following are our general guidelines.

Condition, Pristine – Absolutely no damage to the print surface. Also known as “mint”. It is very rare that we will assign this condition to a print.

Condition, Excellent – Minor flaws or damage to print surface, visible only under close inspection in a raking light.

Condition, Very Good – Minor flaws or damage to print surface, visible under close inspection under standard viewing conditions OR numerous areas of minor flaws or damage visible only in a raking light.

Condition, Good – Numerous minor flaws or damage to print surface, visible under close inspection under standard viewing conditions.

Condition, Fair – Minor flaws or damage that is readily visible from a standard (3 feet) viewing distance and / or visible once noticed.

Condition, Poor - Everything else, and usually enough to make you cry.

 

Copyright

The legal right to use and restrict use of an image. All images pictured on this web site and all prints sold by The Ansel Adams Gallery are copyrighted by their respective owners. All rights are reserved to the owner without express written consent of the owner.

Edition

General term for a grouping or classification of any grade of artwork, be it exhibition prints, reproductions, posters, books, etc. The term is so general, with so many different types of classifications, that it is, by itself, meaningless. Always ask the seller what the edition means.

Grain

Grain is the smallest unit of color or tone in film, the digital equivalent is pixel.

Image

The artist”s rendition of the scene which seeks to convey or evoke a particular emotion. Sometimes the term is confused with the meaning of “Print”, which is the tangible object.

Image Quality

Image quality consists of luminosity, tonality, sharpness, and grain of the image of a print. It does not refer to the composition of the image, which is a subjective determination and generality will not vary from print to print.

Image Quality, Grain

Grain is the smallest unit of color or tone in film, the digital equivalent is pixel.

Image Quality, Luminosity

Luminosity refers to how much a black and white photograph appears to glow, i.e. the warmth of an area brightness. It can vary from print to print, and is inherent in the image itself. If that doesn”t confuse you, please raise your hand. As our web site develops, we will try to show an example, however there may be technical limitations.

Image Quality, Sharpness

Sharpness refers to the focus or clarity of lines and gradations of tone.

Image Quality, Tonality

Tonality refers to both the hue of a black and white photograph and the gradation of black to white throughout the photograph.

Lithograph

Term widely used today for some high quality posters and paper prints that are ink-based reproductions of original works in any medium. Technically inaccurate, as the term originally referred to a printing process that used stone plates to hold the ink. The word derives from the Latin root “lith”, meaning stone, and “graph” meaning image. As there is no standard quality scale for paper prints, buyers should pay attention to what is called a “litho” or “lithograph”. In our terminology, a lithograph refers to the product of a specific process using metal plates with hand made color separations.

Longevity / Stability

Photographic prints are typically archivally processed to enhance their permanence. Platinum, palladium and cyanotypes are considered permanent. Most silver prints, properly washed and fixed, are generally permanent as well. Not all color processes are as stable, however, recent advances in archival papers such as FujColor Crystal Archive paper have significantly extended the life of color prints. Inks and pigments are being developed that have a greater longevity all the time. One of the most trusted resources in this field is Henry Wilhelm, located on the internet at www.wilhelm-research.com.

Luminosity

Luminosity refers to how much a black and white photograph appears to glows, i.e. the warmth of an area brightness. It can vary from print to print, and is inherent in the image itself. If that doesn”t confuse you, please raise your hand. As our web site develops, we will try to show an example, however there may be technical limitations.

Market, Primary

Term for the sources of art works initially sold to collectors (usually galleries, dealers, and in some instances the artists themselves). The Ansel Adams Gallery is a primary market for the contemporary photographers we represent.

Market, Secondary

General term for sources of art works that have been sold previously. Auction houses, dealers, and some galleries are the typical participants in the secondary market. For the works of some photographers, such as Ansel Adams, the secondary market is not only critical in establishing prices, but the only source of original photographs. The Ansel Adams Gallery is a secondary market for Ansel Adams, and consigns or purchases works of some artists from collectors.

