The world of photography has had many influential people, some that shaped and molded the art from its infancy, and some that carry the torch of creativity today.

Creating in the form of photography has been a long road, one that has been challenging, and one that continues to challenge us today. Famous photographers throughout art history have become synonymous with creativity, pushing the limits beyond, and truly evoke great emotion and reaction.

Some creators of this art form have specialized in journaling the events of our modern history in ways that make us uncomfortable or thoughtful. Some masters have created awe-inspiring imagery of places we long to be or people we long to meet. Some photographers have exceeded what we thought were limits of equipment, angles, and composition by innovative approaches to special effects.

Cataloging all true masters at the craft would take pages and pages, but we can narrow it down to a list of seven of the most innovative, thought-provoking, and prolific famous photographers of all time.

1. Ansel Adams

Ansel AdamsAmerican photographer and environmentalist (1902–1984)

Ansel Easton Adams was an American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating “pure” photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. He and Fred Archer developed a system of image-making called the Zone System, a method of achieving a desired final print through a technical understanding of how the tonal range of an image is the result of choices made in exposure, negative development, and printing.

Source: Wikipedia

On every list imaginable of famous photographers, Ansel Adams is sure to be found. A pioneer in photography related to nature’s wonders and vast landscapes, Ansel’s use of black and white imagery is found worldwide.

As an environmentalist, his love of nature’s grandeur is easy to see in every piece of art. Ansel’s deep appreciation for his surroundings in the great outdoors prompted him to perfect the use of tonal values, like in images like Monolith, the Face of Half Dome.

His innovative and purist spirit led him to create with Fred Archer, The Zone System: a technique useful in all types of photography, and can still be used today with modern equipment such as digital cameras.

Adams The Tetons and the Snake River
Source: Wikipedia
Ansel Adams, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ansel Adams - Farm workers and Mt. Williamson
Source: Wikipedia
Ansel Adams, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-WhiteAmerican photographer and documentary photographer.(1904–1971)

Margaret Bourke-White was an American photographer and documentary photographer. She was arguably best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet industry under the Soviets’ first five-year plan, as the first American female war photojournalist, and for taking the photograph that became the cover of the first issue of Life magazine.

Source: Wikipedia

A first in so many areas, Margaret Bourke-White holds many distinctions and has earned great admiration in the photographic and photojournalism industries. Raw, real, journalistic art were her creations, and they are still inspiring photojournalists the world over today.

In World War II, Margaret distinguished herself as the first woman correspondent in war and within combat zones to boot. Deep in the trenches of casualties and destruction, Margaret told the story of World War II with dignity and respect, at great and terrible peril to her own person.

Her distinguished career took her all over the world, and on a fateful day in 1948, it took her to meet Mohandas Gandhi. She spent time with him this day, interviewing him, journaling him with images that were raw and powerful. A few hours after she took her to leave, he was assassinated.

3. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-BressonFrench photographer (1908–2004)

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French artist and humanist photographer considered a master of candid photography, and an early user of 35mm film. He pioneered the genre of street photography, and viewed photography as capturing a decisive moment.

Source: Wikipedia

“The Father of Photojournalism” is a moniker that only one man could live up to Henri Cartier-Bresson. Street photography, the candid shot, powerful black and whites all describe the French Henri’s art in inadequate terms.

Candid photography is inspirational in its own right; taking your art to the streets, capturing humanity in its core elements with no staging, no composition. Henri birthed this style of photography and raised it to the light for all others who have come after to try and emulate.

“The Decisive Moment” – the true spirit of the candid shot – is one of Henri’s signature accomplishments. He also modestly made popular the use of 35 mm as a standard.

4. Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf KarshArmenian-Canadian photographer (1908–2002)

Yousuf Karsh, FRPS was an Armenian-Canadian photographer known for his portraits of notable individuals. He has been described as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century.

Source: Wikipedia

Looking through a gallery of portraiture, especially those of any celebrity status, beautiful in the striking contrast of black and white, you very likely are looking at Yousuf Karsh’s immaculate works.

Yousuf had an incredible way to see the person underneath the mask – whether it be one of celebrity and fame, or one of happiness and joy, or sorrow and severity. Famous for taking portraits of other celebrity figures, his goal was to expose who people really were, under all the glitz and glamour of their public personas.

What’s mesmerizing about Yousuf’s work is his subjects were not always shot facing forward, the traditional way to create portraiture. He often took profile images of his subjects and still managed to expose the fragility of their humanity underneath.

Paul Robeson 1938
Source: Wikipedia
Yousuf Karsh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Annie Leibovitz

Annie LeibovitzAmerican photographer (born 1949)

Anna-Lou Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer best known for her portraits, particularly of celebrities, which often feature subjects in intimate settings and poses. Leibovitz’s Polaroid photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken five hours before Lennon’s murder, is considered one of Rolling Stone magazine’s most famous cover photographs. The Library of Congress declared her a Living Legend, and she is the first woman to have a feature exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.

Source: Wikipedia

Similar to Yousuf Karsh, Annie Leibovitz has made her life’s work out of photographing celebrities. She also manages to capture the heart of who they are through her lens and show the world. These similarities end there, however.

A leading photographer for both Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair magazines throughout her life, Annie’s portraits have been edgy, charismatic, and provocative. She has faced many a scandal as a passion for her art breaks all boundaries and sense of propriety.

Her legacy has a similar ring to Margaret Bourke-White in terms of meetings of chance. Yoko Ono and John Lennon engaged in an intimate and raw shoot with Annie, yielding the photographs she would be most famed for. Later in that day, Lennon was assassinated outside his home.

6. Dorothea Lange

Dorothea LangeAmerican photojournalist (1895–1965)

Dorothea Lange was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.

Source: Wikipedia

Documentary photography would not be where it is today, evolved into something greater, without the work of Dorothea Lange. The Great Depression, an era of destitution, is not the first period one would think needed a great photographer to journal its devastation.

However, even the darkest moments must be immortalized so that we may not be doomed to repeat the errors that let the darkness in. Dorothea recognized this truth and took her camera to the streets to fulfill this unknown need.

Her imagery, including iconic pieces like Migrant Mother, showed the uncomfortable truths that we face in society, with bitter rawness. She also managed to pull out of these subjects minute amounts of positivity, kindness, compassion, and hope.

Source: Wikipedia
Dorothea Lange, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
"Broke, baby sick, and car trouble!" - Dorothea Lange's photo of a Missouri family of five in the vicinity of Tracy, California
Source: Wikipedia
Dorothea Lange, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Elliott Erwitt

Elliott ErwittFrench-born American photographer (1928–2023)

Elliott Erwitt was a French-born American advertising and documentary photographer known for his black and white candid photos of ironic and absurd situations within everyday settings. He was a member of Magnum Photos from 1953.

Source: Wikipedia

Taking the levity of real, everyday life, and transforming it into works of photographic art was the bread and butter of photographer Elliot Erwitt. His philosophy stemmed from taking the sillier, slightly absurd, and definitely comical sides of our lives and understanding that there are great beauty and peace contained within.

His work simple, candid, and real imagery showcases how interesting and fascinating everyday life truly is. His love of dogs keeps him human and fun-loving.

Volker Rastel

About the author: Hey, I'm Volker from pictrabox! An enthusiastic photographer, traveller and blogger. I would like to support you to take, edit and manage unique photos. I also report about my travels and the most unique places in the world.