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Moore's Views & Reviews

Free Ansel Adams Desktop Pictures

Plus some very classy screensaver ideas

Friday, August 22, 2003

By Applelinks Contributing Editor Charles W. Moore

I have been a huge fan of the great 20th Century landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, fan for many years. His stunning black and white pictures, mostly taken with a huge view camera that used 8” x 10” film for producing negatives have a luminous quality and range of contrast and texture that transcends anything that is possible with color film.

Looking across lake toward mountains, “Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park,” Montana.

Delightfully, there is massive collection of Adams photos that the photographer produced for the United States Department of the Interior from 1933-1942. They represent a royalty-free resource of Adams’ early work that can be used by web designers, desktop publishers and graphic artists. And as very classy Desktop pictures.

Per federal documentation, the use and duplication of these Ansel Adams images is unrestricted. The photographic prints in this series are in the public domain. In correspondence dated August 18, 1942, from Adams to E. K. Burlew, First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Interior, Adams states that the photographs are the property of the U.S. Government.

“The Tetons - Snake River”
By Ansel Adams, Wyoming, 1942
National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service

There are gif and jpeg archives of these photos compiled on several Websites from which they can be downloaded (see links below). One of the most comprehensive Adams sites has been compiled by author, graphic artist, and commercial web designer Eve Paludan, containing more than two hundred digitized photo images. The Browse pages on Paludan’s site have low-resolution catalog images that link to good quality thumbnail images with further links to full size images.

According to Eve Paludan:

“In 1941, the National Park Service commissioned Ansel Adams to take photographs for a planned mural that was to be displayed in the Department of the Interior Building in Washington, DC. The idea was to have a thematic mural of nature preservation in National Parks. Ansel Adams was paid about $22 a day and took photos in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. He processed the B & W photos, using gelatin developing out paper. He used zone exposure technology that he and Edward Weston developed in 1932 to get maximum tonal range from black-and-white film. Sadly, World War II interrupted the project, so the mural was never completed.

Full side view of adobe house with water in foreground, “Acoma Pueblo [National Historic Landmark, New Mexico].”

"Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902 and died in 1984. A self-taught photographer and accomplished pianist with only a grammar school education, he began taking photos at age 14, and spent summers working and photographing in Yosemite. He also was a longtime member, contributor, and director of the Sierra Club.

"He received the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award in 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter, and many other awards, fellowships, and honorary doctorate degrees throughout his lifetime. Posthumously, an Ansel Adams Wilderness Area of more than 100,000 acres between Yosemite National Park and the John Muir Wilderness Area was created."

“In Glacier National Park”
By Ansel Adams, Montana, 1941
National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service

The prints that Ansel Adams sold to the Interior Department are now in the National Archives. Both 8” x 10” and 4” x 5” copy negatives have been made of from some of the more popular Adams prints (before they become too damaged by use) by the National Archives. Prints or digital scans can be ordered from the prints or copy negatives, using one of the National Archives’ six authorized vendors. For information on obtaining prints or scans of Ansel Adams images in the National Archive, contact: .

More information and downloadable Adams images from the DOI collection can be found at:

To use these images as Desktop Pictures in OS X, just download a full size image from Ms. Paludan’s Website or one of the others linked above, drag the image file into the Pictures Folder in your Home Folder, open the Desktop Preferences panel, select “Pictures Folder” form the pull-down menu, and then click on the thumbnail of the image you imported in from the images that are arrayed across the bottom of the panel.

In OS 8.5 through 0S 9.2.1, it’s a good idea to drag the image file(s) into the Photos folder in the Desktop Pictures folder in the Appearance folder in the System folder, although this is not absolutely necessary. You can alternatively select desktop pictures from anywhere on your hard drive using the open dialog in the Desktop pane of the Appearance Control Panel. Open the Appearance Control Panel from the submenu in the Apple Menu, and click on the Desktop tab. A dialog will appear that allows you to choose and manipulate your Desktop appearance.

First, you need to remove the picture that already appears on your Desktop, if any, by clicking the Remove Picture button. This does not destroy or erase the photo from your hard drive; just deselects it as your Desktop picture. Also, whatever Desktop Pattern is selected in the scrolling Patterns menu will remain underlying the desktop picture, which, when activated, covers the Desktop Pattern.

To select a new Desktop picture, click the Place Picture button (formerly the Remove Picture button). An open file dialog will appear, allowing you to navigate to find graphics files anywhere on your hard drive.

You can preview the photos stored in the Photos folder or wherever by clicking the Show Preview button, which will make the selected photo appear in the Preview window of the open file dialog box. You can also drag any compatible graphics file directly into the preview window to display it there.