Media Type, Etching

A print made by pressing paper onto an inked metal plate. The metal plate has been “etched” using one or more methods (from stylus to chemicals) to create the image. The print is a mirror image of the plate, thus making etchings of familiar landscapes very difficult to create.

Media Type, Lithograph

Term widely used today for some high quality posters and paper prints that are ink-based reproductions of original works in any medium. Technically inaccurate, as the term originally referred to a printing process that used stone plates to hold the ink. The word derives from the Latin root “lith”, meaning stone, and “graph” meaning image. As there is no standard quality scale for paper prints, buyers should pay attention to what is called a “litho” or “lithograph”. In our terminology, a lithograph refers to the product of a specific process using metal plates with hand made color separations.

Media Type, Photograph

Photograph can and does mean both the tangible paper based result and the image as it is created in the camera and on film. We generally refer to the tangible final result as a ‘print’, and the film negative or positive as the negative. We sometimes refer to photograph as a print, but never use print to refer to poster.

Media Type, Poster

Mass produced image on paper using inks. The quality of posters vary widely, and the highest quality posters today are sometimes referred to as lithographs. The variables that determine poster quality are: quality of the reproduction print, the printer, printer operator, paper, screen of color separation, choice of ink, including ink colors, and even the size of the ink dot. Ansel Adams did not regularly publish posters until the mid 1970″s, when he found a printer, Gardner Lithograph, who shared his attitude toward quality and was at a similar level of craftsmanship in the printing field.

Mount

Also called “mount board”, the photograph is mounted, either “tipped”, “dry mounted”, “hinged” or “wet mounted” on to a paper, cotton, or foam core “board” that is stiff enough to support the print. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing to know is whether it is archival or not.

Mount, Corner

Process of attaching a photograph to a mount board using corner “sheaths” which are adhered to the mount. The photograph is not permanently affixed, and the tips of the photograph slide into the corners. Usually the overmat covers the corners, and the artist may sign the overmat and/or the photograph edge.

Mount, Dry

Process of adhering a photograph to a mount board using a thin heat-sensitive paper. Most photographers use an archival dry mount tissue. Dry mounting is, for the most part, permanent, and flaws, dust and grit in the mount process can ruin the photograph.

Mural

REALLY, REALLY, big photographs. 30″x40″ minimum, up to 42″x80″. Extremely difficult to print and retain the qualities of more standard size images, even more difficult to develop.

Mural Project

The Department of the Interior project for which Ansel Adams was contracted to photograph the National Parks in 1941-1942. Project was halted due to the Second World War. Some of the images have been reproduced in poster format, however the quality of reproduction has been so poor that we have not been willing to sell them.

Original

General usage means a print made by the artist. Historically, some photographers were not interested in working in the darkroom (such as Henri Cartier-Bresson) but prints signed by him are considered originals. With digital processes, originals are not handcrafted but are approved and signed by the artist.

Over-mat

A cotton or fiber “board” that rests on top of the mount in which a window is cut to reveal the photograph. The over-mat will provide some protection (eliminate contact) from the surface of the glass or plexi-glass when the photograph is framed. It can also protect the edges of the print. Some photographers sign the over-mat as well as the print or mount.

Photograph

As a noun, photograph can and does mean both the tangible paper based result and the image as it is created in the camera and on film. We generally refer to the tangible final result as a ‘print’, and the film negative or positive as the negative. As a verb, it is a great occupation, avocation, hobby, or pastime.

Photograph, Original

Photographs are, by nature of the art form, two steps removed from the subject. The first step is the negative (or positive transparency), the second is the photograph. The generally accepted definition of “Original Photograph” is a photograph printed by the photographer from the original negative. With caveats. One of the artists we represent, Carol Henry, does not usually use a negative, making hers truly “originals”. One can question whether they are truly photographs, and she herself calls them “monoprints”. The advent of digital photography and digital prints continues to throw a curve at the classic definition of photography. The Ansel Adams Gallery uses the same reference each photographer uses, and makes it very clear what the print type is. Each type of digital print is defined in this glossary. Digital photography was just developing when Ansel passed away, and he was fascinated by computers, and very excited about the potential of digital photography, particularly for color photography. For an interesting discussion on this topic, we recommend Ansel Adams In Color, published by Little Brown and Company.

