Richards was born in Wilmington Delaware and received his early education at Westtown Friends School in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1840 he moved to New York City to study art. Although Richards himself considered himself to be primarily self-taught, his landscapes appear to have been influenced by the style of the Hudson River artists. He painted scenes from Pennsylvania including vistas along the Delaware River and also the Potomac River and the marshlands of New Jersey. In 1848 Richards moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and opened a daguerreotype business across from Independence Hall. From 1848 to 1855 his primary source of income was from his photography, although he was painting landscapes at this time also. He was often commissioned to photograph the homes of prominent Philadelphia citizens and he took many photographs of Philadelphia that document the evolving character of the city. In 1852 he suffered a fire at his studio fire which destroyed a number of his works. Circa 1855 Richards made the “Grand Tour”, visiting England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. He published a book containing his sketches from that tour titled Random Sketches, or, What I Saw in Europe: From the Portfolio of an Artist. He made a later trip to Paris in the late 1860s. In the 1870s he traveled to Colorado and California, possibly following the path of the great western surveys being undertaken at that time. His painting of Pikes Peak was exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. In the 1880s Richard embarked on learning the process of etchings. His paintings run the gamut of awe-inspiring western vistas to more intimate eastern forest interiors but always exquisitely rendered. Richards was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Society of Artists, the Artists Fund Society, and the Philadelphia Society of Etchers. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design (NYC), the Brooklyn Art Association, Boston Art Club and the Art Institute of Chicago.