If you want to get inspired and motivated, you’ve come to the right place. Because today we are happy to preset you the list of 21 famous photographers from different eras and genres.
If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.
It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter
If you love photography, narrowing down a list of famous photographers you should know and appreciate is a dense enough task when you aren’t looking to narrow that list down even further to a fixed number. Somehow, we managed and, based on criteria and objectiveness, we’ve listed 21 Famous Photographers who are known for their passion, dedication, and style.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
The “Supreme Master of Landscape Photography,” Ansel Adams’ prints are perfect evidence that what happens after you press the shutter button is extremely important.
Adams was an American photographer and environmentalist, which is certainly no surprise since his images depict his pure fascination with nature. His landscape photographs of the American West—especially Yosemite National Park—are his most iconic body of work.
Anytime someone hears the phrase “landscape photography,” Adams is likely the first to come to mind. Unsurprisingly, his passion for landscape photography transformed his skills into complete mastery.
Adams used mainly large format cameras, which are also known as view or field cameras. He used these cameras because of their ability to ensure extremely high resolutions and sharpness when rendering images. Large format cameras start at 4×5 inches.
To get an idea of the information large format cameras are capable of capturing, you can fit 15 35mm negatives in a 4×5 negative, which is the smallest of large format. Inside an 8×10 (another standard of large format), you can fit 60 35mm negatives.
Co-founder of Mangum Photos alongside Robert Capa and David Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most respected street photographers in the field. Sometimes credited as the father of the street photography movement, he is also broadly known for coining the term “The Decisive Moment,” which states that if you’re able to see the moment, you likely won’t capture it and, instead, must learn to anticipate social happenings to best capture them.
The term invites photographers to develop an ability or intuition to press the shutter button moments before an event happens.
Philippe Halsman first contributed to fashion magazines between his departure from Austria and his arrival in France. Shortly after, he eventually stumbled into Vogue and built his reputation as the best portrait photographer in France.
Born in Transylvania as Gyula Halász and better known as Brassaï, he was a Hungarian-French photographer who worked as a journalist throughout Europe. He was one of the many Hungarian artists who flourished in Paris between WWI and WWII.
Thanks to the natural contrast enhanced by wet surfaces and limited available light, his compositions were reduced to the basic, most essential elements needed to transmit a concept.
Born in the United States as Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray was a visual artist who significantly contributed significantly to the Dada and Surrealist movements. He was best known for his innovative techniques as well as his stunning fashion and portrait photography. He created iconic photograms named “Rayographs” after himself.
Close friends with Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, and Salvador Dalí, Ray went to live and work in Paris in July 1921. He settled in the Montparnasse quarter, which was a favorite locale for artists of the era. Shortly after settling in Paris, he met and fell in love with Alice Prin (better known as Kiki de Montparnasse), an artists’ model and celebrated character in Paris’ bohemian circles. She was his companion throughout the 1920s and became the subject of some of his most famous photographs.
One of Ray’s most iconic portraits of Kiki is known as Noire et Blanche (1926). In the image, we see a contrast of black and white as well as the inanimate and animate with both elongated faces and closed eyes.
Ray’s other iconic images include Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) and Larmes (1930), which are also known as Glass Tears. In Le Violon d’Ingres we see an homage to Ingres and his fascination for playing the violin for his guests. The image shows a nude and limbless Kiki depicting a violin with the f-holes as the most notable surrealist element of the portrait. Larmes is linked to his romantic rupture with Lee Miller and depicts an unrealistic character of sadness with crystal tears and perfect eyelashes.
Born as Usher Fellig in Złoczów (now Zolochiv, Ukraine), he later changed his name to Arthur Fellig when, at 10 years old, he immigrated to the United States with his family. Later known as Weegee, he was a photojournalist best known for his harsh black and white street photography depicting crime scenes and emergencies.
Thanks to his strategy of hanging out at different police stations, Weegee was close to emergency calls and law enforcement fighting crime. When any incident came over the scanner, he raced the cops to the scene to capture people in their rawest state. This is why his images became highly valuable to the press.
Weegee became so fast that he prided himself on arriving before the police in any situation, which caused many to assume he used a Quija board to know where and when things would happen. In fact, the phonetic pronunciation of this artifact became his nickname “Weegee,” which he loved.
He used a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera and a mounted flash throughout his career. He is not known for his sprinting ability but for the elements of his social photographs.
His work reached beyond the press as he crafted a career on his own terms. He implanted his brutal, humorous, and absurd style into his work, making him the only Weegee in photography history.
Be sure to look for one of my favorites—a simple yet strong cinematic shot of two men at the buck of a truck that’s under arrest.
