15 Most Famous Photographers Of All Time

Jeff Picoult

By Jeff Picoult

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Photography has always been one of the most popular pursuits from generation to generation. 

famous photographers

However, it’s never just about pointing a camera and taking random shots, especially if you want to turn your passion into a thriving business. The most renowned photographers below have shown us how to capture magic with a single click at the right time and place.

15 Best Photographers In The World

1. Steve Mccurry

Steve McCurry has immortalized some of humanity’s most iconic moments through a stellar career spanning more than four decades. 

His powerful imagery often features subjects making direct eye contact with the camera to evoke a profound connection with the audience, exhibiting the diverse cultures and human races across the world. 

Upon a look at his photograph, one feels transported to the very locations where these images were captured, almost engaging in conversations with the subjects. The world seems smaller and more interconnected than ever.

A Philadelphia-born, Steve developed a passion for photography while taking photos for a newspaper. His serious journey into photojournalism began with a trip to India, followed by his reports of the Afghan civil war after crossing into Pakistan in May 1979. 

He lived among and documented the struggles of Afghan refugees with his early photography work, which later gave way to a distinguished photojournalism career that landed him multiple cover features in National Geographic. His iconic 1985 cover, “Afghan Girl,” remains one of the most famous photographs in this magazine’s history.

2. Elliott Erwitt

Erwitt stands out as one of the most recognized photographers ever known. His pictures capture the essence of human life, portraying all its humor, ironies, and sometimes absurdity from a brilliant yet unexpected point of view. 

Each of Erwitt’s images freezes a moment in time, both spontaneous and meticulously composed. Interestingly, Erwitt has a special affection for dogs and has even published four books dedicated to them.

After moving from France to the U.S. in 1939, his passion for photography sparked during his teenage years in Los Angeles. He started experimenting in a retail darkroom before pursuing further studies at the L.A. City College. 

When recruited into the U.S. military in 1951, Erwitt became a photographer and worked in both France and Germany. Two years later, he was a member of Magnum Photos and later served as its president for about three years during the 1960s. As a freelancer, Erwitt had contributed his work to various publications, including Holiday, Collier’s, Look, and LIFE. 

From 1972 to 2018, Erwitt published 26 photo books. “Personal Exposures” and “Personal Best” are highly recommended for those truly interested in his work.

3. Don McMullin

As one of the most famous photographers of the 21st century, McCullin is renowned for his powerful war photographs and documentation of poverty and famine in London’s East End, marked by masterful compositions.

These war images are as grimly factual as the reality of war itself. McCullin has faced grave dangers in his career: he was held prisoner in Uganda, shot and severely injured in Cambodia, exiled from Vietnam, and had people hunt him down for rewards in Lebanon.

In his remaining years, McCullin shifted his focus to less violent topics, particularly the countryside and charming still-life photos. In 2017, the Queen of England knighted McCullin in recognition of his contributions to photography. 

The books “In England” and “Don McCullin” feature some of McCullin’s most celebrated work and are valuable additions to many collections.

4. Paul Nicklen

Nicklen is a dedicated wildlife photographer whose intimate, close-up images of nature offer a perspective rarely seen. 

Most of Nicklen’s work comes from polar areas, where he spent significant time underwater photographing creatures like whales, leopard seals, and penguins. He has published 11 stories for National Geographic and launched his own gallery in Soho.

Photographic skills aside, Nicklen advocates for wildlife and is an active member of the ILCP (International League of Conservation Photographers). 

Along with his wife, Nicklen co-founded Sea Legacy to protect the ocean and raise awareness about the environmental impact of human activities on marine ecosystems and all their living beings.

5. Platon

Platon has always been well-known for his up-close and personal portrait photography, often against clean backgrounds. He usually positions his camera slightly under eye level so the subjects look more powerful and dominating.

Platon’s portfolio boasts numerous prominent figures, ranging from world business tycoons and leaders to Hollywood stars and musicians. Among his notable portraits are those of Stephen Hawking, Barack Obama, Spike Lee, Vladimir Putin, and especially Muammar Gaddafi. In fact, Time Magazine wrote a great article describing Platon’s experience working with this dangerous dictator.

Throughout his career, Platon has contributed images to the NYTimes Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. However, his more recent focus has been on human and civil rights projects. 

In 2009, Platon collaborated with Human Rights Watch (an organization) to honor those fighting for justice and equality in oppressive regimes. Four years later, in 2013, he founded The People’s Portfolio, a non-profit dedicated to rallying public support for global human rights. 

He has authored four books showcasing his work, including ‘Power,” “Platon’s Republic,” and “Service,” highlighting the women and men of the U.S. military.

6. Gordon Parks

Parks was the very first African-American photographer that Life Magazine hired. Despite being 100% self-taught, Parks received immediate recognition for his talent. 

His early work impressed the photo lab staff that developed the first film rolls for him, an experience that prompted him to pursue a career in fashion photography. Parks established a successful Chicago portrait business while also starting to document the regular lives of African American people. 

In 1942, Parks won the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, leading to his job positions with the FSA (Farm Security Administration) and, later, the OWI (Office of War Information). His most notable work consistently dug into the economic and social impact of discrimination, poverty, and racism in the United States.

Beyond photography skills, Parks was also a multi-talented artist, excelling as a writer, musician, filmmaker, painter, and poet. He made history in 1969 as the first African American to direct and write a Hollywood theatrical film, “The Learning Tree,” followed by the highly praised “Shaft” in 1971. 

Parks remained active in commercial photography and documentary until his passing in 2006.

7. Yousuf Karsh

Albert Einstein
This iconic portrait of Albert Einstein is one of his most recognized works.