Plate

Printing term for an image on a page in a book. In many older books, the printed image is on a different type of paper than the text, and has to be printed separately. Text pages were numbered separately from pages with images, thus a different type of index and a different terminology.

Ply

A measure of the stiffness or thickness of mount and over-mat. See Ted Orland’s poster, Photographic Truths.

Portfolio

A group of photographs published together, usually with some unifying concept, such as artist, subject matter, composition, theme, or interpretation.

Poster

Mass produced image on paper using inks. The quality of posters vary widely, and the highest quality posters today are sometimes referred to as lithographs. The variables that determine poster quality are: quality of the reproduction print, the printer, printer operator, paper, screen of color separation, choice of ink, including ink colors, and even the size of the ink dot. Ansel Adams did not regularly publish posters until the mid 1970″s, when he found a printer, Gardner Lithograph, who shared his attitude toward quality and was at a similar level of craftsmanship in the printing field.

Primary Market

Term for the sources of art works initially sold to collectors (usually galleries, dealers, and in some instances the artists themselves). The Ansel Adams Gallery is a primary market for the contemporary photographers we represent.

Print

Term that is used widely and loosely to refer to the physical object of any number of photographic or other paper-based media. Not to be confused with the term “Image”, which is the artist”s rendition of the scene. Print can also mean photograph, poster, lithograph, linotype, woodblock, etc. The Ansel Adams Gallery uses the term to refer to photographs, and other terms such as poster or lithograph to refer to those types of items.

Print Quality

Print quality consists of tangible aspects, such as the papers used, the original presentation of the print, and the subsequent condition. See condition.

Print, Bromide or Bromoil

A gelatin silver paper which uses a bromide salt instead of the more typical chloride salt. The chemical difference provides a different tonal quality, a brownish hue to the blacks.

Print, Carbon Ink

A black and white print created with a professional high resolution inkjet printer, utilizing four to six shades of carbon-pigment based monochromatic inks. In expert hands, this process can produce tonal subtleties previously associated with the finest platinum prints. The best of these are essentially dotless and continuous tone. Carbon is an extremely stable element, and when applied to fine art rag paper, its archival properties rank among the best of any printmaking process.

Print, Carbon Transfer

Carbon transfer process is one of the oldest permanent photographic print processing techniques. It uses a sensitized emulsion of water, gelatin, sugar, and pigment (lampblack and sumi ink) on sheets of Mylar (the carbon “tissue”). A negative is then contact printed onto the tissue using ultra-violet light as the exposure light source. The UV light raises the melting point of the exposed gelatin. A wet emulsion will bond to the paper, and the combination of mylar, emulsion, and paper is then placed in hot water. The hot water melts some of the emulsion, and when the mylar is pulled away, the image is left on the paper.

Print, Chromogenic

General term for a color print. Includes print categories color negative (c-print and crystal archive), color positive (silver dye), and ink (pigment and dye).

Print, Contact

A photographic print made by placing the negative in direct contact with the paper rather than projecting the image onto the paper through an enlarger lens. Contact prints are always the same size as the negative. They typically show the least amount of grain of any photograph made from that negative.

Print, Crystal Archive

A new generation of color negative photographic paper. Designed for use in large, digitally controlled laser ‘enlargers’. The lasers expose the emulsion on the paper in microscopic increments. When completely exposed, the paper is then processed with traditional photographic chemicals. This photographic paper is expected to remain color stable for more than 60 years.

Print, Dassonville Paper

A photographic paper manufactured by photographer, William Dassonville. Ansel Adams used Dassonville”s “charcoal black” paper for his Taos Pueblo book.

Print, Dye

A color print made using digital technologies with a dye ink as the color base instead of pigment ink. A dye ink and paper combination recently developed by HP is expected to remain color stable for more than 100 years.

