In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before photography was accepted as a fine art medium, photographers used various techniques to mimic painting in an effort to gain credibility in the art world. The style, known as Pictorialism, remained popular into the 1920’s but was pretty much on the way out by the end of World War II. *
In the 1930s, as a reaction to the soft focus, impressionistic aesthetics of Pictorialism, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and handful of other well known West Coast photographers formed a group to promote a precise, modernist approach to photography. They dubbed the group “f/64” in reference to the extreme depth of field and clarity obtained by using a high f-number setting on their view cameras.** Their 1932 exhibition at the de Young museum in San Francisco was hugely successful and subsequently many of them went on to influence the direction of photography for decades to come.
My approach to landscape photography is heavily influenced by the Group f/64 photographers. I love the clarity and precision in their work; the long depth of field, the sharp focus, the careful compositions and precise exposures. I also appreciate the emphasis on the natural world that is prevalent in so many of their photographs. It's been over 80 years since that first show at the de Young, but the standard they set is still a lofty goal to strive for.
*It's ironic that with the rise of the iPhone and Instagram, a modern version of the pictorial style has come back to popularity, but that's an article for another day.
**A camera f-number represents the ratio between the focal length of the lens and the size of the lens opening (aperture). The higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture, the lower the f-number, the larger the aperture. Aperture size determines the amount of light that passes through the lens, and it also affects depth of field, which is defined as, “the range of objects within an image that appear to be in sharp focus.” The lower the f-number, the shorter the depth of field, the higher the f-number (as in "f/64"), the longer the depth of field.