In a field of talent, Karsh still stands out as one of the most respected portrait photographers. His portfolio boasts iconic portraits of notable figures such as Walt Disney, Grace Kelly, Albert Einstein, and Sir Winston Churchill. 

Karsh’s expertise lies in capturing the unique essence of his subjects.

What set this famous photographer apart was how he always portrayed them in their honest, most authentic moments: he believed each person possessed an inner power that briefly revealed itself — a moment he aimed to grasp with a decisive click of the shutter. 

For years, his works have adorned hundreds of public and private collections worldwide, including one of the biggest in America at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

8. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson
A key takeaway from his work is the importance of flow and patience. 

This photojournalist is best remembered for his street photography, epitomizing “the decisive moment.” 

Cartier-Bresson had a keen eye for capturing fleeting moments when psychological and visual elements harmoniously converged to create compelling, visually stunning images. There’s an air of movement, humor, and mystery in his work that continues to inspire photographers years later.

During the Nazi era, he was jailed for about three years but managed to escape. Cartier-Bression later worked with the underground in France, photographing various artists like Braque, Matisse, and Bonnard. He also founded the Magnum Agency with five other influential photographers, which drove him to travel extensively worldwide for two decades.

A key takeaway from his work is the importance of flow and patience. To excel as a photographer, one must patiently observe and wait for the perfect moment to capture. Cartier-Bresson’s mastery lay in his ability to seize the right moments with unwavering tolerance and a blunt approach to the world’s barest nature. 

9. Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus
Arbus’s work stood as a testament to the significance of acceptance and equality. 

Arbus earned the nickname “the photographer of the freaks” due to her fascination with the unconventional. She had a penchant for photographing people on the outskirts of society — those often overlooked and even mistreated. 

Her most iconic subjects included circus performers, tattooed men, transgender people, and those with disabilities, among others. In an era when few felt inclined to confront such marginalized groups, Arbus’s work stood as a testament to the significance of acceptance and equality. 

10. Martin Parr

Parr’s photographs offer a stark departure from the usual dreamy, flattering imagery often associated with classic photographers. 

Instead, his work serves as a harsh reality check with bold commentary on modern society. The images are infused with both criticism and humor, centering on consumerism and the lack of meaning in leisure activities, often in middle-class people.

11. Sally Mann

Despite some controversy (particularly with her family portraits), Sally Mann is frequently lauded as one of the world’s top photographers. Her photographs highlight the delicate transition from childhood to adulthood and how the boundaries between these two stages seem to blur into one.

Among Mann’s most notable collections is “Immediate Family,” which caused a stir when it was first displayed in Chicago in 1990.

This collection features 65 monochrome photographs of the kids in Mann’s family, all under ten at the time. While capturing summer joy (through ordinary activities like swimming or playing games), these images also touch on darker themes like sexuality and death. 

12. Robert Capa

Robert Capa
Capa is among history’s most revered war photographers.

As a Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist, Capa risked his own life many times to document military soldiers and combatants in action. 

His dedication to his craft and willingness to face danger head-on has cemented his place among history’s most revered war photographers.

Along with his wife, Gerda Taro (who also shared the same burning passion for war photography), Capa contributed significantly to photojournalism before passing in 1954, leaving a lasting legacy in the field.

13. Vivian Maier

Sadly, Maier didn’t gain much recognition until 2009 (after her passing). Her work first came to light in 2008, featuring captivating black-and-white photos of New York and Chicago in the 50s and 60s.

Most of Maier’s photographs are casual, candid shots of everyday people she encountered on the streets. She also produced numerous self-portraits, often reflecting her own image in antique shop fronts, store mirrors, or car windows. 

While her work lacks the polished touch of some other famous photographers, it offers a raw and genuine glimpse into history, encouraging viewers to appreciate beauty in the ordinary moments of life.

14. Walker Evans

Walker Evans
His work provides incredible insight into one of the most disturbed periods in American history.

A renowned photojournalist, Evans is mostly remembered for his poignant images about The Great Depression, taken during his time with the FSA (Farm Security Administration). Just like Maier, Evans focused primarily on candid street photography, capturing fleeting moments in the lives of ordinary people.

Evans’ portfolio encompasses various subjects, from urban scenes in 1920s NYC to intimate portraits of Southern farmers’ families. This documentary-style approach provides incredible insight into the human experience during one of the most disturbed periods in American history.

15. Paul Strand

Paul Strand
His monochrome photographs predominantly feature landscapes and portraits. 

This man wasn’t just a photographer but also a filmmaker who used his camera lens to expose social injustices during the 30s and 40s. His monochrome photographs predominantly feature landscapes and portraits, often employing a geometric-inspired approach to build visually striking compositions.

Strand’s fascination with architecture and machines led him to explore the evolving urban landscape, particularly in bustling cities like NYC and other major metropolises. 

Later in his career, his relocation from America to France urged him to revisit his roots, resulting in captivating portraits of people and the natural world he encountered in his everyday life.

Can You Be A Self-Taught Professional Photographer?

Absolutely! Gordon Parks, a photographer featured in our list, was self-taught. 

Moreover, with the millions of resources available online and in libraries covering every aspect of photography, anyone can get started. You can work through detailed tutorials or engage in passionate discussions on photography forums led by seasoned professionals. 


These most celebrated photographers in history have redefined visual storytelling, fearlessly digging into some of the most authentic and often overlooked aspects of human existence. Hopefully, their triumphs in the face of challenges will inspire you to create a legacy of your own.

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Jeff Picoult

Jeff Picoult


Jeff Picoult is a seasoned photographer, who blends artistry and innovation. With a humble approach, he captures moments resonating with depth and emotion, from nature's beauty to the energy of sports.

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