Ansel Adams


Ansel Adams : biography

February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984

Publishing rights for most of Adams’s photographs are now handled by the trustees of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. An archive of Ansel Adams’s work is located at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

John Szarkowski states in the introduction to Ansel Adams: Classic Images (1985, p. 5), "The love that Americans poured out for the work and person of Ansel Adams during his old age, and that they have continued to express with undiminished enthusiasm since his death, is an extraordinary phenomenon, perhaps even unparalleled in our country’s response to a visual artist."


Work with color film

Adams did not work exclusively in black and white—he experimented with color, as well. A few examples of his color work are available in the online archive of the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. His subjects that he shot in color ranged from portraits to landscape to architecture, a similar scope to that of his black and white work. There are two main reasons, according to an expert source, why Adams preferred black and white.

The first was that he felt color could be distracting, and could therefore divert an artist’s attention away from achieving his full potential when taking a photograph. Adams actually claimed that he could get “a far greater sense of ‘color’ through a well-planned and executed black-and-white image than [he had] ever achieved with color photography”.

The second reason was that Adams was a “master of control”. He wrote books about technique, developed the “Zone System”—something which helped determine the optimal exposure and development time for a given photograph—and introduced the idea of “previsualization”, which involved the photographer imagining what he wanted his final print to look like before he even took the shot. These concepts and methods allowed for nearly total control of all the potential variables that factor into a final print. Because of his love for control, Adams disliked color since it lacked this element that he had mastered with black and white.


Adams received a number of awards during his lifetime and posthumously, and there have been a few awards named for him.

Adams received a Doctorate of Arts from both Harvard and Yale universities. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966. He was awarded the Conservation Service Award by the Department of the Interior in 1968, a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980, the Sierra Club John Muir Award in 1963, and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver in 2007.

The Minarets Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest and a peak therein were renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Mount Ansel Adams respectively in 1985.

Adams was presented with the Hasselblad Award in 1981.

The Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography was established in 1971, and the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation was established in 1980 by The Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society also has a of his work on display at its Washington DC Headquarters.


Notable photographs

  • Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927.
  • Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco, California, 1932.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 1937.
  • Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, 1940.
  • Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California, 1960.
  • Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941.
  • Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944.
  • Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958.
  • El Capitan, Winter Sunrise, 1968

Photographic books

  • The High Sierra: Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras, 1927. (Jean Chambers Moore, Publisher)
  • Taos Pueblo, 1930.
  • Sierra Nevada the John Muir Trail, 1938. (reprinted 2006 as ISBN 0-8212-5717-X).
  • Born Free and Equal, 1944. ISBN 1-893343-05-7.
  • Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, 1948. (text from writings of John Muir)
  • My Camera In The National Parks, 1950.
  • The Land of Little Rain, 1950. (text by Mary Austin)
  • The Islands of Hawaii, 1958.
  • This is the American Earth, 1960, (with Nancy Newhall) Sierra Club Books. (reprinted by Bulfinch, ISBN 0-8212-2182-5)
  • These We Inherit: The Parklands of America, 1962. (with Nancy Newhall)
  • The Eloquent Light, 1963. (unfinished biography of Adams by Nancy Newhall)
  • Yosemite Valley", 1967. (45 plates in B&W edited by Nancy Newhall, published by 5 Associates, Redwood City, California.)
  • The Tetons and the Yellowstone, 1970.
  • Ansel Adams, 1972. ISBN 0-8212-0721-0.
  • Images, 1923-1974, 1974. ISBN 0-8212-0600-1.
  • Polaroid Land Photography, 1978. ISBN 0-8212-0729-6.
  • Yosemite and the Range of Light, 1979. ISBN 0-8212-0750-4.
  • The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, 1981. ISBN 0-8212-0723-7.
  • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, 1984. ISBN 0-8212-1551-5.
  • Ansel Adams: Classic Images, 1986. ISBN 0-8212-1629-5.
  • Letters and Images 1916-1984, 1988. ISBN 0-8212-1691-0.
  • Our Current National Parks, 1992.
  • Ansel Adams: In Color, 1993. ISBN 0-8212-1980-4.
  • Photographs of the Southwest, 1994. ISBN 0-8212-0699-0.
  • Yosemite and the High Sierra, 1994. ISBN 0-8212-2134-5.
  • The National Park Photographs, 1995. ISBN 0-89660-056-4.
  • Yosemite, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2196-5.
  • California, 1997. ISBN 0-8212-2369-0.
  • America’s Wilderness, 1997. ISBN 1-56138-744-4.
  • Ansel Adams at 100, 2001. ISBN 0-8212-2515-4.
  • Born Free and Equal, 2002. ISBN 1-893343-05-7.
  • Ansel Adams: The National Park Service Photographs, 2005. ISBN 978-0-89660-056-0.
  • Ansel Adams: The Spirit of Wild Places, 2005. ISBN 1-59764-069-7.
  • Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, 2007. ISBN 978-0-316-11772-2.

Technical books

  • Making a Photograph, 1935.
  • Camera and Lens: The Creative Approach, 1948. ISBN 0-8212-0716-4
  • The Negative: Exposure and Development, 1949. ISBN 0-8212-0717-2
  • The Print: Contact Printing and Enlarging, 1950. ISBN 0-8212-0718-0
  • Natural Light Photography, 1952. ISBN 0-8212-0719-9
  • Artificial Light Photography, 1956. ISBN 0-8212-0720-2
  • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, 1983. ISBN 0-8212-1750-X
  • The Camera, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2184-1
  • The Negative, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2186-8
  • The Print, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2187-6