53 Unmissable Movies about Photography That Every Photographer Should Watch

Kelly-Stewart-Photocamera

Are you looking for movies about photography? If so, you’re in the right place!

Below, you’ll find a wide array of choices, from documentaries to fictional stories, and from dramas to musicals.

There’s something for everyone, whether you’re interested in fine art photography, war photography or any other genre.

If you don’t have time to go through all 53 of our picks, we’ve included our all-time top 10, as well as the best photography movies available on Netflix.

Table of Contents

Top 10 Photography Movies of All Time

photography-movies

If you’re looking for the top 10 photography movies, here’s our quick pick:

  • Blow Up
  • Salt of the Earth
  • This is not Photography
  • Pecker
  • Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
  • Born into Brothels
  • Dirty Pictures
  • City of God
  • Proof
  • Frames from the Edge

53 Movies About Photography Every Photographer Should Watch

photo-film-projector

Got a little more time on your hands? Here’s a list of 53 war, fine art, street, fashion and documentary movies about photography that you should watch for inspiration.

1. Salt of the Earth (2014)

 

This documentary tells the life and work of the talented social documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado. It’s directed by his son – Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders. The film has been nominated and awarded all over the world.

2. Annie Leibovitz. Life Through a Lens (2006)

This episode from the TV series Life Through a Lens is dedicated to the celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz. It documents her artistic life from childhood up until the death of her dear friend Susan Sontag.

3. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)

 

This is not a documentary or a historical biography of the legendary female American photographer Diane Arbus. Although it’s based on specific facts of Arbus’ life, this is a tribute where fictional characters represent the photographer’s inner life. A beautiful romantic drama directed by Steven Shainberg.

4. Born into Brothels (2004)

The director, Zara Briski, is also a documentary photographer. She travelled to Kolkata to photograph the prostitutes working in the red light district. While she was working on that project, she met the children of the prostitutes to whom she gave cameras and taught photography. The film documents the classes and shows the children’s work, which was exhibited, and one of them went to Amsterdam to a photography conference.

5. Proof (1991)

 

This film is about a blind photographer who uses his images and Braille inscriptions to confront what his other senses tell him about the world to what other people see. The story talks about trust and facts and their role in human relationships, but it also makes us reflect on the notion of photography as objective proof.

6. Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000)

Gordon Parks was a musician, a writer, a film director and a photographer. His photographic career was more prominent between 1940 and 1970 as he documented civil rights issues. He also worked doing glamour photography. The documentary gives you an insight into his fascinating life.

7. Gentleman’s Relish (2001)

Frustrated artist Kingdom Swann receives a camera as a gift and redirects his creative work from painting to photography. His nude photography, made in the style of classical painting, gained an unexpected success.

8. Rear Window (1954)

 

This isn’t a film about photography, but the character is a photographer – it is a classic Hitchcock thriller that’s definitely worth watching. When a wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours, he believes he witnesses a murder and decides to investigate with his socialite girlfriend and a detective friend. There’s no dolly zooms, but Rear Window is still full of classic Hitchcock cinematography.

9. Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film (2002)

Ansel Adams is one of the most famous photographers in history. He is well known for his black and white landscapes on the American West and his research on the photographic techniques that lead him to develop the zone system. The film is a biographical documentary made of interviews, Adams’ images, new footage of the landscapes that inspired him, archival footage, and readings of his work.

10. Life (2015)

The film is about the friendship developed between James Dean and Dennis Stock as the latter got assigned by Magnum Photos Agency to photograph Dean. The film is directed by Anton Corbijn, who is also a professional photographer who understands the complex relationship created between the author and the subject in these types of projects.

11. High Art (1998)

 

A young female intern editor from a high-art magazine called Frame meets the drug-addicted lesbian photographer who lives upstairs. As they become close, they start to work together, and the boundaries between professional and personal life become blurry. Dark secrets start to emerge in time, and their passionate and successful story needs to confront a hard truth.

12. Pictures from a Revolution (1991)

Award winner and Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas comes back to Nicaragua ten years after documenting the revolution to interview the people she photographed.

13. War Photographer (2001)

 

This is a documentary film about war photographer James Nachtwey. It won a Peabody Award in 2003, and it was nominated for an Academy Award (2002) and an Emmy Award (2004).

14. Shooting Robert King (2008)

The documentary follows war photographer Robert King over 15 years. During this time, we see him at work in three war zones and the time he spends at home in Tennessee with his family.

15. We’ll Take Manhattan (2012)

 

This television film tells the love affair between fashion photographer David Bailey and the model Jean Shrimpton. The filmmakers used several techniques to recreate the original shoots, including CGI.

16. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of a negative assets manager in Life magazine as the publication becomes entirely digital. He needs to find the missing negative, which is supposed to appear on the cover and to do so, he uses clues found on the rest of the film. This film is the second adaptation of the original short story published in 1939 – the first adaptation is from 1947.

