Ansel Adams' Yosemite

The Special Edition Prints


By Ansel Adams

Foreword by Pete Souza

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America’s greatest photographer on his greatest subject–featuring the Yosemite Special Edition Prints, a collectible collection of photographs selected by Ansel Adams during his lifetime, yet never before published in book form.

The photographs of Ansel Adams are among America’s finest artistic treasures, and form the basis of his tremendous legacy of environmental activism.

In the late 1950s, Adams selected eight photographs of Yosemite National Park to offer exclusively to park visitors as affordable souvenirs. He hoped that these images might inspire tourists to become activists by transmitting to them the same awe and respect for nature that Yosemite had instilled in him. Over the following decades, Adams added to this collection to create a stunning view of Yosemite in all its majesty.

These photographs, the Yosemite Special Edition Prints, form the core of this essential volume. Adams’ luminous images of Yosemite’s unique rock formations, waterfalls, meadows, trees, and nature details are among the most distinctive of his career. Today, with America’s public lands increasingly under threat, his creative vision remains as relevant and convincing as ever.

Introduced by bestselling photographer Pete Souza, with an essay by Adams’ darkroom assistant Alan Ross, Ansel Adams’ Yosemite is a powerful continuation of Adams’ artistic and environmental legacies, and a compelling statement during a precarious time for the American earth.


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For over forty-five years, Ansel’s adviser, champion, and friend

In the face of all the present turmoil and unrest and unhappiness… what can a photographer, a writer, a curator do?… To make people aware of the eternal things, to show the relationship of man to nature, to make clear the importance of our heritage, is a task that no one should consider insignificant.… These are days when eloquent statements are needed.

—Letter from Beaumont Newhall to Ansel Adams, May 3, 1954




YOSEMITE’S HALF DOME was glowing in magic light—that fifteen or twenty minutes just before the sun dips below the horizon in the evening—and I was running through a field to catch up to a descending helicopter. The photograph I wanted to make—Marine One, President Obama’s helicopter, framed right in the middle of the famous cliff—was clearly visualized in my mind. But I still had a hundred yards to sprint to be in the prime spot, and wasn’t sure my legs and lungs would get me there in time.

Ansel Adams would be chuckling at the sight, I thought. The man whose stunning black and white photographs are practically synonymous with Yosemite National Park would have been amused to see me, a seasoned White House photographer, sprinting to catch the light he knew so well.

Ansel surely would have been honored that President Obama was bringing his family to visit his park, the place he first set foot in as a teenager exactly one hundred years before our presidential trip. I think he also would have been proud that the President chose to visit national parks every year of his Presidency, culminating with this visit to Yosemite in 2016.

Ansel believed in Yosemite’s power to inspire visitors to join in protecting our nation’s public lands. His own first visit in 1916 had been nothing less than transformative; he returned every year for the rest of his life.

I took my first photography class in 1974 and became aware of Ansel’s work not long thereafter. Although my chosen field was photojournalism, the impact of Ansel’s landscape photography—especially of Yosemite—was always present in my mind. My friends and I became obsessed with his craftsmanship and precision. We studied his compositions and framing, and tried to adapt the essence of his Zone System to small-format 35mm photography. We tried to print like him, cut our white mats like his, and frame our photographs like his.

Ansel’s pictures are forever embedded in my mind, a constant, subconscious inspiration in the makeup of who I am as a photographer and how I do what I do. His prints are remarkable for their extraordinary tonal range: the blackest blacks, the whitest whites, the perfect gradations of mid-tones. In the mostly color world of photography online today, his images stand out more than ever.

Ansel’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico may be his most famous image, but I believe his body of work from Yosemite is his best, from his photographs of El Capitan and Half Dome to the majestic waterfalls throughout the park to the transcending light from summer to winter. I am a lucky owner of one such photograph: Moon and Half Dome hangs proudly in my living room in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ansel’s spirit was very much with us when we traveled to Yosemite in 2016. If you look back at my archived official White House Instagram account, you’ll find a picture President Obama took of me and some of my colleagues; I refer to him in the caption as “Ansel Obama.” When the President and his family hiked the Four Mile Trail, I switched my DSLR to black and white mode. But since my primary responsibility was to photograph the President, my occasional landscape and waterfall photographs were hardly Anselesque.

Nevertheless, I hope Ansel Adams would approve of me writing a few words to support this breathtaking book. I also hope this book will extend the important work he began many decades ago to inspire all citizens to take action on behalf of our environment. Ansel’s photographs originated as expressions of his deep emotional connection to nature, and became powerful tools to build support for its preservation. Viewed today, Ansel’s photographs carry as much power and meaning as ever.

I know Ansel would have enjoyed meeting my former boss and discussing their mutual enthusiasm for experiencing the national parks, and their deep desire to protect the environment for future generations. This book reminds us why we should all strive to do both.

Ansel photographing Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel View overlook, May 9, 1976. Photograph by Alan Ross.




IF YOU WERE to give me the pleasure of showing you Yosemite Valley for the first time, I know just how I would want to do it. I would take you by night from the San Joaquin Valley up through the forested mountains and out to the Valley’s rim, so that when sunrise came you would be standing on Glacier Point. Up before dawn, you would lean against the railing, trying to see down into the shadows for the first sight of something whose descriptions you never quite believed.


  • "Iconic and still breathtaking... Adams remains extravagantly popular."—The New York Times, January 2019
  • "Gorgeous... [These] vistas reveal Adams' ability to capture the wildness in nature and the book tells of his environmental activism."—Detroit Free Press
  • Adams' photographs "call attention to the passage of time and changing nature of the landscape, especially in the face of global warming... Adams' photographs spread his belief in the transformative power of national parks to a wide audience. The pioneer defined the genre and kickstarted environmental activism through art."—Fortune

On Sale
Oct 29, 2019
Page Count
160 pages
Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

About the Author

In a career that spanned six decades, Ansel Adams was at once America’s foremost landscape photographer and one of its most respected environmentalists.

In Ansel Adams at 100, John Szarkowski notes that Adams’s role in the history of photography goes beyond his achievements as one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. As a leader in the study and appreciation of photography as an art, he played a major role in establishing the first department of photography in an art museum, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (the same department that Szarkowski led from 1962 to 1991). Moreover, as a tireless advocate for improving the reproduction of photographs in books, Adams “badgered and cajoled his printers and platemakers” till they had “achieved in ink an unprecedented degree of fidelity to the chemical print.”

Although he devoted a lifetime to the cause of wilderness preservation, “Adams did not photograph the landscape as a matter of social service, but as a form of private worship. It was his own soul that he was trying to save,” Szarkowski writes, adding that “Ansel Adams’s great work was done under the stimulus of a profound and mystical experience of the natural world.” Szarkowski dates that experience to the early 1920s and a camping trip in the High Sierra. As Adams later recalled, “I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light…. I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses, the clusters of sand shifting in the wind, the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks.”

Commenting on this moment of vision, Szarkowski writes, “One might guess that Adams spent the next quarter century trying to make a photograph that would give objective form to the sense of ineffable knowledge that on occasion, in his youth, inhabited him in the high mountains. Yosemite and the Sierra gave him not only his principal subject, but also the experience that provided the basis for a useful artistic idea: ‘The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor.’”

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