A Private Guided Session to Vernal Fall

The Ansel Adams Gallery offers the once-in-a-lifetime experience of exploring Yosemite’s wonders with a private guide. Each guided session is different from the last, tailored to participant interests and curiosities.

Recently, staff photographer Brittany Colt conducted a private guiding session to Vernal Fall. Her participant craved adventure and wanted to travel to the spot near where Ansel captured one of his famous photographs of Vernal Fall.

Picture taken of Vernal Fall during Guided Session

During the guided session, Brittany and her participant hopped in the car and traveled to the trailhead of the falls. Brittany took them to a spot free of tourists where they experienced a very similar view to what Ansel saw when he set up his camera to capture his iconic shot.

And what did they see along the way? RAINBOWS…lots of them!

Hiking to Vernal is not a long walk, but one filled with lots of rainshine on a sunny day. To ascend atop the falls, you must pass by a part of the trail that is notoriously wet from waterfall mist. It is said that standing in the rain can be drier. A sturdy raincoat can combat the heavy mist, and with all the water, often times rainbows abound!

Traversing the wet terrain does come with spectacular perks!


Photographing the falls after the ascent up to the top

If a privately guided hike isn’t what you’re looking for, choose a drive through the park to its most mesmerizing look-out points, or a half-day excursion photographing lakes and streams. Your options are endless in a guided session.

Vernal Fall, captured with a cameraphone during the Guided Session

Whatever you choose, you will find yourself immersed in extraordinary views, following along to intimate stories about Ansel Adams and his beloved Yosemite.

Sign up for your very own private guide to make the most out of your next Yosemite experience!

Light from a Distant Mountain

(The Ansel Insider)

“Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California” by Ansel Adams, 1944

In 1943, Ansel Adams began to document the Manzanar War Relocation Center, an internment camp for over 10,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. Ansel used his camera to capture the strength, determination, and spirit of the people there amidst the hardship that had been thrust upon them. Immersed in the community of displaced Americans, Adams produced Born Free and Equal. It was a project that would prove to be surpassingly prescient towards the impacts of its own historical moment, and one of Ansel’ only forays into photo-documentation. In more than 100 images, he captured the nature of life in the camp, the humanity of its residents, and the monumentalism of its surroundings weaving them together to form a mosaic of natural beauty and human perseverance.

When Ansel completed his project at Manzanar, he had created a body of work dedicated to the human dignity he found there as profound as his iconic photographs of the surrounding landscape.

And as it turns out, it was one mountain in particular that stood out as an agent of hope among the unsurpassed beauty of the western landscape that encompassed Manzanar. Mt. Williamson. On the floor of the Owens Valley, Manzanar is bordered to the west by the soaring Sierra Nevada and the east by the great arid expanse of Death Valley National Park. Ansel believed that this surrounding western landscape was one of the few American cultural symbols the internees could still lay claim.

Photograph of the landscape outside of the Manzanar Relocation Center. Image courtesy of the Ansel Adams family archives

In a poignant passage written in Born Free & Equal, Ansel describes the sublime geography of the region that is empowered by a spirit originating from the granite wall of the Sierra Nevada: Mt. Williamson, only a distance of ten miles west of Manzanar, rises against the sky so magnificent and shimmers under the clear sun.

“The acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the people of Manzanar. I do not say all are conscious of this influence, but I am sure most have responded, in one way or another, to the resonances of their environment…The huge vistas and stern realities of sun and wind and space symbolize the immensity and opportunity of America.” — Ansel Adams, Born Free & Equal

It was in 1944, on one of his later trips to Manzanar, when Ansel captured his extraordinary photograph of Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California. The image, taken from a platform mounted to the roof of his car, portrays Manzanar’s most important landmark rising from the foothills in the far distance. The mountain stands central in the image, its enormous form erupting from a sea of boulders resting on the floor of the newly made desert. Arguably, Ansel’s inspiration that enabled him to make such an iconic, moving image as “Mt. Williamson” came from the impact of his experiences observing the coping and fortitude of the Japanese-American internees. He believed the grand landscape transcended the everyday existence of internment. Ansel received criticism for photographing the surrounding landscape, and responded to such criticism in Ansel Adams: An Autobiography:

“I have been accused of sentimental conjecture when I suggest that the beauty of the natural scene stimulated the people in the camp,” he wrote. “No other relocation center could match Manzanar in this respect, and many of the people spoke to me of these qualities and their thankfulness for them.”