Print, Dye Transfer

A handcrafted color photographic print. By creating separation negatives, the original color image is divided through red, green and blue filters that create separation positives. These positives are gelatin relief images that soak up dyes which are then transferred in exact alignment onto another sheet to reproduce the original color image. The dye transfer process gives a much greater archival life than a Type C print, however not as long as modern technologies. Estimated color stability for approximately 27 years.

Print, Exhibition

Refers to the highest quality of photographic print. The printed Image reflects not just the vision of the artist, but the craftsmanship, with tonality and luminosity as the artist intends. Exhibition Prints are processed archivally, usually on a fiber based paper. Almost all original photographs signed by the artist are considered Exhibition Prints. The term is interchangeable with Fine Print or Fine Art Print.

Print, Fine

Term used refer to the highest quality of photographic print. The printed Image reflects not just the vision of the artist, but the craftsmanship with tonality and luminosity as the artist intends. Fine Prints are processed archivally, usually on a fiber based paper. Almost all original photographs signed by the artist are considered Fine Prints. The term is interchangeable with Exhibition Print.

Print, Gelatin Silver

A gelatin silver print, or just “silver print” refers to prints made on paper having silver chloride emulsion. Most contemporary black and white photographs are gelatin silver prints.

Print, Giclee

Giclee (g-clay) prints, a French word for “a spraying of ink”, originally referred to prints made on Iris inkjet printers. Due to a proliferation of terms, it is now used for prints made on fine, sometimes handcrafted, watercolor paper.

Print, Ilfochrome / Cibachrome

A high-gloss color positive photographic print that allows extremely sharp detail and high resolution. Made from a color positive (transparency or slide). The process uses a silver dye-bleach to selectively bleach dyes already within the paper. Originally called Cibachrome, product line was purchased by Ilford, which changed the name of the product.

Print, Inkjet

An inkjet print can be created on an inexpensive home printer from a digital image file or on high quality commercial printer at high resolution. Ink is applied on paper or other material by spraying tiny droplets of ink from nozzles in the printer head. Iris and Giclee prints are examples of high quality inkjet applications. The newest inks and pigments formulated for this process have archival qualities similar to photographic prints.

Print, Iris

These fine art prints are produced on an Iris printer, an extremely high resolution inkjet printer that can print on a wide variety of materials, including watercolor papers as well as artist”s canvas. Prints in this format are produced by both photographers as well as artists in other fine art mediums. The Giclee (gee-clay) is the most common of the Iris prints.

Print, Modern

A photograph printed substantially later than the when the negative was made.

Print, Mural

REALLY, REALLY, big photographs. 30″x40″ minimum, up to 42″x80″. Extremely difficult to print and retain the qualities of more standard size images, even more difficult to develop.

Print, Palladium

Similar to a platinum print using palladium salts rather that platinum. The process became popular after WWI when platinum became too costly.

Print, Parmelian

Photographic prints made by Ansel Adams for his first published work with Albert Bender in 1927. The paper used was a Kodak paper, Vitava Athena Parchment Paper. The term “parmelian” was coined by Jean Chambers Moore, the publisher of the portfolio, to aid in its sale. It is worth remembering that at that time, photography was not considered a fine art. Ansel Adams was one of the driving forces in photography gaining acceptance as a fine art with the establishment of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1940.

Print, Period

A photograph printed near the time the negative was made, but not early enough to be considered vintage.

Print, Pigment

A color print made using digital technologies with a pigment ink as the color base instead of dye. The first digital print-making process to combine archival stability with small droplet size. The most common digital print making technology uses Epson printers and inks. Independent of paper selection, archival stability is expected for over 70 years.

Print, Platinum

A contact print made by coating paper with a specially prepared platinum emulsion. The emulsion is usually prepared by the photographer immediately before printing, which makes for a time-consuming, expensive, and inherently variable process. High quality platinum prints are very difficult to make, and require a high degree of technical competence. The result, however, is an extremely stable print with rich tones and ranges of gray unobtainable in silver prints.

