Ansel Adams's Most Famous Photography
Ansel Adams was one of the most well-known landscape photographers in America, and throughout his career, he traveled to various US landmarks to capture unique photos of one-of-a-kind spaces. Most of his work was focused on showcasing the beauty of untouched wildlands, and his techniques became famous in the photography world.
In addition to being a famous photographer, Adams was also a well-respected environmentalist, and he combined those two passions to carve a unique niche for himself as an artist. Part of what made his work so highly favored was his ability to capture beautiful images and showcase mountains and forested areas in ways that took viewers to the site in their minds. He was able to show people through his photographs that the natural world was worth preserving.
Adams had a lot to say about nature photography as an art form and put a great deal of emphasis on the work of the photographer, the subject, and the viewer. For example, his efforts to showcase the feelings associated with the subjects he photographed were part of what made his work so moving. Additionally, Adams paid close attention to the reactions that viewers would have when looking at a photo he created.
To him, photography was more than just showing a viewer a still image of a place in time. His photographic collections aimed to say something about the subject recorded, to encourage viewers to look into the image rather than at it. This attitude has echoed across the photography industry and encouraged a deeper connection between the photographer, the subject, and the viewer.
Ansel Adams Gallery | Yosemite National Park
Located in the heart of Yosemite Valley, between the Visitor Center and Post Office, with incredible views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point, the Ansel Adams Photography Gallery is open 9am - 5pm seven days a week. Originally named Best’s Studio, the gallery has been operated in Yosemite Valley by the same (Ansel Adams) family since 1902.
Who was Ansel Adams?
Adams, Ansel (Feb. 20 1902 — Apr. 22, 1984), photographer and environmentalist, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Charles Hitchcock Adams, a businessman, and Olive Bray. The grandson of a wealthy timber baron, Adams grew up in a house set amid the sand dunes of the Golden Gate. When Adams was only four, an aftershock of the great earthquake and fire of 1906 threw him to the ground and badly broke his nose, distinctly marking him for life. A year later the family fortune collapsed in the financial panic of 1907, and Adams’s father spent the rest of his life doggedly but fruitlessly attempting to recoup.
If Adams’s love of nature was nurtured in the Golden Gate, his life was, in his words, “colored and modulated by the great earth gesture” of the Yosemite Sierra (Adams, Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, p. xiv). He spent substantial time there every year from 1916 until his death. From his first visit, Adams was transfixed and transformed. He began using the Kodak No. 1 Box Brownie his parents had given him. He hiked, climbed, and explored, gaining self-esteem and self-confidence. In 1919 he joined the Sierra Club and spent the first of four summers in Yosemite Valley, as “keeper” of the club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge. He became friends with many of the club’s leaders, who were founders of America’s nascent conservation movement. He met his wife, Virginia Best, in Yosemite; they were married in 1928. The couple had two children.
Ten Inspiring Ansel Adams Photographs
Adams’s work evolved as the years passed, but his most famous photographs involved snapshots of nature at a given time.
Each of his most famous photos took his talents to new levels and utilized interesting techniques that influenced other photographers of the time.
For example, because Adams used contrast to his advantage, his photos were often more defined, crisp, and showed sharp lines and edges in comparison to other photographs taken around his time.
On top of teaching budding and professional photographers through his examples, he also offered technical guidance through the creation of his book, Making a Photograph. This book was an in-depth instruction manual that covered his techniques and through the creation of this piece, he and his colleague, Fred Archer, were able to develop the Zone System of photography. This photography method enabled photographers to predict tones and the overall quality of images at the exact point the picture was to be taken.
Let’s take a look at ten of Ansel Adams’s most famous photographs taken throughout his career. I have purposely excluded his photographs froths writing and instead have shared some of my personal monochrome work. Instead, I have provided hyperlinks to the Ansel Adams Gallery website in an effort to encourage you to learn more about the works of this iconic master of photography.
1. East Vidette
The photograph titled East Vidette was shot in Kings Canyon National Park in 1925 and it features a rugged landscape of trees and a mountain peak in the distance. It’s a great example of Adams’s natural style.
2. Nevada Fall, Rainbow
Ansel Adams photographed Nevada Fall in 1947 during a visit to Yosemite National Park. While ordinarily, the fall and the Merced River below can be accessed by following the Mist Trail, for Adams, the trail’s heavy mist was a risk to his camera equipment. He took a smaller horse-riding trail to reach the falls.
3. Sand Dune, Sunrise
Ansel Adams shot this photograph of the sun coming up over Death Valley sand dunes in 1948 without the use of any filters. At the time, this was one of the most interesting desert photos captured because, unlike many others, the colors weren’t washed out and the film wasn’t overexposed.
4. El Capitan
This image was captured in about 1952 and feature’s the world’s largest exposed granite face on the planet, El Capitan. Adams has photographed El Capitan several times throughout his career, but this image is one of the most well-known when it comes to this rock formation.
5. Moon and Half Dome
Half Dome, a peak in Yosemite National Park, was captured with the moon hanging above in 1960. By this time, Adams was a well-known photographer, and this image is an excellent example of the way he used contrast to showcase the more delicate features of the mountain.
6. Moonrise Hernandez
This image captures a lot in a single shot, and the famous Moonrise photo taken in Hernandez is the first photo of many that Adams took during that session. The image displays the moon rising over the down and shows a bit of everything in the area, from the moon to the bushes.
7. The Golden Gate Bridge
In 1932, Ansel Adams captured this photograph of the Golden Gate area before the bridge was constructed. This piece serves as both a beautiful piece of art and a way to preserve history, allowing viewers to look back on a time before such a well-known bridge became part of the landscape.
8. Eagle Peak & Middle Brother
Again, Ansel’s method of using contrast makes this 1968 photo a very unique piece. It showcases Eagle Peak in the background but also makes use of dark tree limbs and branches to break up the brightness of the rock face.
9. San Francisco from Twin Peaks
This photo combines elements of the natural world with those of manmade dwellings. From the vantage point of Twin Peaks, Adams photographed the city of San Francisco as well as the mountainous background and heavy clouds looming overhead.
10. Self Portrait | Ansel Adams
Finally, Ansel Adams’s self-portrait is a famous one in that it captures his style of photography, a common subject of his (mountains), and a shadow of himself. In a way, Adams made use of the natural elements around him to create an accurate image of himself as an artist.
As with many artists who make their mark on the world, Ansel Adams contributed to photography as an art form by designing new techniques and leading photographers toward new horizons when it came to not only what was captured, but how the image was shot. Some of his techniques are still used today and new photographers are adapting their own unique styles based on tips and techniques developed by one of America’s greatest photographers.