Ansel photographing the sweeping views near Manzanar. Photo courtesy of the Ansel Adams family archives.

Ansel’s Mt. Williamson reminds us of the deep-seated relationship between the landscape and its inhabitants, its cool mountain peak radiating an air of possibility in contrast to the heat of the desert floor where the camp lay. Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California is breathtaking in its portrayal of the Owens Valley environment. In another passage from Born Free & Equal, Ansel expresses:

“It is the magical mountain, the dominant accent of the world of Inyo…No summit of the Sierra looms so impressively above its immediate base as Williamson. Mary Austin speaks of its ‘seven-mile shadow.’ In the same mood Horace wrote of the ‘great shadows falling from the high mountains.’ Yet the shadows of the Sierras are not somber; they make space definite with glowing light.” — Ansel Adams, Born Free & Equal

By Reily Haag, Creative Writer for The Ansel Adams Gallery

Ansel’s Teenage Years: Largely Unknown Images

In his late teenage years, Ansel spent quite a bit of time falling in love with Yosemite, traversing the park and discovering many of its wonders. Some of these wonders he documented by camera.

Circa 1920, when he was 18,  Ansel traveled to Tenaya Canyon and captured “Fall in Upper Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park.” Looking at this photograph, it almost feels as if you are flying above the canyon, with an incredible bird’s-eye-view of the sun-struck waterfall below. Luminous against its granite surroundings, the fall claims its place carving right down the center of Ansel’s sweeping scene. One can only imagine how the artist might have been standing, leaning ominously forwards, to have captured such a view!

Image result for fall in upper tenaya canyon ansel adams

“Fall in Upper Tenaya Canyon, Yosemite National Park, California” by Ansel Adams, c. 1920. Image courtesty of the Museum of Modern Art.

Around the same time, also circa 1920, Ansel photographed another two remarkable early works titled “Vernal Fall through Tree” and “Back of Half Dome.” Even though Ansel was very young in his photographic career when he captured these images, they show a very sophisticated sense of composition. They only exist as small contact prints made around the same time as the negatives.


“Vernal Fall Through Tree, Yosemite National Park, California, 1920” and “Back of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California” by Ansel Adams. Image is a picture taken from the book “Ansel Adams 400 Photographs”

About four years later, circa 1924, Ansel photographed “Simmons Peak, In The Maclure Fork Canyon” on another adventure in Yosemite.


“Simmons Peak, In The Maclure Fork Canyon, Yosemite National Park, California, c. 1924” by Ansel Adams

Because Ansel neither published these images in articles or books nor included them in any exhibitions, they are largely unknown. Though these four images have not been openly shared by the artist himself, they offer a fascinating window into his early experimentations with composition, along with the fundamental Yosemite expeditions that captured his heart and inspired his artistic passion for years to come.

Visions of Taos: The Making of “Taos Pueblo” by Ansel Adams and Mary Austin

(The Ansel Insider) 

When Ansel Adams traveled to New Mexico for his fourth time in April 1929, the majesty of the desert had already started to ingrain itself deep in his soul. During this particular trip, Ansel began to develop a lasting and very rewarding collaboration with feminist writer and bohemian Mary Austin. The artistic duet between Ansel and Mary in this particular case spawned the creation of “Taos Pueblo,” an exceptional project at the intersection of their two careers as photographer and writer.

