Millions of people around the world take photographs every day and only a few thousand of those ever truly pursue photography as a career. An even smaller number of those become well known photographers or a recognizable household names. Those that do achieve greatness are often immortalized by their images and their influence tends to last for decades after their body of work is complete. Below is a list of the 101 most influential photographers of all time in no particular order.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Allan Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.
Diane Arbus, 1923-1971
Arbus was most well known for her black and white photographs of people society often deemed “deviant” or “marginal” in some way. She is often called “the Photographer of Freak,” though she was often worried that that was all she would be known for. A year after her death, Arbus became the first American to have work displayed at the Venice iennale.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Jorge Barrios
David LaChapelle, born 1963
LaChapelle is a modern commercial photographer whose work has been described as “kitsch pop surrealism.” He began as a fine arts photographer and went into the commercial industry at the age of 17. He also directs music videos and has worked with Florence and the Machine, Moby, and No Doubt.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Rondal Partridge
Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965
Lange took some of the most iconic and widely recognizable pictures of the American Great Depression. Her work focused on the poor and forgotten sharecroppers who were devastated when the farms that they worked turned to dust.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Carl Van Vechten
Man Ray, 1890-1976
Best known for his surrealist art and contributions the dadaist movement, Man Ray was both a photographer and a painter. He called his unique photograms “rayographs,” which featured unusual juxtapositions of common objects. He spent most of his life in Paris, though he was born and raised in America.
Steven Meisel, born 1954
Meisel if a fashion photographer most noted for his work with both US and Italian Vogue. He also photographed Madonna for her book “Sex.” He’s photographed campaigns for some of the top fashion companies such as Dolce & Gabbanna, Calvin Klein, and Versace. He’s also credited with “discovering” many of the worlds top models such as Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, and Karen Elson.
Mary Ellen Mark, born 1940
Mark is a noted photojournalist who is also known for her portraiture and advertising photography. She’s received three Robert F Kennedy Photojournalism Awards and three fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts for her work. She’s stated that she enjoyed photographing “strange people who are outside the borders of society." Her subjects often include the homeless, prostitutes, and the mentally ill.
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Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1908-2004
He’s best known as the creator of the “Decisive Movement,” which focuses on candid and street photography. “Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," Cartier-Bresson said of photography. "Oop! The Moment. Once you miss it, it is gone forever."
W. Eugene Smith, 1918-1978
Smith is known for his brutal WWII photojournalism and for being attacked in Tokyo for publicizing Minamata disease. Minamata disease was a case of mercury poisoning that affected thousands in Japan for several decades. Smith lived there with his wife in the 1970’s and photographed many people suffering from the disease.
Rankin, born 1966
Best known for his portrait and fashion photography, Rankin has worked with many well known individuals. He’s photographed the Rolling Stones, Queen Elizabeth II, Britney Spears, and Kate Moss, among many others. He’s also been a guest on and worked with models from various iterations of the show Top Model.
Cindy Sherman, born 1954
Sherman is most widely known for her conceptual portraits and for using herself as a model in many of her shoots. Her work has been featured in the Tate Gallery in London, the MOMA in New York, and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Nick Knight, born 1958
Knight is one of the most famous fashion photographers in the world. He’s worked with Alexander McQueen, Audi, Calvin Klein,Swarovski, Yves Saint Laurent and many more.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Chris Gulker
Snowdon, born 1930
Snowdon has taken portraits for The Sunday Times Magazine, which are known for breaking boundaries with his body of work. His photographs often cause the viewer to reflect on society.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Chris Gulker
Richard Avedon, 1923-2004
Avedon was an influential fashion and portrait photographer. His obituary stated that "his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century." Avedon received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1989.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Gerda Taro
Robert Capa, 1913-1954
Capa was a photojournalist who covered five different wars throughout his career. He also founded Magnum Photos, a worldwide cooperative for freelance journalists.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Ralf Liebau
Helmut Newton, 1920-2004
Newton created highly provocative black and white photographs of women that were published in Vogue and other publications.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Robert Scoble
Annie Leibovitz, born 1949
She’s a portrait photographer whose most famous for her work with Rolling Stone. John Lennon and Yoko Ono are some of her most notable subjects.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Pascal Ferro
Juergen Teller, born 1964
He’s a fine art and fashion photographer whose work is often raw and overexposed. His work has been featured in Vogue, W, and Purple magazines.
