In 1930 he entered the University of California, Berkeley, to study anthropology. While there he met photographer Willard Van Dyke after writing an assignment about his photographs. Van Dyke introduced him to Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and other photographers around the San Francisco area, and he soon was photographing in a style similar to theirs. In 1932 Holder was present at a gathering at Van Dyke's house in Berkeley in which this group discussed their intention to unite in promotion of their artistic vision, They were searching for a name for their small group, and Holder suggested "US 256", which was then the commonly used Uniform System designation for a very small aperture stop on a camera lens. Adams thought the name would be confusing to the public, and he suggested "f/64", which was a corresponding aperture setting for the focal system that was gaining popularity. From this discussion they formed the now famous Group f/64. Later that year Holder participated in their first Group f/64 show at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, showing four prints.
While photographing part-time, Holder continued his education at Berkeley and received his B.A. in 1935. There is almost nothing written about his photographic career after he graduated. By 1940 he seemed to have drifted away from his photography interests and dedicated himself to becoming a full-time archeologist.
In 1951, he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University. With the help of fellow archaeologist Antonio J. Waring, Jr., Preston Holder began excavations at the Irene Mound in September 1937. Located on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia, the mound took nearly two years to excavate. Another excavation Holder conducted at the Saint Simon’s airport on Saint Simons Island, Georgia revealed a large Late Archaic and Woodland period settlement. The excavation was mentioned briefly in Antonio Waring's, The Waring Papers. In 1938, Holder also wrote Excavations on Saint Simons Island and Vicinity. He left Georgia in January 1938.
He died of cancer on June 3, 1980, at the age of 72 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
- Therese Thau Heyman (1992). Seeing Straight: The f.64 Refolution in Photography. Oakland Museum. p. 152.
- Brouwer, Kenneth. Pack of Wolfes
- Kevin Kiernan, “Preston Holder's WPA Excavations in Glynn and Chatham Counties, Georgia, 1936-1938,” Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America, ed. Bernard K. Means (The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2013), 202-223.
- Elusive Women of Irene: The WPA Excavation of Irene Mound" by Gail Whalen. Retrieved April 26, 2007
- Records of archeological excavations in Glynn County, Georgia for Works Project Administration 1936-37 Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved April 26, 2007
- LAMAR Institute Publication Series, Report Number 161. The WPA Glynn County Excavation Project: Phase I-Preston Holder's Paper Trail. (61.7 MB)." by Daniel T. Elliott, compiler,2010 The LAMAR Institute, Inc.. Retrieved March 30, 2013
- Kevin Kiernan, “Preston Holder on the Georgia Coast, 1936-1938,” The Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record, Special Forum: New Deal Archaeology, Part II, 11:5 (2011), 30-33.
- Holder, Preston. "Excavations on Saint Simons Island and Vicinity, Glynn County, Georgia" (Winter 1936-1937). Proceedings of the Society for Georgia Archaeology l(1):8-9. 1938" cited in National Park Service bibliography. Retrieved April 26, 2007
- Holder, P. and Wike, J., "The Frontier Culture Complex, a Preliminary Report on a Prehistoric Hunters' Camp in Southwestern Nebraska", American Antiquity vol. 14, pp. 260-266 (1949), available in JSTOR (. Retrieved April 26, 2007) (by subscription)
- Blasing, R. "The History of Archeological Research at Medicine Creek Reservoir" Cultural Resource Management v.23 no.1 (2000) from the National Park Service (. Retrieved April 26, 2007)