World’s Most Famous Photographers

World Famous Photographers
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Who are the world’s most famous photographers? Salvador Dalí once said, “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”  When it comes to photography though, inspiration can be a tough nut to crack. 

We all know it’s sometimes difficult to stay in touch with our creative side, especially when we are overwhelmed by daily tasks or we feel stuck in a repetitive routine. 

If you find that your favorite music or your best-loved movie director no longer stirs your imagination, it’s time to turn your attention to the all-time classics: the famous photographers that shook the world.

There are few things more powerful than drawing inspiration from people who were true pioneers in their field.

So let’s have a look at 31 amazing artists who shaped the world of photography with their innovative ideas and their amazing talent!

31 Famous Photographers that Shook the World

Diane Arbus Photography

#31 Diane Arbus

Arbus was an American photographer who is nowadays widely known for her portrayal of New Yorkers in the 1950s and the 1960s.

Arbus was fascinated with the unusual, and because of this fact she was quickly labeled “the photographer of freaks”. 

Her favorite subjects were marginalized people, standing on the fringes of society: tattooed men, circus performers, transgender and disabled people were among her most iconic models. 

Through her remarkable work, she highlighted the importance of equality at a time when not many people were willing to face the marginalized and recognize them as a functioning part of society.

Did you know?

There’s a biographical movie about this famous photographer which came out in 2006. 

It’s called “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” and it stars Nicole Kidman & Robert Downey Jr. It’s worth checking out!

Gregory Colbert Photography

#30 Gregory Colbert

Gregory Colbert is a Canadian photographer and filmmaker.

He’s the author of “Ashes & Snow”, a series of photographs, documentary films and soundscapes with a distinctive art style that depict the human-animal bond in a harmonic way. 

The renowned exhibition has its own moving home called the Nomadic Museum.

This structure was designed by a Japanese architect with the idea to travel the world, never to settle down with its precious cargo.

If you are one who believes that as human beings we should never stop exploring, then you’ll probably find Gregory Colbert’s words truly inspiring:

I have been tusked by an elephant, almost eaten by a sperm whale, knocked off my feet by a rhinoceros, embraced by a jaguar, given a haircut by a tiger shark, chased by a hippo and a black mamba, brought to my knees by malaria and Dengue… but I was able to avoid the greatest danger of all. Never stop exploring the things that open you, or that you love.

Did you know?

“Ashes and Snow” has been visited by more than 10 million people.

That earns it the honour of being the most-attended exhibition by a living artist in history. 

Tim Walker Photography

#29 Tim Walker

A fashion photographer who openly admits that he’s not interested in brands is quite an interesting juxtaposition.

Tim Walker’s work goes beyond the usual boundaries of creativity. It’s simply wild imagination off-leash.

A small plane with a handsome pilot crashing into the living room, giant swans, and flying saucers are only a few of the surreal wonders you’ll discover when looking at his portfolio.

Tim Walker has photographed a great number of world-famous actors, designers and directors.

Among them you’ll find: Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Watson, Vivienne Westwood, Tim Burton and David Lynch.

Did you know?

One of Tim Walker’s most famous photoshoots features Cate Blanchett in the role of The Little Prince – this series is definitely worth checking out!

Martin Parr Photography

#28 Martin Parr

The images that Martin Parr creates are far from being dreamy, fairytale-like or flattering.

In fact, they’re quite the opposite: sometimes they feel like a fresh slap in the face, exposing boldly the most unpleasant truths about our modern society.

The British photographer successfully mixes criticism, irony and humor to create his own unmistakable style.

Some of the topics he focuses on include consumption and meaningless leisure activities. The subjects are often ordinary middle-class citizens.

Did you know?

Martin Parr is a member of Magnum, an international photographic cooperative, which was co-founded by the great master of photography Henri Cartier-Bresson himself.

Sally Mann Photography

#27 Sally Mann

Sally Mann is without doubt one of the most renowned American photographers.

Her work is often described as controversial – exploring the fragile age between childhood and adulthood and the thin line between them. 

One of her most iconic achievements is “Immediate Family”, her third collection, which was first exhibited in Chicago in 1990.

The collection consists of 65 black-and-white photographs of Mann’s children who were at that time all under the age of ten. 

The images explore ordinary summer activities, such as swimming or playing board games. Yet, they also focus on much darker topics: sexuality, death, loneliness and injury.

Did you know?

When the book was first released it was accused of having child pornography content.

Many people thought it was wrong for a mother to take advantage of her children’s nakedness for profit, but nevertheless, the book was a huge success.

