Eliot Porter studied, received his doctorate and lectured at Harvard University in the field of biochemistry. In 1939, Alfred Stieglitz discovered his talent and fixed him up for a photo exhibition. For the first time in 1941 and again in 1946, when Porter moved professionally to the Radiation Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he received a Guggenheim scholarship for a photography project. In 1971, he was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Eliot Porter has become known for his nature and landscape photography. Even as a boy, he was interested in nature and started to photograph birds. His passion for structures and patterns, for the irregular and chaotic, as well as the fractal structures in nature, is apparent in his photographs. While his first works were often in black and white, colour later became very important.
His supporters included Beaumont Newhall, who was already the head of photography at the Museum of Modern Art when they got acquainted in 1938. In later years, the inventor-photographer Harold Edgerton built a strobe flash for Eliot Porter, so he could capture birds in different flight phases. Eliot Porter also photographed on travels through Iceland and Greece, on the Galápagos Islands and in the Antarctic. The images of the Grand Canyon, which he visited again and again over decades, are among the classics of American landscape photography.