Irving Penn, 1917- 2009
Penn has produced many notable portraits and still lifes and is known for his fashion photography. He’s been featured in Vogue and has had many international exhibits.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Brassaï
Brassai revolutionized night photography methods and was known as “the eye of Paris.” He was also known for his street photography and has been featured in many world renown art museums across the globe.
Peter Beard, born 1938
Beard is one of the best known African safari photographers in the world. He’s also known for his extensive diaries, which incorporated his photography, that he started when he was 11 years old.
Thompson’s work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, and W.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Edwin Locke
Walker Evans, 1903-1975
His black and white portraits of Depression-era American life are iconic and constitute his most well known body of work. He wanted to produce photographs that were "literate, authoritative [and] transcendent.”
Tim Walker, born 1970
Walker is a noted fashion photographer. He began as a photography assistant to Richard Avedon, but launched his own career at the age of 25 with a fashion story for Vogue.
Tony Ray-Jones, 1941-1972
Ray-Jones didn’t produce a lot of work, but what he did produce had a strong influence on many photographers to this day.
Photo via Wikipedia: © EduChaves55
Joel-Peter Witkin, born 1939
Witkin’s work is typically rather macabre, focusing on corpses, dismemberment, and what many would deem “outsiders” to society. His work was heavily influenced by a brutal car crash that he witnessed as a child.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Postdlf
Chuck Close, born 1940
Close is a photorealist most noted for his giant portraits that capture all the small details of his subjects. His work has been featured in museums around the world.
Jacques Henri Lartigue, 1894-1986
Lartigue is known for his photographs of fashionable Parisian women as well as airplanes and car races. His work heavily influenced American Director Wes Anderson.
Eve Arnold, 1912-2012
Arnold was photojournalist whose work featured a wide range of subjects from Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth II to the poor, migrant workers, and the disabled. "I don't see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary," she once stated. "I see them simply as people in front of my lens.”
Robert Frank, born 1924
His book The Americans is his biggest legacy. It featured 83 photos taken from several road trips across the country. The series of photographs capture many aspects of American life from the 1950’s.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Wilson Dias/ABr
Sebastião Salgado, born 1944
Salgado’s black and white social photography and photojournalism has made him a highly recognized name in a photography world. He’s a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has traveled to over 100 countries.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Paul Strand
Paul Strand, 1890-1976
His work covered many subjects and styles. He is one of the biggest influences for turning photography an art form in the 20th’s century.
Ralph Gibson, born 1939
Gibson is an art photographer known for his surreal juxtaposition and extensive photography books.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Paxse
Tim Page, born 1944
Page’s photographs of the vietnam war are what brought him into the spotlight. His work was a major influence for the photojournalist character in Apocalypse Now.
Garry Winogrand, 1928-1984
Best known for his street photography, Winogrand was often noted for not actually looking through his viewfinder when taken shots. This has become known as his signature technique.
Slim Aarons, 1916-2006
Aarons photographed the rich and famous of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. He began photographing Hollywood celebrities after serving in combat in WWII, where he earned a Purple Heart.
Joel Sternfeld, born 1944
Sternfeld’s used a large format camera to create detailed images of landscapes. His work has been displayed in the MOMA and the Getty.
Jeanloup Sieff, 1933- 2000
Sieff is most known for his portraits of politicians and other artists, as well as his nudes and landscapes. Most of his work is black and white and he had a distinctive use of a wide angled lens.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Filip Naudts
Ellen Von Unwerth, born 1954
Von Unwerth started her career as a model, but soon found herself behind the lens and working on many fashion and editorial pieces. Her work has been in many magazines such as Vogue and has graced dozens of albums covers like Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope, Dido's Life for Rent, and Rihanna’s Rated R and Talk Talk Talk.