17. An American Journey: In Robert Frank’s Footsteps (2009)

The director of the film Philippe Seclier retraces the path of Robert Frank when he made the photographs published in his book The Americans in 1959. While doing this, he also questions the book’s impact on contemporary photography and the American culture.

18. One Hour Photo (2002)

 

One hour photo is a psychological thriller about a mentally unstable photo developer obsessed with a family whose photos he has been developing for years – and secretly keeping copies for himself. After watching this film, you’ll be glad we don’t have to deal with one-hour photo stores anymore – although posting on social media can be the origin of another type of stalker story!

19. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012)

 

This multi-award-winning documentary gives you access to the photography process behind the images of Gregory Crewdson. He uses a filmmaking crew to stage and light his scenes to create images that look like documentary photography moments.

20. Search for the Afghan Girl (2003)

Do you like Steve McCurry’s work, or you’re familiar with the iconic image of the Afghan girl featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine? In that case, you’ll want to see this short documentary. The famous photograph was taken in 1984 while she was in a refugee camp in Pakistan. In 2002 she was identified and interviewed – this documentary makes you think about the ethics of photojournalism and the boundaries between private and public when working in a different cultural environment.

21. Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

 

The documentary tells us how John Maloof discovered unseen photographs of Vivian Maier – a young working-class woman whose photography skills were unknown during her lifetime. The film carries on to show how her work went from unknown to one of the most recognised in street photography. It’s been presented in multiple film festivals, and it’s been featured in museums alongside Maier’s photographs.

22. The Way I See It (2020)

 

This documentary tells us about when Pete Souza was the official White House photographer during the Obama administration –  he was also the official photographer when Ronald Reagan was president. It’s a film that shows the behind the scenes of one of the most exclusive jobs there can be in portrait photography – he was arguably the most famous portrait photographer at the time. Inevitably, it is also a political commentary about recent US administrations.

23. Mary Ellen Mark: Portraits and Portrayals 

A documentary about awarded photographer Mary Ellen Mark, famous for her documentary photography featured in magazines such as Life and The New York Times, amongst others. Her work is also published in eighteen books, and she’s been an ad photographer for Barnes and Noble, Heineken, Hasselblad, and others. The film is available on YouTube.

24. Blow Up (1966)

 

When a famous fashion photographer develops his film, he believes he accidentally captured a murder taking place in the background. The film is inspired by Julio Cortazar’s short story Las babas del diablo.

25. Jerry & Maggie: This is not Photography (2012)

Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor are among the most talented couples in the fine art photography scene. The documentary Jerry & Maggie: This is not Photography shows the creative process and technical execution of their world famous photos.

26. Helmut Newton: Frames from the Edge (1989)

If you’ve ever wondered about the world of fashion photography, this is the documentary for you. A camera crew follows Helmut Newton, the world-renowned photographer that revolutionised the way fashion was photographed. You can see how he organised the photoshoots and cast his models while travelling from LA.

27. Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)

 

Cindy Sherman makes portrait photography role-playing other women, and she’s become a reference in the art world for anyone interested in identity and gender stereotypes. The documentary is an intimate portrait of the relationship between Sherman and Paul H-O.

28. The Mexican Suitcase (2011)

Robert Cappa, Gerda Taro and David Seymore are three of the most outstanding Spanish civil war photographers – over 4,000 of their negatives were found in 2007. The Mexican Suitcase is a documentary that follows the story of these negatives from their disappearance in 1939 until their recovery.

29. Under Fire (1983)

 

The film tells the story of three journalists and photojournalists covering the Nicaraguan Revolution. This political thriller also questions the ethics of photojournalism and the role of photography as proof.

30. The Bang Bang Club (2010)

 

Based on a true story, The Bang Bang Club is about four photojournalists who worked in South Africa during the apartheid period as it came to an end.

31. Bill Cunningham: New York (2010)

Despite being a fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham is mainly known as one of New York’s iconic street photographers. This is because he used to take candid fashion images on the streets. The documentary shows him doing his work and is filled with interviews of models and socialites.

32. Salvador (1986)

 

Richard Boyle was a photojournalist and war photographer who covered the revolution in Cambodia the civil war in Lebanon, amongst many other conflicts. Salvador is a film about his time documenting the Salvadoran civil war.

33. City of God (2002)

 

Not typically mentioned as a photography movie, City of God is the story of organised crime in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. However, it is narrated by a young photographer who further develops his interest in photography by photographing the largest gang in the city.

34. Funny Face (1957)

This is a musical romantic-comedy that talks about fashion photography as the editor and the glamorous fashion photographer of a magazine want to find a model that’s both beautiful and smart. The main character – interpreted by Fred Astaire, is loosely based on the talented photographer Richard Avedon. All the still photography seen in the film is from Avedon, who also designed the opening image of an overexposed Audrey Hepburn.