Print, Reproduction

Photograph made for the specific purpose of reproducing a photograph in a newspaper, book, or magazine. Because of the limitations of these media, photographers typically print the image without the full range of tones. The magazine, for example, usually prints black and white images in half-tones, which adds contrast to the image. Until very recently, the photographer would have to compensate for the press by printing a muted, low contrast photograph specifically for reproduction purposes. Also called “repro print”. Not to be confused with “Reproduction”.

Print, Straight

A photograph made without manipulation such as burning or dodging which shows exactly the densities inherent in the negative.

Print, Type ‘C’

A color printing process replaced in 1958 primarily by Ektacolor RC Prints. Photographs are printed on resin-coated paper from color negatives. Less stable than most color processes, this is the type of print most people get from their local film processor.

Print, Vintage

A photograph printed within a very few years of the date when the negative was made. Collectors typically place a higher value on a vintage print than a later print.

Print, Work

Achieving the visualized image is a difficult process, with a multitude of factors that need to be aligned. Such factors include: size of print, developer temperature and time, type of paper, dry-down, burning and dodging, etc. A work print is an intermediate step which is not exhibition quality.

Provenance

Term for the history of a particular work of art. In photography, the history of a unique print. Often includes ownership, exhibits, and references. The provenance of a fine print can have a very significant impact on its value to a collector.

Publishing Rights Trust

Ansel Adams established the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust in 1976 to restrict the use of his images to causes he ethically agreed with and to ensure the quality of any reproductions. The Trust owns the copyright to all of Ansel’s images and controls and authorizes all publication and use of Ansel Adams’s work.

Quality

In the context of this glossary, quality refers to both the print and the image. Image quality consists of luminosity, tonality, sharpness, and grain to name a few aspects. Print quality consists of tangible aspects, such as the papers used, the original presentation of the print, and the subsequent condition. Ansel Adams was very particular about the quality of his work, and would not allow the reproduction or sale of any items that were not outstanding. He knew it would reflect poorly on him and his work, and by association the things he represented. The Ansel Adams Gallery continually seeks to emulate this belief, and does not offer any product that is not outstanding.

Recto

Art term for the front side of the mounted photograph.

Reproduction

In the photographic sense, rather than biological sense. A reproduction is a second or further generation from the original photograph. A reproduction can be photographic (an example is the Best Studio Edition) or ink-based, such as a poster, lithograph, card, or calendar.

Secondary Market

General term for sources of art works that have been sold previously. Auction houses, dealers, and some galleries are the typical participants in the secondary market. For the works of some photographers, such as Ansel Adams, the secondary market is not only critical in establishing prices, but the only source of original photographs. The Ansel Adams Gallery is a secondary market for Ansel Adams, and consigns or purchases works of some artists from collectors.

Sharpness

Sharpness refers to the focus or clarity of lines and gradations of tone.

Stamp

Artist”s typically use a rubber stamp to identify themselves as the artist, sometimes their contact information, and that the image is copyrighted. The title and specific identification is usually handwritten.

Tonality

Tonality refers to both the hue of a black and white photograph and the gradation of black to white throughout the photograph.

Toning, Selenium

This is a chemical process used to both harden the surface of a gelatin silver print and to intensify the tonalities.

Toning, Sepia

This is a chemical process that is used to create a warmer hue to a gelatin silver print.

Verso

Art term for the reverse side of the mounted photograph.

Vintage Print

A photograph printed within a very few years of the date when the negative was made. Collectors typically place a higher value on a vintage print than a later print.

Yosemite Special Edition

The only photographs authorized by Ansel Adams to continue to be made after his death. This is an edition of 24 images, hand printed from Ansel”s original negatives, in an 8″x10″ size. The Ansel Adams Gallery is the exclusive source of these photographs.

Zone System

A scientific system for exposing film, developing negatives, and printing photographs to achieve the range of tonality desired. Developed and mastered by Ansel Adams, there are 10 zones, ranging from black (Zone 1) to white (Zone 10). The best books to explain how to use the Zone System are The Ansel Adams Guide, Basic Techniques of Photography, Books 1 and 2, by John Schafer.