Yosemite Valley & Your Smartphone With Dillon Engstrom

Learn how to photograph your next Yosemite experience like a pro, all with the camera you always carry: your mobile device!

Dillon Engstrom, staff photographer at The Ansel Adams Gallery, has created an empowering workshop that guides participants of all skill levels to make the most out of their cameraphone.

Dillon’s smartphone photography class in the field going over composition and light

“In the Field: Creative Smartphone Photography” takes participants on a fun adventure throughout breathtaking Yosemite Valley. Dillon’s class shares step-by-step processes on how to capture, edit, and produce professional looking photos, all in the field and on the go.

Dillon delves into the more intricate technique capabilities of your cameraphone, and shares pro tips on both shooting and filming practices to truly document the essence of your Yosemite experience. He guides his students to explore ways on how to bring the vitality out of the photos they take.

Dillon’s class plays with reflections and Black & White camera settings (photograph taken and edited with smartphone)

“In the Field: Creative Smartphone Photography” builds confidence and aptitude in its participants, along with showing them how to create photographs that accurately represent how the scene looked the moment they took the photo. This class helps participants elevate photos to the level they deserve, and shows each student how to actualize their creative vision.

Dillon guiding his student through quick editing techniques

After exploring Yosemite Valley and practicing what you’ve learned amidst the mountains and meadows, you’ll head back to the gallery workshop for a lesson in editing and photo production. Here, you get to be creative with post-processing techniques, and play around with the artistic capabilities of a free professional photo editing app.

Half Dome compositions with an iPhone camera

When you step away from class, you’ll leave with a clear understanding of the principles of mobile photography, along with how to personalize them for your own unique vision. You’ll be excited and prepared to capture that special moment when it strikes, in Yosemite and beyond.

Practicing smartphone waterfall photography following Dillon’s techniques

Virginia Adams Spreads Native American Art from the Southwest to Yosemite

(The Ansel Insider)

Ansel Adams’ trips to the Southwest—often with his wife, Virginia—were as much about connecting with people as they were about connecting with landscapes. Through the traders and locals that they met, Ansel and Virginia connected with a number of Native American artisans and craftsmen. And it was Virginia who first decided to include the work of those Southwestern artisans in the gallery in Yosemite.

Virginia at the University of Arizona in front of pottery by renowned artisan Maria Martinez gifted from her and Ansel’s collection 

“Starting in 1929, she started buying for her family business—her father’s business at the time,” says Michael Adams, Ansel and Virginia’s son.

“She bought Indian rugs, and jewelry, and she was very careful about what she bought—only high-quality, authentic items.”

Virginia began collecting jewelry, pottery, blankets, kachinas, and other items. She would continue her buying trips to the Southwest on an annual basis—taking trips to meet with her favorite traders in Arizona and New Mexico, from Flagstaff to Gallup, and purchasing Native American folk art for display in the gallery.

The Ansel Adams Gallery still represents Native American artisans first introduced by Virginia Adams. Photo taken of beautiful handmade jewelry in the gallery, May 2019

In and of itself, this was remarkable act, and ahead of its time. Today, questions about inclusivity in the gallery are common, but in the early 20th century, the notion that Native American handiwork would find its way into a gallery space was far from a foregone conclusion.

“Those early trips were very important to the later years of what the gallery came to stand for,” says Adams.

Virginia (right) with friend and writer Ella Young on a trip to the Southwest, 1929

Of his mother’s attraction to the Southwestern aesthetic, Adams offers this simple explanation: “She fell in love with it.” And that love extended into their own home. “We decorated our home with it,” remembers Adams, “We had wonderful Indian rugs on the floor, slung over chairs. They were always showing us beautiful new things that would come in.”

Virginia’s decision to display the wares of Native American artisans was not merely aesthetic, but economic as well. For many visitors to Yosemite, the gallery was their first exposure to the work of Southwestern artisans, and the handcrafts were an immediate success. The sales of their goods enabled many Southwestern artisans to ride out leaner times during the Great Depression.

“That’s the ethic of wanting to support quality work, wanting to have quality work on your wall” says Adams, “You want to make sure that good artisans survive and continue making that quality work.”

Current represented Native American works in The Ansel Adams Gallery

It’s a conservationist impulse. In the same way that Ansel Adams felt the need to conserve the natural environments that provided the fodder for his photographs, Virginia recognized the need to preserve and sustain the people who created these beautiful crafts.

“Good things happen to good people,” says Adams, “If you find someone who’s doing an exceptional job, you do what you can to support them. And because of our position in Yosemite, we felt a particular obligation to support Native American handcraft.”

By Ethan Simon, Creative Writer for The Ansel Adams Gallery

Secrets of the Southwest: Locals Point the Way

(The Ansel Insider) 

For Ansel Adams, the project of cataloging the American Southwest was as much about finding beauty as it was about photographing it. But Adams did not have to look far for friends who were eager to help him uncover the secrets of that landscape. Entrée to the Southwest—insider knowledge about special sights and locations—was provided by enthusiastic local traders. On Adams’ trip to Arizona in 1941, it was Cozy McSparron, a trader who ran a post at Chinle who took him up to the Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto.


Cozy McSparron at Thunderbird Lodge

“They were old friends,” says Michael Adams, Ansel’s son, who joined his father on the 1941 trip. “They sat on the porch and drank whiskey. I drank Coca-Cola.” – Michael Adams

According to the younger Adams, the three went up the canyon in a four-door Chrysler open-top convertible. “It had great big oversized tires on it, so that it wouldn’t get stuck easily. But he said every now and then he would get stuck and he’d have to get horses to pull him out.”


“Canyon de Chelly” by Ansel Adams

McSparron, born in Gallup, New Mexico, learned to speak Navajo at an early age. “He brought with him to that trading post, a knowledge of native culture, and a supportiveness of that culture,” says Adams. That knowledge endeared him to the community, and his knowledge of the landscape would prove invaluable.

“He knew about all these small places—more intimate places—that my dad would have never known on his own, but was led there.” -Michael Adams

Ansel photographing petroglyphs and Rainbow Bridge in AZ

McSparron was far from the only trader that Adams would rely upon for insider knowledge. Harry Goulding, a trader in Monument Valley, was another remarkable resource.

Harry Goulding in Monument Valley. Image from Goulding.com

“He had a wonderful clientele with the film industry—with the people who filmed movies in Monument Valley,” Michael Adams says with a chuckle.

The punchline is this: it was Goulding himself who first drove to Los Angeles with the album of Josef Meunch’s photographs of Monument Valley, strolled into the United Artists studio building, and insisted on a meeting with John Ford. Goulding’s determination assured that Monument Valley would, for many, define the look of American West—both in Ansel Adams’ photographs, and in Hollywood Westerns.

“Monument Valley, Arizona” by Ansel Adams. Image from the National Gallery of Art

Traders also provided hospitality and a “home away from home.” At Wide Ruins, Arizona, Michael Adams recalls staying with a younger couple who had gotten into the trading post business. “Once they knew I could ride a horse safely, they’d let me take a horse every day and wander off across the reservation.”

Without his relationships to the traders and locals, Adams’ work in the Southwest would have been markedly different. It was only through the cultivation of strong friendships that Adams’ camera was able to find its now-iconic subjects.

Ansel photographing petroglyphs and Rainbow Bridge in AZ

Adams’ work cataloging the natural beauty of the American Southwest is not just an environmental project. It’s a human project as well.

“The traders facilitated Ansel getting into places that he might not have gone otherwise,” says Adams, “They showed him places, and they enabled him to explore those places through his photography.”

By Ethan Simon, Creative Writer for The Ansel Adams Gallery