Ebbets was born in Gadsden, Alabama. He bought his first camera at the age of eight by charging it to his mother's account at a local drugstore.
Ebbets started his career during the 1920s in St. Petersburg, Florida, as a still photographer. He eventually became involved in early motion picture work, both in front of and behind the camera. In 1924, he had a brief stint as an actor, playing the role of an adventuresome African hunter known as "Wally Renny" in several motion pictures. In addition to his photographic endeavors, throughout the 20s he had many adventurous jobs including being a pilot, a wing-walker, an auto racer, a wrestler, and a hunter. He was also prizefighter Jack Dempsey's official staff photographer, a staff photographer for the Miami Daily News and a freelance photographer.
In 1927, the first attempt was made to traverse the entirety of the dirt road from Miami to Tampa, called the "Tamiami Trail". Ebbets was chosen to be one of the three men making the trip by virtue of his extensive knowledge of the region and wildlife and his ability with a camera to document the adventure for newspapers and the Essex Motor Company who sponsored the trip and car. The photos of their success were carried in newspapers across the country.
By the 1930s Ebbets was a well known photographer and had work published in the major newspapers across the nation including the New York Times. In 1932, he was appointed photographic director for the Rockefeller Center, which was under construction in New York. In September of that year, he would take the photo which would later define his work, Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper. In 1933 Ebbets moved back to Florida where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. His interests were now focused on the exciting growth of tourism in the state, the unique Seminole Indians and the vast expanse of untouched nature in the Everglades. In 1935, Ebbets became the first official Associated Press photographer in the state. That same year, his photos of the infamous 1935 Labor Day hurricane that devastated the Florida Keys were circulated worldwide. During this era, he also founded the Miami Press Photographers Association and was its first President.
His extensive knowledge of the Everglades and closeness to the people of the region led to a unique friendship with many of the members of the Seminole Indian tribe. Over time, he counted many of the tribal leaders among his personal friends and was allowed unprecedented access to the villages and camps to document their lives in pictures. In 1938, he was the first white man ever allowed to witness their sacred Green Corn Dance and was permitted to photograph the entire week-long event. Many of these images were seen in the pages of newspapers throughout the country, and this extensive collection remains one of the finest of its kind in the world.
For the next decade, Ebbets continued his travel and adventures both on and off assignment, and broke his back while shooting photos in the Everglades, an injury which kept him out of the military during World War II. However, because he was a licensed pilot and a photographer, he served as an attaché to the Army Air Corps Special Services and would later be assigned to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute, which was training the American and British Royal Air Forces. During the war, he documented all phases of base development and personnel training in Florida and spent time in South America working under General "Hap" Arnold, who oversaw the training of American and British pilots at bases in Brazil.
Ebbets returned to his Miami home at the end of World War II and would be one of the three founders of the City of Miami Publicity Bureau. For the next 17 years he was the Chief Photographer of the City of Miami. During this period Ebbets would expand his collection of Everglades birds and wildlife images and would document the growth of Miami as a mecca of the tourist industry. He was a pioneer in creating some of the first cheesecake photographs that touted Miami as a winter respite for adventure and warm weather among beautiful scenery and people. His photographs were featured in the Miami Daily News, The New York Times, National Geographic, Outdoors Unlimited, Field & Stream, Popular Boating, U.S. Camera, Outdoor Life, Look Magazine, Popular Photography (the June 1938 issue featured a full spread about Ebbets and his work), and others.
Throughout the 1970s Ebbets continued to photograph life in the South Florida region. On July 14, 1978, at the age of 72, Ebbets died of cancer. At the time of his death he had more than 300 nationally published images.
In 2003, he was honored at the Photo East Expo held at the Javits Center in New York by Corbis, which has at least 21 of Ebbets' pictures in its collection. Currently, his daughter has established a website of some of his images which can be seen at EbbetsPhoto-Graphics.com and is archiving and restoring his vast collection of pictures to be included in a book about his life and work.