Alex Prager Photography

#26 Alex Prager

Prager is not even in her 40s, but she’s already a world-famous American photographer and filmmaker.

Alex Prager is widely known for her staged color images, which are reminiscent of movie scenes. 

Her work portrays daily life in a way that is hyper-real and film-like. She often uses extras, models and actors to create the look she’s going for. 

Her photographs have been exhibited in New York, Stockholm, Australia, San Francisco, Paris and many more.

Did you know?

Prager’s fascination with photography began unexpectedly one day when she came across a show by the great William Eggleston.

I was looking for my outlet, and when I saw the Eggleston show I felt the physical and emotional reaction to his work.

I’d never really noticed photography being used as art before; I’d previously only known it as fashion and advertising. I wanted to know more. It felt like magic to me at the time.

William Eggleston Photography

#25 William Eggleston

William Eggleston was the one who inspired Alex Prager to start her career in photography.

Among Eggleston’s favorite subjects you’ll find: empty Coca-Cola bottles, one-way signs, old tires, vending machines, torn posters and power lines. 

With his images, he builds the face of the mundane world we live in and proves that even the trivial can be complex and poetic.

He’s also considered to be one of the pioneers in color photography.

Did you know?

One of Eggleston’s pictures set a world record: it was sold at an auction for the astonishing sum of $578,000!

Edward Weston Photography

#24 Edward Weston

Edward Weston is known to be one of the most innovative and influential American photographers of all time.

A true study of form, light and texture, his photographs are captivating in their peculiarity. 

Some of his most famous images include pictures of peppers, sea shells and cabbage leaves, which are captured in such a way that they appear mystical and almost erotic. 

Did you know?

Edward Weston himself strongly denied having any intentional thoughts of creating images that are seen as erotic:

No! I had no physical thoughts, ‒ never have. I worked with clearer decision of sheer aesthetic form. I knew I was recording from within, my feeling for life as I never had before.

Robert Capa Photography

#23 Robert Capa

He is undoubtedly one of the titans of the photography world.

Robert Capa was a Hungarian photojournalist and war photographer who risked his life numerous times so that he could capture soldiers in action. 

His life partner, Gerda Taro, had the same occupation. Although she died very young, her career had an immense impact on photojournalism.

Capa was exceptionally brave and often used to say:

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.

Did you know? 

Robert Capa’s real name was Endre Friedman. Capa was a nickname he invented for himself. It means “shark” in Hungarian.

Gerda Taro Photography

#22 Gerda Taro

She was a German-Jewish war photographer who is mainly known for the disturbing images she created during the Spanish Civil War.

Sadly, she’s also famous for being the first female photojournalist who died while working. 

As we learned in the previous section, Gerda was romantically involved with the great Robert Capa. They both fell in love and died on the front-line. 

Did you know?

In 2012, the English indie rock band Alt-J honored the iconic relationship of these two brave photographers in their song “Taro”.

David LaChapelle Photography

#21 David LaChapelle

Now let’s get back to contemporary photography with the incredible work of David LaChapelle, an internationally recognized fashion photographer. 

His images have such a distinctive style that it’s hard not to recognize the photographer once you see them.

A real explosion of color, his photographs often resemble paintings.

His subjects are often hyper-famous: Madonna, Whitney Houston, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga are just a few of the celebrities that have posed for David LaChapelle.

Did you know?

In spite of his acid-drenched commercial style, this photographer seems to be quite balanced in real life.

In 2006 he left Los Angeles to start a new life off the grid: He moved to an isolated part of Hawaii and took up farming.

Soon, he was invited to shoot for a local gallery, which was actually all he wanted at that point. He even described it as “rebirth”.

Annie Leibovitz Photography

#20 Annie Leibovitz

Speaking of commercial photography and celebrity portraits, there’s one name that can never be overlooked.

Annie Leibovitz is an American photographer who is known for her engaging portraits that are honest and intimate. 

Leibovitz was the last professional photographer who took a picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono before Lennon was murdered on December 8th, 1980.  

Did you know?

She was a concert photographer for the legendary rock band The Rolling Stones during their 1975 tour.

Here’s what Leibovitz recalls from that experience:

You never could take your eye from the camera, and you were at the mercy of the lighting people, who were usually on drugs. Plus, you had to be prepared to be crushed by the audience.

Gregory Crewdson Photography

#19 Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson is one of the most significant names out there when it comes to contemporary photography. 

His visual style is unmistakable. It has a very strong cinematic feel and a haunting sense of lingering hopelessness. 

