10 Legendary Photographers You Should Know

Having a better understanding of the history of your craft, and those that helped form it, will undoubtedly help make you a better photographer.


1. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce


Born: March 7, 1765

Died: July 5, 1833


Joseph Nicéphore Niépce created what is generally considered the worlds first photograph. So he should rank as #1 on any list because without his invention, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.


For his first experiments , he positioned at the back of a camera obscura sheets of silver salts coated paper, known to blacken with daylight. In may 1816 he produced the first image of nature : a view from a window . It was a negative and the image vanished because in broad daylight the coated paper becomes completely black . He calls these images “retinas”.

“Retinas on silver chloride” (reconstitution)

Searching for other ways to produce images, Niépce set up a device called a camera obscura, which captured and projected scenes illuminated by sunlight, and trained it on the view outside his studio window in eastern France. The scene was cast on a treated pewter plate that, after many hours, retained a crude copy of the buildings and rooftops outside. The result was the first known permanent photograph. It is no overstatement to say that Niépce’s achievement laid the groundwork for the development of photography.


Photo is sealed in an oxygen-free case at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.



2. Ansel Adams


Born: February 20, 1902

Died: April 22, 1984


Probably one of the most famous photographers in the nature and landscape niche. A master of black and white landscapes. Adams served as the director of the Sierra Club for nearly forty years, and is particularly well known for his iconic images of Yosemite National Park. He also played a pivotal role in elevating photography as a fine art, co-founding the group f/64 and helping to establish the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A committed environmentalist, he traveled throughout the country to capture the grandeur of natural sites.


Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among others.


The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, 1942-printed c. 1950

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona, 1968

Roots, Foster Garden, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1948

The White Church, Hornitos, California, 1946


Quotes Ansel Adams:

"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."



3. Margaret Bourke-White


Born: June 14, 1904

Died: August 27, 1971


The first photographer for Fortune, the first Western professional photographer permitted into the Soviet Union, Life magazine's first female photographer, and the first female war correspondent credentialed to work in combat zones during World War II. Her photo negatives, arriving at the LIFE office just 24 hours before the first issue’s publication, made the cover—published on November 23, 1936. The issue sold out immediately and within months the magazine’s circulation more than tripled. The cover photo was selected by the United States Postal Service to represent the 1930s in its series, “Celebrate the Century.”

While in Europe, Bourke-White traveled throughout Germany with American General George S. Patton and, through her lens, documented untold atrocities. She captured images of brutal work camps, Nazi officials and their families, dead from suicides, and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, including survivors and the furnaces where so many Jews were burned. She kept secret the fact that her father was Jewish and later admitted that she used her camera lens to create a barrier between herself and what she was witnessing.


She captured the last pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, in India.


Quote by Margaret Bourke - White:

“Photography is a very subtle thing. You must let the camera take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you into your subject.”



4. Edward Weston


Born: March 24, 1886

Died: January 1, 1958


At 16 he received his first camera as a gift from his father, and from that time everything that he read and all that he experienced, both artistically and personally, was processed as food for a fierce artistic ambition. Weston began to make photographs in Chicago parks in 1902, and his works were first exhibited in 1903 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Three years later he moved to California and opened a portrait studio in a Los Angeles suburb. The Western landscape soon became his principal subject matter. In the 1930s, Weston and several other photographers, including Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Willard van Dyke, formed the f/64 group, which greatly influenced the aesthetics of American photography.


The works for which he is famous–sharp, stark, brilliantly printed images of sand dunes, nudes, vegetables, rock formations, trees, cacti, shells, water, and human faces are among the finest of 20th-century photographs; their influence on modern art remains inestimable.


Nude in Doorway ~ 227N, 1936

Pepper ~ 30P, 1930


Quotes by Edward Weston:

“I would say to any artist: ‘Don’t be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.”

“My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, for the camera’s eye may entirely change my idea.”

“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?”

“Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.”


5. Steve McCurry


Born: April 23, 1950


Recognized universally as one of today's finest image-makers, is best known for his evocative color photography. American photojournalist famous for his image “Afghan Girl”, cover of the June 1985 National Geographic. The image was named: “the most recognized photograph” in the history of the magazine. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers Association. This was the same year in which he won an unprecedented four first prizes in the World Press Photo contest. He has won the Olivier Rebbot Award twice. His stunning portraits of people from six continents are what he’s most known for.


Afghan Girl, 1984


Quotes by Steve McCurry:

„Most of my photos are grounded in people, I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face.”

„A still photograph is something which you can always go back to. You can put it on your wall and look at it again and again. Because it is that frozen moment. I think it tends to burn into your psyche. It becomes ingrained in your mind. A powerful picture becomes iconic of a place or a time or a situation.”