Taos Pueblo Plate IV – “Girl of Taos” by Ansel Adams

When Ansel arrived in New Mexico in April 1929, he wrote a letter to his father to describe the impact of the desert and his partnership with Mary Austin on his spirits and career trajectory:

“Today there is thick black sky and snow is falling in the hills. Tomorrow it may be a crystal clear day; the changes of the weather are always startling…Mary Austin gets back in a day or so. We are enjoying every minute of the time, and the people are all so good to us that we feel quite at home. There is an unfolding a perspective of work that seems much, much more than I had ever hoped for…I am certain that New Mexico will keep me half a year at least [in the future] and I shall meet with a great success. The wealth of material is beyond belief.” — Ansel Adams letter to Charles Adams, New Mexico, April 4, 1929

“Taos Pueblo” Title page and subsequent page signed by Mary Austin and Ansel Adams

Ansel and Mary decided upon the subject of the Pueblo of Taos for their creative collaboration. Their dream came to fruition with the help of friend Tony Lujan, a Taos Indian, whose wife Mabel, heiress and patron of the arts, hosted Ansel and Mary at her home in Los Gallos, Taos. Tony Lujan approached the Governor of Taos, who in turn held a Council Meeting, and the following day granted Ansel permission to photograph the Pueblo. Ansel was thrilled to begin this project, greatly inspired by the stunning subject matter of “great pile[s] of adobe five stories high with the Taos peaks rising a tremendous way behind. And the Indians [so] majestic, wearing as they do their blankets as Arabs.” (Ansel Adams, Letters 1916-1984)

Left: Taos Pueblo Plate XII – “Church at Ranchos de Taos” by Ansel Adams. Right: Plate III – “Man of Taos” by Ansel Adams

Ansel’s awe of the Taos landscape, architecture and culture translated directly into the impressive photographs he made for “Taos Pueblo.” His enthusiasm was wild, resounding with excitement and wonder. In a letter to his best friend Cedric Wright from where he was staying at Mabel’s home in Los Gallos, Ansel wrote:

“Lookie! Jezuz Krize this is a great place. Such MOUNTAINS!!!! Peaks are 13000 feet high — MIT SNOW!!!! Pines Aspins Snow Clouds Burros Swell People Injuns No photographers but me. You gotta see this place before you die.” — Ansel Adams letter to Cedric Wright, Los Gallow, Taos, NM, April 1929

Taos Pueblo Plate V – “New Church” by Ansel Adams

Thus the “Taos Pueblo” project began, sparked by the good will of friendship, the enchantment of the region, and a shared sense of dedication to produce something truly remarkable. And remarkable, it was. “Taos Pueblo” was produced in 1930 in a small edition of 100 signed and numbered copies, plus eight artist’s copies, each containing twelve original prints. Ansel published this exceedingly rare book with Grabhorn Press in San Francisco. The folio is hand bound in original quarter tan morocco over orange buckram by Hazel Dreis. Ansel’s contribution to the work includes twelve original silver bromide prints which were hand printed by the artist himself on rag paper specially sensitized with emulsions by William Dassonville, his friend and San Francisco paper supplier. The manuscript pages were enhanced with a striking graphic motif by Italian-American printmaker illustrator and author, Angelo Valenti.

“Taos Pueblo” Book Cover (hand bound in original quarter tan morocco over orange buckram) and Inside Cover

Over a period of several months during the fall of 1929, Ansel manually produced 1,296 silver prints for the book edition. The quality and care put into the publication of “Taos Pueblo” along with its marking of the development of Ansel’s style makes it a breathtaking, sentimental masterpiece.

