Photography doesn’t exist in a bubble. In order to improve your work and let the imagination soar, it’s good to look at other photographers and feel inspired. Having constant access to incredible creative talent helps build an artistic community and allow your own work to flourish!
From the legendary photographers that altered the course of the artform for good, to the newer photographers that continue to create masterpieces, here is our list of the 20 great photographers you should know.
These are the photographers that have made photographic history and revolutionized their genre of choice.
You’ve likely seen the work of Frans Lanting in National Geographic. This Dutch photographer has perused some of the world’s most wild places, capturing gorgeous images of exotic animals to share with the world.
His work aims to educate the public on wildlife and aid in conserving our natural world.
What really makes his images stand out amongst other wildlife photography is the immense storytelling element in his work.
Imogen’s work was best known for botanicals (photographs in flowers and gardens), artistic nudes, and stunning industrial landscapes. She was a member of historic photography group F/64 that oriented towards using deep depths of field in photography.
The significance of her work was that she pioneered the style Sharp Focus Photography. Sharp Focus Photography features images with no motion blur, clear and defined, sharp and smooth.
Avedon is the quintessential fashion photographer. He is to thank for our iconic Vogue images today. His fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.
Richard Avedon worked as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, best known for the magazines Vogue and Life. He photographed many celebrities and people of notoriety, but in his own characteristic style. His images have a lot of character, quirk, and interesting compositions.
4. Don McCullin
War photography would not be complete without Don McCullin. His emotionally gripping photojournalistic images of war and urban strife have been seen by millions around the world.
His 60 decade career captured human nature in its rawest form, and without his documentarians, many stories of the world would be lost. He also proved that there is an art in capturing real life, as his images are perfectly composed.
5. Man Ray
One of my personal favorites, Man Ray founded the surrealist style in photography. Operating with film, there is no “photoshop” in these images- they were either created in practical effect or in the darkroom by hand. His fashion and portrait photography are unlike others before him.
You will seldom be able to reference fashion photography and not hear the name LaChapelle. David LaChapelle is an American commercial photographer and fine-art photographer- whose work has a very distinct style that is hard to ignore.
Likely one of the most recognizable photographers in the world, his photographic style is described as “meticulously created in a high-gloss, colour-popping, hyper-realistic style” and as “kitsch pop surrealism.”
Dorethea Lange was a female photojournalist, telling stories from around the world. Her early work mostly involved photographing the social elite in a studio setting. Later, Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.
Documentary photography would not be what it is without Lange and her universally appreciated body of work.
Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino is iconic for his use of color, understanding of fashion, and creative vision. Often gracing the pages (and covers) of Vogue, V Magazine, Vanity Fair, and GQ- Testino has also created images for the world’s largest fashion houses like Gucci, Chanel and Estée Lauder.
His prolific work doesn’t just stop at photography, Testino has also greatly dabbled in being a creative director, guest editor, museum founder, art collector and collaborator and entrepreneur.
Mr. Mapplethorpe is one of the first photographers most students learn about in photography history courses. Robert Mapplethorpe pushed the boundaries of censorship and controversy, often utilizing his images to incite difficult conversation. He captured stunning celebrity portraits and nudes, some of which considered a bit lewd for his time.
A series known by most as a staple of his career, his photographs of the underground BDSM scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York City are revolutionary and unveiled a world few knew about.
10. Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz photographed John Lennon on the day of his assassination. That may just be description enough for her stunning work. This female portrait photographer was the first woman to hold an exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery in 1991.
She paved the way for female photographers all over the world, and is worthy of a follow to this very day.
These are somewhat the newer (but still famous) photographers, arising from a time of digital bliss and social media.
1. Larry Beard
Seascapes were never captured the way that Larry Beard captures them. The foreground becomes just as much the subject matter as the seascape itself! All of the images are so creative and diverse, with a vivid color scheme that can pull even the snootiest onlooker inwards.
He is best known for his unique ocean photography, inspired by his passion for surfing.
2. Peter Lik
If you haven’t seen Peter Lik’s landscape photography, then you’re certainly living under a rock! His work is featured in fine art galleries all over the world, and in 2010, he sold a print for $1 million to an anonymous buyer, which is the 11th highest grossing print sale in history. His landscapes have so much vibrance to them they almost don’t seem real!
Mihaela Noroc from Bucharest, Romania, has one primary goal in mind: creating a connection among normal women with extraordinary stories. She travels the world pursuing a project titled “The Atlas of Beauty”, which showcases the strength and nature of women all over the world. Her work has moody tones and shallow depths of field.
Christian Oth is a gorgeous wedding photography that really revels in earthy tones and some matte contrast texture. He uses unique angles to make his couple’s special day exclusive to them.
If you use Canon equipment, you’ve seen Roberto Valenzuela. He is a sponsored photographer by Canon that specializes in wedding photography. His captures are timeless, beautiful, romantic, and stand out amongst the saturated industry.
He has been featured in Cosmopolitan Bride magazine, Rangefinder, and Professional Photographers of America magazine.
He is the ultimate Wedding Photographer Goals.
Another Canon Ambassador, Lindsey Adler is a female fashion and portrait photographer, known for leading many educational efforts around the globe. Her classes feature her distinct use of lighting for her photography, much of which is achieved in practical effects rather than post processing. She is akin to the Avedon of the modern age.
7. David Bailey
David Bailey is an English fashion and portrait photographer. His incredibly contrasted, stark, and sharp black and white celebrity portraits are truly amazing- showing just how powerful good black and white photography can be. His grasp on lighting is equally stunning, with each portrait even more flawless than the last.
William Wegman’s work is where fine art meets pet photography. Capturing images of his beloved weimaraner dogs, Wegman transformed animal portraits into something out of this world. He has anthropomorphized dogs in such a beautiful and relatable way that it’s hard not to smile when looking at his work.
9. Seth Casteel
Seth Casteel is another pet photographer on our list, but instead of fine art portraits of dogs, he captures them underwater! His photographs are almost caricatures of pups due to his use of wide angle distortion lenses, but the images are an absolute hoot. So many pet owners have come to him for this unique captures of their dogs diving after toys!
10. Steve McCurry
A stunning modern day photojournalist, Steve McCurry captures humanity in the current climate. From vanishing cultures to stories that deserve an outlet, McCurry’s rich and colorful images truly help the viewer empathize with the story unfolding in front of them.
In conclusion, watch and follow these photographers for inspiration and motivation for your own work. You can learn so much from browsing their portfolios, from great color choices, excellent compositional ideas, or even what makes a photograph so powerful. Never stop looking at the work of others, for someone may be looking at your work the same way!