Pierre et Gilles, born 1950 & 1953
This artistic duo popularized retouching photos. Their work focused on pop culture, gay culture, and religion.
Photo via Wikipedia
Weegee was most noted for his stark black and white street photography, which often featured crime, death, and poverty.
Corinne Day, born 1965
Day is another model turned photographer whose work graced the cover of Vogue. Her 1993 photoshoot of Kate Moss caused controversy and was called “hideous” and “exploitative.” She still shoots for magazines to this day.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Duane Michals
Duane Michals, born 1932
Michals is known for his photo sequences and handwritten notes that accompanied his pieces. His work addressed many gay themes, though he’s never officially joined in the civil rights movement.
Brian Duffy, born 1933
Duffy is famous for his fashion and portrait work in the 1960’s and 70’s. His work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar and The Sunday Times.
Angus McBean, 1904-1990
McBean was a witty surrealist whose most famous work features famous actors and celebrities. Some of his work is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.
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Herb Ritts, 1952-2002
Ritts specialized in glamorous photographs of celebrities in the 80’s. His work inspired Madonna.
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August Sander, 1876-1964
Sander has been called "the most important German portrait photographer of the early twentieth century." He’s best known for his portraits, but he also took architecture, street, and nature photography..
Bill Brandt, 1904-1983
Brandt’s black and white surrealist portraits and distorted female nudes are legendary. He’s also known for his landscapes. A retrospective of his work was on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Bert Stern, born 1929
Stern is a celebrated commercial photographer who began his career working for Smirnoff Vodka. His most famous work is The Last Sitting, which includes 2500 pictures of Marilyn Monroe shot for Vogue.
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Eric Boman, born 1938
Boman is known for being the photographer behind the first two Roxy Music covers. His work has been featured in Vogue.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Wutadeally
Mert & Marcus, born 1971
Turkish & British
This pair’s work is heavily influenced by Guy Bourdin and features heavy use of photo manipulation. Their clients include Gucci, Yves St Laurent, and Lancôme and they’ve worked with Lady Gaga, Shakira, Kylie Minogue, and many more.
Mick Rock, born 1949
Rock was friends with some of the most famous rock stars of the 70’s including Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Much of his work surrounds these subjects and for many it captures an era.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Tina Modotti
Edward Weston, 1886-1958
Weston was an experimental photographer and his work with portraits, still, and landscapes still influence people more than half a century later. Much of his work focuses on the American west and has been referred to as “quintessentially American.”
Photo via Wikipedia: © Fred Holland Day
Edward Steichen, 1879-1973
Steichen pioneered commercial photography in the early 20th century. He was the most frequently featured photographer in the magazine Camera Work, which ran from 1903-1917.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Cantikfotos
Philip Jones Griffiths,1936-2008
His work documenting the Vietnam War brought images of the battlefield home and inspired many photojournalist for decades to come.
Photo via Wikipedia
Alexander Rodchenko, 1891-1956
Rodchenko was famous for the art of photomontage and is often credited as being one of the founders of constructivism. He was also a painter and has influenced countless artists for many decades.
Sarah Moon, born 1940
Another model turned photographer, Moon’s use of color has inspired many. She’s worked for Chanel, Dior, and has been featured in Vogue.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Roger Fenton
Roger Fenton, 1819-1869
Fenton was one of the first great war photographers, having captured many images during the Crimean War in 1854. Bringing images of war back home so that the public could see what war was like.
Araki, born 1940
Araki is a contemporary artist most known for his controversial images of women tied up in various states of undress. Most recently he’s photographed pop sensation Lady Gaga.
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Norman Parkinson, 1913-1990
Parkinson is one of the most notable portrait and fashion photographers of his time and often referred to himself as a craftsman, not an artist. He is known for discovering Nena von Schlebrügge, the mother of Uma Thurman at age 16, by bringing her from Stockholm to London to pose for Vogue.