Taos Pueblo Plate IV – “Ruins of Old Church” by Ansel Adams

In 1977, the New York Graphic Society published a facsimile edition of the original, with the cooperation of Ansel. The society used gravure prints rather than original photographs, and produced a limited edition of 950 copies, each signed by Ansel. Following the release of that edition, photographic historian Weston Naef wrote:

“With Taos Pueblo we see a commitment to light and form as the essential building blocks of a picture. Every exposure was made in the most brilliant sunshine which in turn created deep shadows. Sunlight and shadow are at the same time the photographer’s friend and foe. Neither films nor papers can record the two extremes of bright sun and deep shadow equally well, and an unhappy tonal compromise is often the result. Rich shadow detail is here realized simultaneously with delicate highlights in a way that proves Adams’s native sense for the toughest technical problems of the medium, and how to solve them.” — Weston J. Naef, The Metropolitan Museum Art

Taos Pueblo Plate II – “South House (Hlaukwima)” by Ansel Adams

A seminal work in Ansel’s career, and a landmark photography book, “Taos Pueblo” is considered by many to be the greatest pictorial representation of the American West. With the publication of “Taos Pueblo,” Ansel launched his career as arguably the greatest landscape photographer of our time.

Learn more about the life of Ansel Adams here, leading up to and following his publication of “Taos Pueblo.” View the complete set of twelve photographs made by Ansel for “Taos Pueblo” listed by the Two Red Roses Foundation, a private, non-profit educational institution that promotes an understanding of the American Arts & Crafts movement.

New Release: Mt. McKinley, Wonder Lake – Modern Replica Print

Ansel Adams’ 1947 masterpiece captured in Denali National Park, Alaska

Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet is the highest peak in North America.

Collectors have found the gallery’s “Modern Replicas” a welcome addition to the options for collecting the work of Ansel Adams. The prints’ quality is on par with the contemporary photographs using the latest printing techniques. For the collection, the gallery have chosen prints from the collections of the Ansel Adams family and the Ansel Adams Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

Now the gallery is introducing a print of the majestic image “Mt. McKinley, Wonder Lake” taken in Denali National Park, Alaska in 1947.

The photo of Mount McKinley with Wonder Lake in the foreground was taken in the summer while Adams was in Alaska on a Guggenheim Fellowship trip. It was one of the rare cloudless days of that summer in Alaska. Adams and his son Michael spent a week in the ranger station waiting for the right conditions. The image was ultimately captured with his trusty 8×10 camera at 1:30 in the morning.

The print is available in sizes from 8×10” to 30×38” printed on heavy paper that mimics the look and feel of gelatin silver paper. It is shipped dry mounted to an acid-free foam core backer. The 8-ply overmats are museum quality acid-free rag board, also hinge mounted to the backer. The prints are also available framed in both Valley Wood or Matte Black. To find out more about the print and owning Mt. McKinley, Wonder Lake as a Modern Replica Print.

Read more stories from the making of this photograph:

Mt. McKinley Bears Invade Ranger Cabin
The Mosquitos Stole the Show on Mt. McKinley Negatives

Path, Muir Woods

Path, Muir Woods

In 1919, when Adams made this photograph, he was 17 years old and experimenting with photography. He was most likely still using the Box Brownie his father gave him in Yosemite in 1916. The standard “art” photography of the day was in the Pictorialist style, an effort to diffuse the natural sharpness of the lens and film and more closely resemble traditional landscape painting. This is one of the very few pieces of the early pictorialist style that Ansel printed later in life, the most well known being the Grove of Tamarack [sic, actually Lodgepole Pines], also known as the Lyell Fork of the Merced from 1921.

Muir Woods would have been a relatively difficult day’s journey, crossing the mouth of the San Francisco Bay by ferry and traveling the next 20 miles of winding dirt road by car, bus, horse, or bicycle. Quite an excursion if the sole purpose was to experiment with the camera. The Adams family has within its collection several pieces of Path, Muir Woods, including a vintage bromoil print that Ansel inscribed to his mother. This is a late print from the family collection, by descent to Anne Helms. It is, obviously, atypical of what Adams was known for, but is an early example of his creativity and natural awareness of composition to achieve a finished work.

