Mountain Photography and painting prints are the foundation of Landscapes of the American West
Romantic landscape artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran portrayed the Grand Canyon and Yosemite during the 19th century, followed by photographers Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, and George Fiske. Adams's work is distinguished from theirs by his interest in the transient and ephemeral. He photographed at varying times of the day and of the year, capturing the landscape's changing light and atmosphere. His grand, highly detailed images originated in his interest in the natural environment. His black-and-white photographs were not pure documents, but reflected a sublime experience of nature as a spiritual place. With increasing environmental degradation in the West during the 20th century, his photos show a commitment to conservation.
Art critic John Szarkowski wrote, "Ansel Adams attuned himself more precisely than any photographer before him to a visual understanding of the specific quality of the light that fell on a specific place at a specific moment. For Adams the natural landscape is not a fixed and solid sculpture but an insubstantial image, as transient as the light that continually redefines it. This sensibility to the specificity of light was the motive that forced Adams to develop his legendary photographic technique."
In 1955, Edward Steichen selected Adams's Mount Williamson for the world-touring Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Family of Man, which was seen by nine million visitors. At 10 by 12 feet (3.0 by 3.7 m), his was the largest print in the exhibition, presented floor-to-ceiling in a prominent position as the backdrop to the section "Relationships", as a reminder of the essential reliance of humanity on the soil. However, despite its striking and prominent display, Adams expressed displeasure at the "gross" enlargement and "poor" quality of the print.