Guy Bourdin, 1928-1991
Bourdin is one of the most imitated fashion and art photographers in the world. His surrealist and erotic art was often controversial.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Alfred Weidinger
Elliott Erwitt, born, 1928
Erwitt’s claim to fame is his absurd black and white candid shots often involving nude people, dogs, or strange things happening in otherwise normal settings.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Luziadell
Martin Parr, born 1952
Parr’s long career is noted for his use of intense colour and artistic snapshots of everyday suburban life in England. He’s adapted to digital photography and continues to take photographs to this day. He was awarded the Centenary Medal of The Royal Photographic Society.
Photo via Wikipedia
David Bailey, born 1938
Bailey is often regarded as one of Britain’s best photographers of all time. He’s known as a fashion photographer and has photographed several well known album sleeve photographs such as some that he did for the Rolling Stones.
Andreas Gursky, born 1955
Gursky is highly regarded for his documentary and landscape photography. His photographs are typically large format and taken from a high point of view.
Bruce Weber, born 1946
His portraiture and fashion work is highly inspirational to many. He’s worked with top designers such as Versace, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Calvin Klein. His work has graced the pages of Vogue, GQ, and Vanity Fair.
Paolo Roversi, born 1947
Roversi’s most popular work is his 10x8in Polaroid fashion images. His unique use of soft focus and low light is his distinct style that nobody has been able to imitate.
Photo via Wikipedia: © J. Malcolm Greany
Ansel Adams, 1902-1984
Adams is one of the best known wilderness photographers in the world. His black and white landscapes are still printed on postcards and in artbooks to this day.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Romanceor
William Klein, born 1928
He’s known as a fashion photographer, but his extensive use of wide angle and telephoto lenses set him apart from the rest. His work is often considered ironic and rebellious in the world of fashion photography.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Drpaluga
Stephen Shore, born 1947
His subject matter is often described as “banal,” but his use of color and composition make them unique among photographs that focus on similar objects. The simplicity of his subjects have led many to try to imitate him, but none have succeeded.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Arpadi
Andre Kertesz, 1894-1985
His unique angles and style kept him from gaining fame in his early days, but when the dadaist movement began he found his niche.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe, 1946-1989
Mapplethorpe’s work with still lifes had the most influence, but his homoerotic male nudes caused the most controversy. He also photographed many celebrities, including Andy Warhol, whose portrait recently sold for over $600k.
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Peter Lindbergh, born 1944
Lindbergh is often credited with creating the concept of the “super model.” His fashion photography opened doors for many who followed down his path.
Photo via Wikipedia: © N04 team art in berlin
Nan Goldin, born 1953
Nan’s work focused on controversial subject matter such as drugs and transvestitism. She often turned the camera back on herself and her grunge lifestyle.
Photo via Wikipedia: © TV Brasil
Don McCullin, born 1935
McCullin is best known for focusing on human suffering both on the homefront and at war. His coverage of Vietnam and the conflicts in Ireland are widely regarded as some of his best work.
William Eggleston, born 1939
Color photography as an art form can be widely accredited to him.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Siebbi
Anton Corbijn, born 1955
Corbijn’s is an influential rock photographer who is noted for his images of Joy Division and U2. His black and white photography is highly regarded in both the rock n roll and photography worlds.
Bob Carlos Clarke, 1950-2006
Clarke had an erotic style that often focused on fetishism, rubber, and latex.