Portrait of Musician (Domenico Brecia) by Ansel Adams

Portrait of Musician (Domenico Brecia)

Portrait of Musician (Domenico Brecia)” Born in 1866, Brescia studied music in the Milan and Bologna conservatories. He left Italy to arrive in Chile in 1892 as choir director of an opera company. After a change of government in Chile in 1911, he settled in San Francisco, where he became professor of composition at Mills College, a position he held until his death in 1939. Brescia is the author of four operas, two symphonies and many shorter works, especially chamber music. He was a longtime member of the Bohemian Club, composing music for two Grove plays.

Gottardo Piazzoni by Ansel Adams

Gottardo Piazzoni

Gottardo Piazzoni

Gottardo Piazzoni” Piazzoni was a Swiss-born American landscape painter, muralist and sculptor of Italian heritage, and a key member of the school of Northern California artists in the early 1900s. Born in Intragna, Switzerland, Piazzoni moved at the age of 15 to his father’s dairy farm in the Carmel Valley. He studied at the prestigious Académie Julian and Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, then returned to California to begin his career. Art critic Ray Boynton wrote that “One finds in Gottardo Piazzoni an artist, a landscape painter, who is also a poet and a philosopher and sometimes a prophet. His conception of landscape is idyllic. He is a romanticist whose methods are realistic.”
Specializing in landscapes in a muted palette, scholars consider Piazzoni among the “Tonalists”. He sought out the lighting effects of certain times of day, taking a “special interest in full moonrises, the viewing of which became a family ritual. Venturing up a hill, the family would cheer the appearance of the moon. Piazzoni knew the exact time for each moonrise and kept precise records.” This, the fact that Gottardo was a highly respected member of the Northern California Artists, along with his gentle personality, may have influenced Ansel Adams respect for Gottardo. His best known murals are on permanent exhibition in San Francisco’s de Young Museum and it is thought that he might have been an influence in encouraging Ansel to print in larger, mural formats. It is no wonder Ansel chose this image to be part of his Portfolio Six edition.

Ruins of Old Church,Taos by Ansel Adams

Ruins of Old Church, Taos

Ruins of Old Church, Taos, 1929

Ruins of Old Church,Taos Taos Pueblo, a collaboration between a young Ansel Adams and feminist writer and bohemian Mary Austin, was published in 1930 in a small edition of 108 copies. Limited and hard to find, it is considered one of the greatest books produced by San Francisco’s renowned Grabhorn Press. The project was exceptional for its time – not only the intersection of two careers, photographer and writer, but of the American environmental movement and a movement by white women to promote Pueblo arts. Always an innovator, this lovely print from the 1970’s illustrates how Ansel was experimenting with modern papers to see if he could replicate the look and feel of the original Dassonville sensitized paper used in the Taos project. Although not one of the 108 prints that were bound for the book, “Ruins of Old Church, Taos” is the Plate 4 image. Exceedingly rare, this photograph comes to us from Anne Adams Helms collection and is the only exemplar we’ve seen outside of the published edition.

Meeting House, Davenport by Ansel Adams

Meeting House, Davenport, c.1970, Polaroid

Meeting House, Davenport”, c.1970, Polaroid, 3.5 x 4.5 inches (center) St. Vincent De Paul Church, in Davenport, was built in 1914 entirely of cement from the local Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company, which had been established in 1906. Ansel Adams made the church famous when he took the photograph above with a Polaroid camera in the 1970s. There’s a world of difference between the contemplative process of using a view camera and the instant result of a Polaroid camera. Edwin Land and Ansel Adams met in 1947 at an optics convention, and once Adams saw what Polaroid cameras could do, he immediately became a consultant. Adams was still testing films and cameras for the company up until his death in 1984. “There it was, (a Polaroid image) brown and of rather awful quality. But, by gosh, it was a one-minute picture! And that excited me to no end,” Adams said. The success of Adams’ collaboration with Dr. Land laid the groundwork for Polaroid’s later sponsorship of younger artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.