Crewdson’s subjects are rarely shot close-up. Instead, they’re seen from a distance, somehow alienated and lonesome, mostly caught in their stillness.

Did you know?

There are more than a few things that make Gregory’s style distinctive, but one of the most important ones is light.

Here’s what the author shares with the public on this:

I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests.

Dorothea Lange Photography

#18 Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was an American photographer who worked in the field of photojournalism.

Her most iconic photograph was taken during the Great Depression. It’s entitled “Migrant Mother”, and it depicts a worried mother who was living in a lean-to tent with her young children. 

The woman told Lange that they could barely find anything to eat, and that they were surviving on birds they had killed and frozen vegetables from the fields. 

Did you know?

When the photographer came back home, she immediately told the editor of the magazine how the people were starving to death.

The information also reached the government, and as a result they were able to send aid to the camp. 

Andreas Gursky Photography

#17 Andreas Gursky

Gursky is a German photographer who is famous for his large format images. They often include landscape, architecture or aerial views. 

The sense of vastness in his work is often due to digital enhancements in post-production.

The author has been quite honest about the fact that he digitally manipulates the pictures, but that definitely doesn’t decrease their value.

Did you know?

Gursky’s most famous image, “99 Cents”, set a record for the most expensive contemporary photograph that was ever sold at an auction.

The price was astronomical: $2.3 million. 

Immogen Cunningham Photography

#16 Imogen Cunningham

When you think of classical botanical photography, Imogen Cunningham is the artist who comes to mind. Her understanding of natural forms, light and shadow was a rare talent.

It’s a little-known fact that Cunningham also loved photographing human subjects. She was especially fascinated by the hands of artists and musicians. 

Did you know?

One of the plants Cunningham was most interested in was the magnolia. She spent two years entirely devoted to its botanical study.

Ellen Von Unwerth photography

#15 Ellen von Unwerth

Ellen is a German photographer with a strong feminist bent to her work.

As an orphan, von Unwerth had difficult early years. When she was a teenager, she spent three years as a magician’s assistant in the local circus.

In her twenties, she decided to pursue a career in modelling. That’s how everything began.

After almost a decade of successful modelling, she discovered her passion for photography and combined it with her experience in the world of fashion.

Did you know?

Ellen von Unwerth was first recognized as a talented photographer with her photos of Claudia Schiffer in 1989.

She shares what was so captivating about Claudia and why she was so impressed with her:

(Claudia) was tall and beautiful, and I see many girls like that, but when I went home and looked at the pictures, I saw this incredible resemblance to Brigitte Bardot which got me very excited.

I’m a big fan of movies and I love 50’s/60’s films – I love Marilyn Monroe and Sofia Loren, and Brigitte Bardot, for me, is the most beautiful woman ever.

So seeing that resemblance was very, very exciting.

Tim Flach photography

#14 Tim Flach

Tim Flach specializes in fine art animal photography and he’s also very involved in wildlife conservation. 

So far, he has published five books: Equus (2008), Dog Gods (2010), More Than Human (2012), Evolution (2013) and Endangered (2017).

Among his favorite subjects to photograph are members of the canine family, horses, tigers, bears, pandas, primates and predatory birds. 

Did you know?

One of Flach’s first animal photo series which achieved recognition was “Fruit Bats”.

Flach took the photos in a studio environment, and during the process he saw a polaroid of them the wrong way up.

He decided that the bats look so much better with their eyes above their feet, and the result (above) was amazing.

Dominique Issermann photography

#13 Dominique Issermann

Issermann is a French photographer who focuses mainly on the genres of fashion and advertising photography.

She is also known for her intimate black-and-white portraits, which are so powerful in their simplicity. 

Her work has been compared to the Renaissance painters and admired by many.

Issermann has portrayed a number of iconic French film stars such as Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Adjani, Marion Cotillard, and Léa Seydoux. 

Did you know?

Her favorite subject to photograph was the world-famous Canadian singer, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen (above).

He was also mutually fond of Issermann, and he even dedicated his album “I’m your man” to her.

Eugenio Recuenco photography

#12 Eugenio Requenco

Eugenio Requenco is a Spanish photographer with a unique pictorial style.

His work can also be described as very detailed and cinematic, and it has been displayed in magazines such as Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair. 

He likes to create elaborate environments for his subjects, which often contain numerous references to art history.

He has mastered light and shadow to such an extent that he has even been compared to Goya and El Greco. 

Eugenio Requenco is currently based in Madrid and is rightfully considered to be one of the most sought-after contemporary photographers. 

Did you know?