6. Richard Avedon


Born: May 15, 1923

Died: October 1, 2004


His exposure to fashion and photography began at an early age. Since his father owned a women's specialty clothing store on Fifth Avenue, he was often present when representatives from upscale fashion magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Vogue visited each month to discuss couture. His iconic portraits of celebrities, spanned more than half of the 20th century, and included Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, The Beatles, Andy Warhol, and Tupac Shakur. By capturing American ideals of celebrity, fashion, and beauty in the 20th and early 21st centuries, Richard Avedon helped to establish photography as a contemporary art form. Avedon’s distinct style of portrait photography is nothing short of iconic.


While the portraiture of his contemporaries focused on single moments or composed formal images, his stark lighting and minimalist white backdrops drew the viewer to the intimate, emotive power of the subject’s expression.


Dovima with Elephants, 1955

Stephanie Seymour, 'La Passante du Siècle', 1995

Nastassja Kinski with Serpent, 1981


Quotes by Richard Avedon:

“My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph,”

“I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish: if I could just work with my eyes alone.”

“I believe that you’ve got to love your work so much that it is all you want to do.”

“I think all art is about control – the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.”

“Anything is an art if you do it at the level of an art.”



7. George Hurrell


Born: June 1, 1904

Died: May 17, 1992


He attended the Art Institute of Chicago briefly, then the neighboring Academy of Fine Arts in his teens, but he left school in 1922 and attempted a career as a painter. He took a job hand-painting photographs in a commercial studio, and accepted a series of temporary positions with other commercial studios, learning technical skills that didn't interest him. In 1925 he moved to California, where he discovered that his photographs sold better than his paintings; he cultivated a reputation for his photographic portraits. Master portrait photographer to the stars since 1929 when he was hired by MGM Studios.


He has photographed every major Hollywood star since the early 30’s until his death in 1992. If you want to learn about portraiture and lighting I highly suggest you become familiar with his work. If you aren’t, have a look at his glamour style portraits anyway, and learn a few things about light.


Charles Boyer, 1938

Marlene Dietrich


Quotes by George Hurrell:

"Its all so simple – no one believes me … you strike a pose, then you light it. Then you clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then, you shoot."



8. Dorothea Lange


Born: May 26, 1895

Died: October 11, 1965


Documentary photographer and photojournalist known for her images of the Great Depression humanizing the plight of the workers and those most affected by the depression. Her iconic image “Migrant Mother” was taken in 1936 at a migrant farm workers camp. Lange is also known for exposing the racism and human rights issues of the WWII Japanese-American internment through her images (which were censored) and as the later co-founder of Aperture Magazine.



Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA, 1936


Quotes by Dorothea Lange:

“Life, for people, begins to crumble on the edges; they don't realize it.”

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”



9. Pieter Hugo


Born: October 29, 1976


Pieter Hugo is a contemporary South African artist whose work addresses issues of class, identity, violence, and privilege with photography. Hugo uses photography to document marginalized and downtrodden groups in regions of Africa, including Nigerian hyena tamers, albinos, and children who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide.


“A lot of my inspiration is reactionary to images I see in the media. The Hyena Men started with a picture that someone took on a cell phone,” the artist has said of his subject matter. “Apparently he was an employee of a mobile phone network in Nigeria and he photographed them from a car window. The Nollywood series was made because while I was doing the hyena work everywhere in West Africa, every hotel I went to, every bar I went to, people were watching these movies.”



Quote by Pieter Hugo:

„I have a taste for the macabre. I really am not drawn to imagery that is pretty, things that are just pretty. I’m drawn to things that challenge you, that make you nervous, that make you uncomfortable.”



10. Lisa Kristine


Born: September 2, 1965


Lisa Kristine specializes in images of remote indigenous peoples. She has documented in over 150 countries on six continents. In 2010 Lisa collaborated with Free the Slaves documenting modern day slavery. She traveled into the heart of broiling brick kilns, down rickety mine shafts, and into hidden lairs of sex slavery. She bore witness to the most horrible abuses imaginable and the astonishing glimpses of the indomitable human spirit. A groundbreaking photographic book entitled Slavery in which Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the foreword was released in the fall of 2010. The sales of the book will help to end slavery.



Lisa invites each of us as humans to look into the eyes of those whom we cannot understand—in a setting that does not diminish our differences. In those differences we find the roots of our unity


Freedom – Ghana

Duality – Ethopia


Stratum – Nepal

Stacking – Nepal


Quote by Lisa Kristine:

„My work is about the establishment of trust. For someone to share their authenticity with me is a soul-to-soul thing. It's not a lens-to-soul thing.”

„One advantage of photography is that it's visual and can transcend language.”


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