Ruth Bernhard was born in Germany to very young parents who divorced when she was two. Her father Lucien Bernhard, was a well known graphic and typeface designer. Her mother left for the United States to remarry very early in her life. Her father later moved to New York City for Pynson Painters in 1923 and she followed him there in 1927.
Bernhard worked for Ralph Steiner and then became the head of the photography section at Delineator magazine. In 1929, she was fired from the position for being “unenthusiastic.” She continued to buy photography equipment with her severance pay and did freelance fashion work. Notable clients during this period included The New York Times, Advertising Art, Macy’s and Sloane’s as well as some of her father’s friends in advertising. Bernhard became a naturalized citizen in 1935. The same year she met Edward Weston who had a profound influence on her. She published two portfolios of original prints, The Gift of the Common place and The Eternal Body. She died in San Francisco at the age of 101.