35. Bridges of Madison County (1995)

This romantic drama tells the story of a short love affair between National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid played by Clint Eastwood, and a shy housewife, played by Meryl Streep. This isn’t a true story – it’s based on the novel of the same name written by Robert James Waller.

36. Gentleman’s Relish (2001)

Frustrated artist Kingdom Swann receives a camera as a gift and redirects his creative work from painting to photography. His nude photography, made in the style of classical painting, gained an unexpected success.

37. Dirty Pictures (2000)

This docufilm follows the trial of Dennis Barrie – the director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center in 1990 when he presented an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe. The controversial pictures that included homosexual scenes landed him an accusation for promoting pornography.

38. Harrison’s Flowers (2000)

Harrison Loyd is a missing photojournalist reported lost on his last assignment covering the Croatian War of Independence. His wife and two war photographers in the area try to find him.

39. Photograph (2019)

 

This Indian film follows the story of a struggling street photographer who wants a stranger he photographed to fake a relationship with him so that his family stops pressuring him about marriage.

40. Girl in a Mirror: The Portrait of  Carol Jerrems (2005)

This documentary explores the work of Carol Jerrems – a talented young photographer who documented life in Australia during the 1970s.

41. Palermo Shooting (2008)

Written and directed by Wim Wenders, this film is the story of a German photographer who moves to Palermo looking to change his life.

42. Pecker (1998)

Pecker is a young boy who likes to take pictures of his family and friends. When a big city art dealer discovers him, he becomes famous, but he quickly discovers that fame comes with a price. This comedy film reflects the art world in a light and enjoyable manner.

43. Kodachrome (2017)

 

As the photography world passes from film to digital, only one lab still develops the once-popular Kodachrome film. The movie is a road trip of an accomplished photographer and his son – who don’t have the best of relationships – trying to reach that lab before it closes for good so that they can develop the last four rolls he has.

44. Henry Cartier Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (2003)

In this documentary, Heinz Bütler interviews Henry Cartier Bresson, the most famous street photographer of all time. During the interview, they review some of his most iconic photos.

45. The Life of a Photograph (2011) 

This National Geographic documentary shows the work and creative process of veteran photographer Sam Abell. You can find the entire film on YouTube.

46. Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White (1989)

Margaret Bourke-White was a wartime photojournalist and documentarist. She is famous, amongst other things, because one of her pictures made the cover of the first issue of Life Magazine. Double-exposure is a tv film featuring her life as she was the first foreign photographer allowed to photograph the Soviet industry.

47. The Killing Fields (1984)

 

This film is based on the experiences of two journalists who were trapped in Cambodia during the Year Zero cleansing campaign, where two million people died. The photographic aspect comes from the photojournalist Al Rockoff.

48. William Egglestone: In Real World (2005)

William Egglestone is considered the father of color photography as an artistic medium. The documentary aims to find the relationship between his personal life and his iconic images.

49. Everlasting Moments (2008)

 

The film is based on the true story of Maria Larsson. She was a working-class woman who won a valuable camera; even though she sells it, she’s still allowed to use it. So, she starts photographing her children in secret.

50. Berenice Abbott: A View of the 20th Century (1992)

Berenice Abbott excelled as a portrait photographer, then moved on to documenting the streets of New York and finally focused on science photography. This film shows her life throughout the 20th century as she is in her later years.

51. Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project (Date)

 

Tierney Gearon documents herself and her family creating very intimate portraits – sometimes in very controversial ways. The documentary Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project follows her for three years while she gives birth to her third child, moves from London to LA, and prepares a photographic project.

52. The War Photographers (2013)

This short documentary tells the stories of combat photographers capturing their iconic images. The film includes interviews with Joao Silva and Ashley Gilbertson, amongst others.

53. Chevolution (2013)

When someone mentions Che Guevara, most of us will think of the same image –  the photograph taken by Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, better known as Alberto Korda. The documentary Chevolution explores how an image becomes an icon.

What Movies about Photography are on Netflix?

netflix-movies

  • Tales By Light (series)
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • Terra
  • Black White + Grey
  • Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film
  • Our Planet – Behind the Scenes
  • National Geographic – Through the Lens
  • Smash his camera
  • Dying to Tell
  • An American Journey: In Robert Frank’s Footsteps
  • On Yoga, The Architecture of Peace
  • Chasing Eyes
  • Hondros
  • Harry Benson: Shoot First
  • Night on Earth
  • McCullin
  • The Photographer of Mauthausen
  • 1000 Times Good Night
  • Kodachrome
  • The Mexican Suitcase
  • Men at Lunch

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed our list of movies about photography and you found some interesting films and documentaries to watch that you didn’t know about.

It was difficult enough to make a list only considering films – I wasn’t able to include some fantastic tv series, such as Tales by Light or The Genius of Photography – but I do recommend you watch them as well.

Like all lists, this one is made from a personal point of view. Of course, it’s limited, so please share in the comments the best photography movies missing in the article to keep the list growing and updated.

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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