In 2012 Requenco took part in the making of the Lavazza calendar, creating one of his most famous images: Don Quixote on his horse, holding a cup of coffee (see image above).

Jimmy Nelson Photography

#11 Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson is a British photographer whose interest lies in documenting tribal and indigenous people.

His most significant project is ongoing, called “Before They Pass Away”.

He has photographed more than 35 tribes all over the world, and has traveled to numerous locations in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.

During his prolific work over the last decade, he has been criticized multiple times by different sources.

He has been accused of staging the people in his photographs so that they look good for the image, but without taking the time to get to know them and their culture.

Did you know?

The photographer spent his childhood in Africa, Asia and South America because of his parents. That sparked his interest in foreign cultures.

Georg Gerster Photography

#10 Georg Gerster

Georg Gerster was a Swiss journalist who is considered to be the father of aerial photography. His images capture not only the beauty of nature, but also the impact that humans have on it. 

Excessive use, technology development, and erosion have all been captured and documented through his lens.

Did you know?

One of the exhibitions that had a great significance in Gerster’s career was “Persia: Paradise Lost”, a series of aerial photographs of Iran.

When Empress Farah was looking at his work for the first time, there was a power cut in the building.

They asked her to leave the dark room, but she said: “No, I’m going to sit here until I’ve finished looking at the photographs.”

Erwin Olaf Photography

#9 Erwin Olaf

Few contemporary photographers are more controversial and provocative than Erwin Olaf. The Dutch artist is both known for his commercial and his personal work.

“Grief”, “Rain”, “Hope” and “Royal Blood” are his most famous series, true representations of his visual style.

Theatrical compositions, complex narratives, dramatic lighting, and stillness are all things which can be easily spotted across his body of work.

Did you know?

In his photographic series “Hope”, the author was inspired by the dying American Dream and how fragile people can be when they’re utterly disappointed.

Steve McCurry

#8 Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry is an American photographer who is mainly known for his work as a photojournalist. His most famous photograph, “Afghan Girl”, is an outstanding image which you’ve all probably seen on a National Geographic cover. 

He bravely covered more than a few armed conflicts such as the Lebanon Civil War, the Cambodian Civil War and the Iran-Iraq War.

Over the years he faced a couple of extremely dangerous situations which brought him close to losing his life. He was a survivor in an airplane crash in Yugoslavia and he nearly drowned in India.

Today, Steve McCurry is honoured around the globe and he contributes to renowned magazines all over the world.

Did you know?

In 2004 McCurry founded ImagineAsia, a non-profit organisation that works hand-in-hand with local communities. It constantly strives to provide better education for the children and young adults of Afghanistan.

Ansel Adams

#7 Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams is one of the most well-known photographers the world has seen. His black and white images portray nature in a unique and mesmerizing way. 

He is known for his realistic approach, which involves precise exposure, sharp focus and high contrast.

He was also one of the first photographers of his time to escape from pictorialism, an aesthetic movement that dominated photography in the 1920s. 

Ansel Adams developed a photographic technique called the Zone System – a method of obtaining the perfect final print through deep understanding of tonal range.

Did you know? 

Yosemite National Park inspired Adams to take up photography. He first visited it with his family in 1916 and he was instantly bewitched. Throughout his career, he never got tired of portraying nature’s beauty.

Richard Avedon

#6 Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon was an American photographer known for his black and white portraits.

He developed a passion for photography at a very early age – he was only 12 when he joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club. 

When he started his career and began working for Harper’s Bazaar, he used to deny the studio environment – he preferred to take photos of the models on the street, on the beach, or at the circus.

That made his portraits truly natural and gave his work a distinct look that was highly appreciated.

Did you know? 

In one of his interviews Richard Avedon shared that his personal hero was the French artist Henri Matisse.

He explained that he was fascinated by the way he completely reinvented himself in old age and began creating cut paper collages. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson

#5 Henri Cartier-Bresson

In street photography there’s one name that inevitably comes to mind: Henri Cartier-Bresson, the true master of capturing the decisive moment.

He was a French humanist photographer and also one of the founders of the iconic photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

He was also one of the first photographers to use 35 mm film while others were still mainly using the bulky and heavy medium format cameras.

He was almost always accompanied by his Leica. Light and swift, it was the perfect tool for capturing that fleeting moment. It gave Cartier-Bresson what he called “the velvet hand…the hawk’s eye”.

Did you know?

Henri Cartier-Bresson quite openly disliked flash – according to him it was “impolite…like coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand”.

Michael Kenna Photography

#4 Michael Kenna

Michael Kenna’s work in the landscape genre is extraordinary. Shot in black-and-white, his images convey a feeling of serenity and calmness. 

