Ansel Adams

Black and white image of a bearded man's profile

NPS photo

Quick Facts
Photographer and environmentalist
Place of Birth:
San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
February 20, 1902
Place of Death:
Monterey, California
Date of Death:
April 22, 1984
Place of Burial:
Mount Ansel Adams Summit, Sierra Nevada, California

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902 as the only child of Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray Adams. He grew up in relative solitude and had few friends. Charles and Olive focused on restoring the family timber business, which had fallen in the financial panic of 1907, and left the young Ansel to pursue his education and hobbies. Unengaged at school, Ansel received a home school education from his father. He attended several private schools, never completing a high school education.

During adulthood, Adams channeled his wild spirit to explore the great outdoors through photography and hiking and eventually became one of America’s most famous landscape photographers. He was honored and respected for his boldness in taking climbing risks to get the best photos and for his willingness to endure difficult hikes and terrible conditions to practice his craft. Adams became famous throughout the nation for his photographs of Yosemite and other national parks. He perfected many photographic techniques and captured the beauty of nature for all to appreciate.

The photography of Ansel Adams is often recognized for its dramatic and important subject matter in portraying nature. It is also distinct for the technical innovations that Adams developed throughout his artistic career. His first portfolio of art was quite profitable, giving him the financial freedom to experiment extensively with new techniques. He shot many photos in black and white to clarify the beauty of natural elements and to create intensity and drama in them. He used the technique of chiaroscuro, contrasting light and dark to create impressive scale.

Today, the works of Ansel Adams have been exhibited and distributed across the world, from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, to the Young Museum in San Francisco to the Ansel Adams Gallery, now located in Yosemite Valley itself.

Ansel Adams had a long photography career and was an important figure in the American conservation movement. During his life, he photographed some of the most beautiful sites in America and held dozens of gallery shows that promoted the High Sierra, the Grand Canyon, and more. Adams died in 1984 in California from complications of cardiovascular disease.

Last updated: October 30, 2019