“Without those photographs, who knows how long it would have been before Yosemite was actually a protected area.”

When a relatively unknown photographer Carleton E. Watkins first captured the majesty of Yosemite in 1861, little did he know that those images would inspire President Abraham Lincoln to change the course of environmental history forever — but they did.

“Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant bill on June 30, 1864, and then less than a year later he was assassinated — so he more than likely never would have seen Yosemite on his own,” Kari Cobb, Public Affairs Specialist for Yosemite National Park said. “Without those photographs, who knows how long it would have been before Yosemite was actually a protected area. The importance of photography for the protection of Yosemite certainly cannot be understated.”

Matthew Butson, Vice President, Getty Images Archive agrees.

“In this case, Carleton E. Watkins had a profound effect not only on a president but on the environmental history of a nation,” he said.

Learn more in this video, in which Butson takes us deep into the vaults where these iconic pictures are kept and explains the power of photography to change the world.

Explore Carleton E. Watkins’s incredible imagery of Yosemite on Getty Images and more images of Yosemite at iStock by Getty Images