His compositions often contain a repeating element and are very minimalistic. Kenna is known for using long exposures, which create the delicate light in his painting-like photographs. 

He has received numerous awards including “Honorary Master of Arts”, and his work has been displayed in Europe, Australia and Asia.

Did you know?

Although Michael Kenna is famous for his landscape images that lack human presence, he is in fact very interested in exploring the human body.

Here’s what he shares in an interview about his work on nudes:

I have stated on numerous occasions that I do not include people in my photographs as I feel they gave away the scale and became the main focus of the viewer’s attention.

Most of my photography relates to the presence of absence. However, fixed dogma is not a creative tool, and one should not be confined by a self-described definition.

Guy Bourdin Photography

#3 Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin was a French painter and self-taught photographer, extremely innovative and ahead of his time.

With his surreal aesthetics, hyper-real colors and precise compositions, he defied the conventions of fashion photography.

His narratives were heavily influenced and inspired by cinema, books and art history. He also often relied on minimalism to convey his message to the viewers.

In his work the human body seems somehow shattered, legs and hands are seemingly detached, floating in the frame and creating a sense of mystery.

Did you know?

Guy Bourdin wasn’t a fan of publicity, to put it mildly. In fact, he even didn’t want his work to be shown, and thought that it needed to be destroyed after his death.

Peter Lindbergh Photography

#2 Peter Lindbergh

In a world where everything is post-processed and where digital manipulation has become an inseparable part of photography, there are few artists who refuse to “polish” their images.

Peter Lindbergh is one of them. He is known for his authentic, soulful and natural-looking portraits.

Through his work he introduced a new concept of beauty: raw and realistic. Due to this achievement, he’s considered to be among the pioneers in contemporary photography.

Did you know?

Peter Lindbergh absolutely forbids retouching when it comes to his commercial shots.

For many years he has stood his ground, and he even makes the magazines sign a contract where they agree not do any retouching.

The cosmetic companies have everyone brainwashed. I don’t retouch anything. ‘Oh, but she looks tired!’ they say. So what if she looks tired? Tired and beautiful.

Sebastiao Salgado Photography

#1 Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest living photographers.

He mainly works in the field of social documentary, portraying humanity during some of its most devastating stages.

Salgado has published many books over the course of his nearly 50-year career, but some of the most iconic are Genesis, Other Americas, Workers and Terra.

To create his images, he has travelled all over the world and has visited more than 120 countries. 

In 2014, a documentary movie about Salgado’s life journey was released.

It’s called “The Salt of the Earth”, directed by Wim Wenders, one of the most renowned European directors, and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Sebastião Salgado’s son himself.

Did  you know?

In the 90’s, Salgado was sent to complete a photographic project in Rwanda, Africa.

The merciless genocide, the horrors and tragedies he witnessed, moved him deeply and changed his life. He came back home and was never the same person. 

It was during this dark period of despair when his wife Lelia came up with an idea of bringing back to life a devastated forest in Brazil.

It took them nearly two decades to fulfill their original plan, but now it’s finally finished.

About 2 million trees have been planted and the region is regaining the lost populations of native animals. The forest is breathing again.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the greatest photographer in the world?

It’s impossible to pick just one person as the greatest photographer in the world – it’s quite a subjective question and different people have different opinions. We’ve put Sebastião Salgado as number one on this particular list as he definitely stands as one of the greatest living photographers.

Who is a famous fashion photographer?

Some of the most famous fashion photographers, which you can find on our own list, are Tim Walker, David LaChapelle, Ellen von Unwerth, Dominique Issermann, Guy Bourdin, and Peter Lindbergh.

Who is the most successful photographer?

That depends on your measure of success, but a few names worth mentioning are Steve McCurry for his world-famous Afghan Girl image, Annie Leibovitz for her celebrity portraits, and Andreas Gursky for selling a photo for a record-breaking 4.3 million dollars.

How do you become a recognized photographer?

Start by learning your craft well and taking excellent photos! Look at the work of others – like those on this list – for inspiration. Then it’s a matter of getting your work seen. A few places to start are by posting on social media and photography websites, entering photo competitions and awards, and by working with clients.

What Famous Photographers did I miss?

I hope you enjoyed my list of famous photographers who I consider shook (or are still shaking!) the photography world.

I also hope this list will encourage some healthy commentary too – if you think I missed one of the greats, or included someone you think I perhaps shouldn’t have, leave us a comment.

Whatever the case, I hope that the work of these incredible artists will bring some inspiration back into your life :-)