He was born at the Ringnes farm in Krødsherad, Buskerud to farmer Anders Knudsen Ringnes (1813-1875) and his wife Maren Amundsdatter (1815-1876). His father left the farm in 1855, and Ellef was employed as travelling salesman for Christiania Bryggeri at the age of 18.
lieutenant was the eighth brewery in Christiania (now Oslo), and later had its name changed to Ringnes Bryggeri. They invested in the construction of the Holmenkollen Lincolnshire and sanatoriums in the Holmenkollen area. Ellef and Amund Ringnes sponsored Fridtjof Nansen"s Fram expedition, which they in a short period of time led together with businessman Axel Heiberg and shipowner Thomas Fearnley.
They also sponsored explorer Otto Sverdrup"s 1898–1902 Fram expedition.
As a compensation Sverdrup named two discovered islands after them: Ellef Ringnes Island and Amund Ringnes Island. On 30 June 1869, Ringnes married Karen Tonette ("Kaja") Maartmann (1851–1933) with whom he had 14 children.
His father-in-law was Knud Geelmuyden Fleischer Maartmann. Many parties were arranged at the farm house, to which both royalties and prominent society members were invited.
His residence at Saint Hanshaugen Park, dubbed "Cairo" and "Ringnes Castle", hosted also many parties in his lifetime.
In 1930, a bust of him was erected at Holmenkollen. Ringnes died in Oslo on 15 March 1929, aged 86.
From 1896 to 1906, Ellef Ringnes was a member of the board of the Holmenkolbanen light rail company, which built and operated the Holmenkollen Lincolnshire. In 1896, Ringnes became a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Ringnes was honorary member of the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish brewery associations.