Mary Ellen Mark was known for her broad scope of photography, extending from photojournalism and documentary photography to portraiture and advertising photography. Her images depict a unique sense of closeness and care for the people she photographed throughout her career.
Her images are simple yet strong in a juxtaposition that is as hard to achieve as humor in street photography. Through her unique approach, she achieved narrative statements in a single aspect.
Although that was hard enough, she took things even further with her incredible and solid composition in her framings. But, guess what? She never cropped. She hated the idea of cropping after capturing an image so much that she cropped in the camera. Of course, cropping is necessary to improve a prior shot, but if you can crop perfectly in the viewfinder, then you’re definitely raising the bar.
One of my all-time favorites of her photographs, called Rat and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, USA, 1983. The image shows two youngsters with a very fierce attitude in the streets.
Born as Endre Friedmann in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, Robert Capa was a Hungarian war photographer who left a tremendous and important body of work—in anthropological terms—of who we are as a culture.
Although he originally dreamed of becoming a writer, Capa fell in love with photography in his early years. Prior to working as a photographer in Berlin in 1933, he moved to France during the rise of Nazism when his roots cost him valuable work. He and his beloved Gerda Taró created a persona of this great American photographer we know as Robert Capa.
Capa reached fame in 1936 with his controversial image of the falling soldier at the Spanish Civil War. Although many things have been said about this incredible image, I want to and will believe that the image is legitimate.
By 1944, he was living in New York City due to the Jewish persecution of WWII. He was embedded with the American troops and photographed the war for LIFE magazine. On June 6th, he was part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, Normandy, where he was inside the second wave of troops. It’s been said that he shot 106 images with his trusty Contax camera and 50mm lens.
Capa almost lost his life in the bloody event, but after finally reaching safety, he sent the images to LIFE headquarters in England, where an incredibly hated character in the history of photography melted the emulsion and the negatives. Only 10 images survived, with Mangum Contact Sheets posting that the negative of the iconic image of a soldier coming up the beach was missing.
After publicly stating he was done photographing war, Capa traveled to Japan for the Magnum Exhibition in the early 1950s. LIFE magazine talked him into going to Southeast Asia on an assignment covering the French fighting in the first Indochina war. On May 25, 1954, he stepped on a landmine while photographing the war. He died on the way to the local hospital.
Born as Gerta Pohorylle, Taró was a war photographer and Endre Friedmann’s (Robert Capa) beloved companion and professional partner. She is regarded as the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of war and, unfortunately, is also recognized as the first female to die while doing so.
She moved to Paris with Friedmann in 1935 to begin working as a team. Financially speaking, things weren’t as they expected so they came up with a groundbreaking idea—they created the myth around a famous American photographer named Robert Capa. Thanks to the importance of the journalistic task, Friedmann embraced the idea as the two worked as Capa’s “agent.” While some argue that this was a joint effort between the two, I prefer to believe it was all Taró’s brilliant idea.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Taró traveled to Barcelona, Spain to cover the events with Capa and David “Chim” Seymour. During this time, she was known by her nickname—La Pequeña Rubia.
With Taró using a Rolleiflex camera, this became the criteria that determined which images were credited to Capa that she actually shot. However, this is not precise criterion since the couple shared their gear. This is especially important for those questioning the legitimacy of The Death of the Soldier.
Eventually gaining more professional independence from Friedmann/Capa, she covered many conflicts alone, like the La Batalla de Guadalajara.
During her coverage of the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete on July 25, 1937, she hopped onto the footboard of a car carrying wounded soldiers when a Republican tank crashed into its side. Taró was critically injured and died the following day.
Dorothea Lange was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist. In the 1930s, one of the deepest and harshest economic crises occurred in human history and led many people to migrate throughout the United States. This set the perfect stage for Lange to document life in America.
Thanks to an initiative set by President Roosevelt, the Farm Security Administration was established. Roy Stryker, a man with the organization, contacted many photographers to capture farmers’ realities at the time. One of those photographers was Lange, whose work humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.
Although she gave us a tremendous body of work that is invaluable to human history, her most iconic image is Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1938).
Migrant Mother is an icon of the American people’s struggles during the Great Depression. The woman captured is Florence Owens Thompson, a mother of seven. After spending a few minutes with Thompson and her family, Lange uncovered her story.
She took a series of photographs of Thompson and her children, with the most famous image capturing Thompson in the center of the frame. While our eyes go directly to her expression, it’s only moments later when we notice she’s surrounded by three of her kids. The image’s focal point is her hands, which marked Lange’s fascination with hands and their embodiment of hard, rural work.