When you find the picture you want in the open file dialog, click Choose, and it will appear in the mini Desktop window of the Desktop dialog box, allowing you to see how well it fits the Desktop. Click Set Desktop, and the picture will be applied to the Desktop.

For Mac OS 8 and 8.1, there is no Appearance Control Panel, but you can set and manipulate Desktop pictures in much the same way as described above using the eponymously named Desktop Pictures Control Panel.

If you would prefer to use Adams photographs as screensaver images, the $20 Ansel Adams Screen Saver 6.0 features photos from the DOI collection.

System requirements:
₯ Mac OS X 10.0 or higher

Ansel Adams Screen Saver is $19.95 shareware

For more information, visit:

Note that if you’re running OS X you can compile your own screensaver slideshow by downloading the images yourself, putting them in the Pictures folder in your Home folder, checking the Change Picture checkbox in the Desktop Preferences pane, and specifying the desired change interval from the pull-down menu

New York City Screensaver 1.0 25

Speaking of screensavers, David Hanauer has compiled a wonderful OS X screensaver collection of NYC photographs that is free for the downloading.

New York City has one of the most photogenic cityscapes on the planet. Even folks who have never lived or visited there are likely to regard many Big Apple venues as familiar from seeing them in so many movies and TV shows over the years. Now you can have New York City vistas on your OS X monitor screen.

Whether you are currently living in New York or just want to relive your time there, this collection of 25 color and black & white photographs will offer you the opportunity to reminisce about one of the greatest cities on Earth. All photos are of Manhattan and include the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue, Grand Central Terminal, various skyline views, and a large dose of Central Park.

All of the images in the NYC screensaver were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 995 digital camera. The black & white photos were taken using the camera’s B&W mode. David says he now no longer takes pictures in the black and white mode, but takes everything in color and converts it to grayscale in Photoshop later on if he thinks it would look better rather as a B&W photo.

“I tried to pick a mix of photos that captured what I felt was my own experience in the city (or at least the places that I took pictures of),” he says. One of the photos I included was of a mosaic from Times Square. I thought the picture captured the spirit of life in New York. Just a few days after releasing the screensaver the artist who made the mosaic sent me an email! (I put it in the comments section of my web site (look for the “Return of Spring” link):

David says that in choosing the order of the photos and the mix of black and white and color, he just moved the order around until he liked the result.

“Had I known the screensaver would be as popular as it was, I would have taken many more photos when I was there,” David told me. “As it is, there are many photos I decided not to include because I thought they might be a bit too out of the ordinary (for example I have one of the warped reflection of the Empire State Building in the glass of the Javitz Center, where the Macworld Expos are held, but I thought it would probably be a bit too abstract.) I’m also toying with the idea (when I get more time) to offer some of these extra pictures with the option to add only certain ones to the screensaver if people liked them and chose to add them. I’d probably have to write a little installer program, though, since many people I know would never be able to open up the hidden folder to drop the pictures in.

“Other photos I would have liked to include but they just didn’t work out right in landscape mode since I had taken them in the vertical orientation.”

David says he does plan on releasing another set of roughly 25 images of New York as either another screensaver or an updated version of the current one, but this will have to wait until he finds more time.

“For the next set of photos, I don’t have enough purely digital photos of manhattan so I will need to resort to scanning in some 4x6” prints that I had taken earlier, including at least one of a sailboat under a bridge which was truly taken with black and white film. Since I live in Boston now I’d like to do one of Boston as well. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy here I haven’t had a chance to really go out and take photos. Hopefully in the year I have left here I’ll find the time and be able to gather enough material for a Boston screensaver.”


To install this screen saver, you can use the included small installer program. This program can also be used to remove the slide show if you want. For the installer to work properly, the slide show will need to be in the same folder as the installer.

Alternatively, open either your Main or Home Library Folder and then open the “Screen Savers” folder. Then simply drag the file “New York City Screen Saver.slideSaver” to the “Screen Savers” folder. Your Main Library folder can be found at the main level of your hard drive and your Home Library folder can be found in your Home directory.

If you install the file in your Main folder it will be available to all users of the system (but you will need to be an “administrator” of the computer). If you install the file in your Home folder, it will be available only to you but no other users of the computer.

Once the file is installed you will need to go to your System Preferences and choose the “Screen Effects” preference. You should then be able to select the slide show.

You can also extract the images from the screensaver module to use as Desktop pictures.

Go to:

Macintosh HD (or your Home Folder, wherever the screensaver is installed) -> System -> Library -> Screen Savers

Then control-click on New York City Screen Saver.slideSaver and select “Show Package Contents” from the contextual menu. You’ll find 25 NYC images in:

Contents -> Resources

in .jpg format

This screensaver is freeware and is only available for Macintosh OS X.

For more information, visit:

Charles W. Moore

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