Erwin Blumenfeld, 1897-1969
Blumenfeld’s used techniques like solarization, wet silk, shadows and angles in his work, which were widely regarded as being far ahead of their time.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Jorge Barrios
Mario Testino, born 1954
The highest point of Testino’s career was when he was chosen to photograph Princess Diana for Vanity Fair in 1997. He’s been a royal photographer ever since, but had a long career as a fashion photographer before the Vanity Fair shoot.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Georges Biard
Larry Clark, born 1943
Clark focuses on youth with often controversial lifestyles such as drug use, violence, punk rock, and the skateboarding scene. He’s also known for his writing, directing, and film producing.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Cecil Beaton
Cecil Beaton, 1904-1980
Beaton was a multi-talented artist. His photography often focused on celebrities, royalty, and political figures, but he took several iconic pictures during the London Blitz, too.
Patrick Demarchelier, born 1943
Demarchelier’s work can be described in one word: “glamorous.” His black and white fashion photography is some of the best in the business.
Bert Hardy, 1913-1995
He’s best known for his work documenting post-war England. His first notable photograph was of King George V and Queen Mary as they passed by in a carriage. He went on to join the Army Film and Photographic unit, where he participated in D-Day, the liberation of Paris, and many more historic moments.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Artiquities
Terry Richardson, born 1965
His highly sexual fashion photography pushes boundaries with its questionable aesthetic. His most recent activity includes shooting a documentary about Lady Gaga’s life and photographing Miley Cyrus.
Horst P. Horst, 1906-1999
Horst received much attention for his classical nudes and use of lighting.
David Loftus, born 1963
Loftus is arguably the most famous food photographer in the world. In fact, he’s the only one who made this list.
Simon Norfolk, born 1963
Norfolk’s use of large format camera’s in war ravaged regions brought the use of such equipment back into popularity.
Leni Riefenstahl, 1902-2003
He’s most famous for her Nazi wartime Olympic photographs and for directing the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Her techniques were inspiring, but her association with the Nazi regime tainted her image after the war all the way up until her death. Only after she died were people able to look back and appreciate her techniques.
Alfred Stieglitz, 1864-1946
Stieglitz was an early photography pioneer who is best known for using natural elements in his prints.
George Hoyningen-Huene, 1900-1968
He’s one of the best known photographers for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His subjects were often glamorous actresses and actors in the American film industry.
Frank Horvat, born 1928
His most iconic work involved the fashion industry of the 1950’s and 60’s. He often likes to present himself as the “least-known famous photographer.”
Photo via Wikipedia: © Charles Somers
Julia Margaret Cameron, 1815-1879
Cameron is unique for being one of the few female photographic pioneers of the 19th century. Her simple family portraits still inspire many even a century and a half later.
Deborah Turbeville, born 1938
Turbeville is best known for her use of grain to create an atmosphere in her prints.
Harri Peccinotti, born 1938
His most famous work is his erotic art, including the Pirelli Calendar in 1968 and 1969. His close up shots are known for making a subject suggestive and alluring, but not overtly pornographic.
Jane Bown, born 1925
Bown is an unassuming newspaper photographer for The Observer who is known for using only one type of camera and often taking light readings off the back of her hand. She’s been taking pictures for The Observer continuously for over 60 years and some of her most notable subjects include Orson Welles and John Lennon.
Oliviero Toscani, born 1942
Toscani is known for creating the Benetton brand image. His work is typically commercial in nature, but also often quite controversial.
Photo via Wikipedia: © Bracha L. Ettinger
Robert Doisneau, 1912-1994
Doisneau is the ultimate Parisian street photographer. He took walks around his city with his camera every day and captured many iconic images.
Richard Billingham, born 1970
Billingham became famous for a college project he did called “Ray’s a Laugh,” which documented his alcoholic father and obese tattooed mother. His sudden success from his college project continues to inspire student photographers.
Chris Killip, born 1946
Killip’s black and white work often focused on rural England, Ireland, and the Isle of Mann. He is a professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard University.
Helen Levitt, 1913-2009
Levitt is often called "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time.” Her images of children playing in the streets of New York are highly regarded. She was a notoriously private person even though she was an active photographer for over 70 years.
George Hurrell, 1904-1992
Hurrell’s most famous work features some of history’s most well known Hollywood stars. His use of lighting and composition made glamorous people even more gorgeous.
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