A talented American photographer, Sally Mann is largely known for her large format black and white photographs. She has covered the intimacy of her family, and although the work is amazing, it’s unfortunately created some controversies in the past, especially with the piece titled Immediate Family.
Mann’s images are about the final product as she works with film and wet plate as well as handcrafted prints. Her artistic vision is complex at times, which is why I love her work so much.
Frank’s images are about capturing the unseen in everyday life that seemed to be obscured by other topics rising in popularity thanks to the after-war phenomena of the 1950s. Nowadays, it is common to see great street photography and documentary photography focusing on everyday life. However, Frank did this when the masses demanded something else, which is why he’s beloved by photographers today.
William Eggleston is an American photographer who is best known for his successful efforts to increase the recognition of color photography as an artistic medium, which has been widely known for its monochromatic images.
Some of my favorite images are those presented at the MoMA under “William Eggleston’s Guide.” You can see an excerpt of this collection here under the section “Monographs.”
One of his most iconic images of the human-less tricycle is a great representation of solitude and speaks volumes about humanity. The tricycle is simple, but its notoriously large presence speaks in a suggestive way and invites viewers to think. Personally, I think this image summarizes life from the great and simple joys of childhood to the less enjoyable stages of adulthood and beyond.
Irving Penn was an American photographer best known for his fashion photography, portraits, and still-lifes. Some of his most notorious works were published in Vogue magazine, but he also worked with independent clients. His work has been exhibited around the globe and continues to inform the art of photography.
He studied drawing, painting, graphics, and industrial arts under Alexey Brodovitch from 1934 to 1938. As a student, he worked under Brodovitch’s supervision at Harper’s Bazaar. He eventually worked for Vogue magazine when Alexander Liberman offered him a position as an associate with the Art Department. After explaining his ideas for photographers, Liberman asked Penn why he didn’t take the images himself, which triggered a non-stop evolution that created the photographer we all know and love today.
Penn was a pioneer and was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop with great effect. He went even further and started working with a corner to squeeze celebrities into a pose.
There’s been a lot of complexity surrounding Vivian Maier since her work was discovered by John Maloof. Her work was incredibly intimate—she was a collector who collected moments with her camera. She worked as a nanny for much of her life and never approached the artistic industry by any means. You can read more about the history behind her discovery here.
There’s also a splendid documentary titled Finding Vivian Maier that was nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature that better outlines her world vision and incredible talent.
Josef Koudelka was born in Boskovice, Czechoslovakia. He started photographing his family and hometown before he earned his first commissions from theatre magazines, which is a slightly different niche from what he is best known for today.
Due to widespread anti-Semitism, he signed his images with the initials P.P. (Prague Photographer).
Humor is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve in any discipline, but Elliott Erwitt makes it seem easy as a photographer known for his candid, humorous photographs of ironic and absurd situations in everyday life.
He also served in the United States Army during the 1950s and documented military situations with his own unique and peculiar style.
He joined Magnum Photos in 1953 and worked as a freelance photographer for numerous magazines. He also frequently works with a special subject—his dogs—and has published four books that all center on his elegantly unique Erwittian humor.
W. Eugene Smith captured his first photographs in 1933 and later sold them to magazines. In 1936, he received a scholarship to study photography at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He then moved to New York, where he studied under Helene Sandors at the Institute of Photography. From 1937 to 1938, he was a reporter for Newsweek and later worked as an independent photographer for the Black Star agency.
He worked under contract for LIFE magazine from 1939 to 1942. During World War II, he was a war correspondent in the South Pacific, where, despite a serious injury, he captured some of the most impressive images of his career.
Garry Winogrand was an amazing photographer who is often praised as “the central photographer of his generation.” He is, without a doubt, a master of contemporary photography.
Winogrand was extremely prolific with the camera. By the time of his death in 1984, he had 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film and upwards of 300,000 unedited images. While the previous generation of documentary photographers captured images to document social causes, Winogrand and his peers believed that everyday life had as much value as its subjects, which is why he is such an incredible photographer to study.
André Kertész was only a teenager when he found a photography manual and decided to become a photographer. His plans were interrupted by his father’s sudden death as he entered trade school and worked for the Budapest Stock Exchange. In 1913, he purchased his first camera and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army the following year. After leaving the army, he devoted his full attention to his passion for photography.
In 1927, he made his first exhibition, where he met and befriended Brassaï. He loved the medium’s versatility and realized that there was no need to alter reality since it already offered a visible richness. That’s why his photographs are known to be surprising, playful, and visually intricate.
In conclusion, these 21 world famous photographers have greatly impacted the world of photography. They have inspired other photographers to pursue their dreams and continue to create beautiful art.