The oldest of six children of a part-Jewish German family that had emigrated to the United States in 1849, Stieglitz spent his youth in a comfortable milieu that placed unusual emphasis on education, culture, and attainment.
Taken to Germany in 1881 to complete his education, he enrolled in a course in photochemistry. Stieglitz had a fascination with the role of light and with the replication possibilities of photography, as well as an understanding of how to organise forms to express emotion.
Infatuated with younger women, Stielglitz married Emmeline Obermeyer in 1893 and had one child, Kitty, in 1898. Allowances from Emmeline's father and his own, financed their living. Stieglitz divorced his wife Emmeline in 1918, who had thrown him out of their house when she came home and found him photographing O'Keeffe, with whom he moved in shortly thereafter. The two married in 1924 and were both successful, he as a photographer and art impresario, she as an artist who had received notoriety from Stieglitz at 291 (an art gallery in New York from 1905 to 1917) in 1916 and 1917. The marriage between O'Keeffe and Stieglitz was strained as she had to care more for his health due to a prevailing heart condition and his hypochondria. Following a visit to Santa Fe and Taos in 1929, O'Keeffe began to spend a portion of most summers in New Mexico.