Adams got particular results out of a procedure he called “visualization,” in which the photographer “sees” the final image as fully as possible in their imagination before attempting to capture that image on film in the real world.
Discovery of the subject, or recognition of its essential aspects, will evoke the concept of the image.
For more information still on Adams’ artistic process, see also Ansel Adams, Photographer, the 1958 documentary we featured here in 2013. The question dogs many who’ve recently picked up the camera, especially those directly inspired to do so by he whose black-and-white landscapes practically defined the American West for the 20th century.

The term “seeing” can be used for visualization, but the latter term is more precise in that it relates to the final picture—its scale, composition, tonal and textural values, etc.
None of this material, of course, guarantees you the ability to take photographs exactly like Ansel Adams, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to: we do our best work, after all, not when we do exactly what our greatest predecessors did, but when we think how our greatest predecessors thought.
Sometimes just going out with a camera can excite perceptive interest and the desire to work.
Just as a musician “hears” notes and chords in his mind’s eye, so can the trained photographer “see” certain values, textures, and arrangements in his mind’s eye.

Hence the importance of visualization, which you can do right now without buying the exact model of Zeiss Milliflex Adams used or going to the exact spots in Yosemite from which he shot — you only need to think.

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