For many, Ansel Adams is a name that is synonymous with mountains. But this famous photographer's name denotes far more than a peak in Yosemite National Park, and it evokes even more than the many famous images he produced of landscapes across America. Ansel Adams symbolizes a way of gazing at nature, a method of harmonizing light and shadow, a habit bathing in beauty, and and a mode of sharing it with the world.
This week we honor the legacy of one of the world's most influential photographers. Ansel Adams was born on February 20, 1902 in San Francisco, California. He grew up with a passion for oceans and mountains, and with a knack for imagery that he turned into a career in photography. He was a pioneer of camera artistry, able to capture light on black and white film in ways never seen before his time. You have almost certainly seen his photographs of Yosemite's granite domes or the Tetons' craggy peaks.
Though Yosemite is what earned him the most fame, Adams found inspiration in a variety of landscapes. He was an avid environmentalist in the movement's early era, an involved member of the Sierra Club, and an enthusiastic outdoor adventurer. In his birthday month, we would like to share 10 of the best places to celebrate Ansel Adams--places to journey with your own camera and find the same grandeur that filled his eyes and illuminated his lens.
Yosemite National Park has always been a mecca for photographers and nature lovers of all kinds, but the photographs of Ansel Adams stand as the time-tested paradigm for depictions of this place. Some of his most famous photographs are of Half Dome, which you can view magnificently from Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Inspiration Point, and Cook's Meadow near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
In addition to peaks, Adams had a particular fascination with waterfalls. Bridalveil Falls, Nevada Falls, and Yosemite Falls were some of his favorites. He also took a famous water's edge picture in dappled light along Tenaya Creek.
Adams grew up near the ocean in San Francisco, gaining childhood appreciation for the outdoors. You can explore the same scenery of his formative years, with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands. Lands End was another place frequented by young Ansel Adams, and today this rugged shoreline offers a glimpse of San Francisco's history from the time of his upbringing. As a professional photographer, he revisited his childhood home and made famous images of the Golden Gate from Baker Beach.
Adams lived most of his adult life in Carmel, California, along the gorgeous Big Sur Coastline. Though his most popular images were made on the road, he found quiet, everyday fulfillment in the seascape outside his own door. A favorite local spot was Point Lobos, which remains a spectacular natural reserve for photography and wildlife watching.
One of the most fitting places to celebrate Ansel Adams is in the wilderness area that bears his name. Renamed from Minaret Wilderness to honor Adams after his death in 1984, this protected area encompasses the remote Ritter Range of the Sierra Nevada and borders Yosemite National Park. It is central to many of Adams' most renowned photo locations in California. Highlight adventures include soaking in Mono Hot Springs, swimming in Doris Lake, hiking on the John Muir Trail, and taking it all in from Minaret Vista.
One of Adams' most widely known photographs is of Wyoming's Teton Range, taken from a spot overlooking the Snake River. The Tetons attracted his artistic eye because of their dramatic relief over a flat landscape, especially rugged profile of peaks, and the interplay of light on white snow and dark rock that dances beneath the ever-changing clouds of summer skies. You can discover this charm for yourself by venturing high into the wilderness on the Teton Crest Trail or by strolling on easier hikes like Taggart Lake.
In his wanderings around Wyoming, Adams could not pass up Yellowstone National Park. His love of water, typically embodied by ocean and waterfall photography, naturally drew him to the geysers of Yellowstone and the challenge of capturing their ephemeral form. You can find the features that fascinated him by visiting Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Castle Geyser.
Though mountains and canyons are his claim to fame, Adams found personal satisfaction in desert landscapes, particularly the vast expanse of Death Valley National Park. As a dedicated photographer unafraid of pushing limits, he relished the unique challenge of harsh light on shifting sands and thrived on the unforgiving conditions in North America's hottest and driest place. He photographed the vista from Dante's View, badlands at Zabriskie Point, and sand dunes at Mesquite Flat.
This off-the-beaten-path destination on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona is just one of the many cultural landmarks that kept Adams coming back to the Southwest. He loved the light shows put on by narrow canyons, but was also impressed by the people who call this region home. He decorated his own house with Native American artwork, and made it a mission to capture their lifestyle on camera. His portraits and architectural photos are less well known, but their subjects stood alongside the landscape of Canyon de Chelly as some of his personal favorites.
Adams spent a lot of time in New Mexico during his travels in the Southwest. His many photographs from the state reveal a particular passion that he had for the land as well as human history here. One of his most famous series is of aspen trees that are not in Colorado or Utah, but in the mountains near Taos, and an impromptu shoot of the moon rising over Hernandez, New Mexico, turned into one of his most popular prints. He also photographed many pueblos and missions in the area while traveling between national parks and monuments. In Carlsbad Caverns, he made a foray into the daunting realm of cave photography and produced some of the best early images of this underground world.
The muse of Ansel Adams was the American West, but he made trips to the East to fill photo assignments for the National Park Service. The place that most famously captured his attention was Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The deep forest and misty mountaintops of East Tennessee evidently stretched even his perspectives on imagery. Upon visiting the Smokies, he wrote that they would be "devilish hard to photograph." To take on the terrain that challenged Adams, explore the Chimney Tops Trail, Cades Cove scenic drive, Mount Leconte hike, or Look Rock fire tower.
These are the most fitting places to celebrate Ansel Adams and get a glimpse of his world, but you don't have to get to one of these places to look through an Ansel Adams lens. You don't necessarily have to travel far, and you don't even need a camera. Simply find something inspiring in the landscape around you by looking at it in a new way. Notice subtleties in how light moves throughout the day, or how a particular rock or tree looks from a slightly different angle. What made Adams' images great was his ability to capture the emotion of a landscape with a clarity that comes only by being enveloped within it, by noticing every nook and cranny and every twist and turn. He took photos not of a place, but in a place. To be truly present in the outdoors is a lesson that we all, photographers or not, can surely learn from.