Here is a list of the most famous portrait photographers who have influenced the way we view the world through images. Some of them are still alive today and still producing great photographic art. Others have passed on where we can appreciate the great work they left behind. No matter where they are, they are all famous portrait photographers we should truly admire.
18 Famous Portrait Photographers to Admire
Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Diane Arbus started out in advertising and fashion photography with her husband. They became quite a successful duo, with their work appearing in such magazines as Vogue. Her success continued through the 1960’s but sadly, after fighting personal challenges, she committed suicide in her apartment in NYC. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Diane Arbus.
Eve Arnold (1912-2012)
Eve Arnold is one of the most famous portrait photographers to date. She is known for her celebrity photographs and perhaps best known for her photos of Marilyn Monroe & Jackie Kennedy. Eve almost lived to be 100 years old but died in London 3 months before her 100th birthday. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Eve Arnold.
Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
Richard Avedon became the first staff photographer in the history of The New Yorker. “I’ve photographed just about everyone in the world,” he said at the time. “But what I hope to do is photograph people of accomplishment, not celebrity, and help define the difference once again.” He died of a brain hemorrhage in San Antonio, Texas, while shooting an assignment for The New Yorker. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Richard Avedon.
Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Cecil Beaton was hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair & Vogue. During that time there he developed a unique style of posing sitters with unusual backgrounds. He was also a diarist, interior designer, & Oscar-winning stage & costume designer. He died in his home in England at the age of 76. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Cecil Beaton.
Edouard Boubat (1923-1999)
Edouard Boubat was called ‘peace photographer’ by poet Jacques Prévert. He is a poet with a camera. His work is part of the great tradition of French photography that includes such masters as Brassai, Bresson and Doisneau. He is quoted as saying, “my favorite photo is always the last one that I took“. He died in Paris France in 1999. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Edouard Boubat.
Phillipe Halsman (1906-1979)
Philippe Halsman has produced some of 20th century’s most recognisable portraits. His picture of the model Constance Ford against the US flag which was used in Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red lipstick advertising campaign. In addition, his work “jump” which pictured screen legends such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe jumping like school children in mid-air. He died in NYC in 1979. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Philippe Halsman.
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Yousef Karsh is one of the most famous portrait photographers who graced the art of photography. It was recently announced that his image of Winston Churchill will be used on the £5 note, to be issued in 2016. Yousuf once said, “within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can”. Yousuf Karsh died at the age of 93 after complications following surgery. Click here to see more amazing photography from Yousuf Karsh.
Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934)
Gertrude Käsebier is one of the most famous portrait photographers of the early 20th century. She was very influential and women who were just starting in photography sought her out. She is best known for her sensitive depictions of motherhood and one of the founders of the influential photo-Secession group. She died at her daughter’s home in 1934. Click here to see more amazing photography from Gertrude Käsebier.
Antonin Kratochvil (1947-Present)
Antonin Kratochvil has photographed an array of various subjects, including Mongolia’s street children for the Museum of Natural History as well as the war in Iraq for Fortune Magazine. in 2005, he won the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Photojournalism & the 2005 Golden Light Award for Best Documentary Book. Click here to see more amazing photography from Antonin Kratochvil on his website.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Dorothea Lange photographed the unemployed men who wandered the streets during the great depression. Her photographs of migrant workers were often shown with captions that featured the words from the workers themselves. Dorothea Lange died from esophageal cancer in 1965. Click here to see more amazing photography from Dorothea Lange.
Annie Leibovitz (1949-Present)
Annie Leibovitz is one the most famous portrait photographers alive today. She developed her trademark use of bold colors and poses while working at Rolling Stone. She photographed John Lennon and Yoko Ono in December 1980. 5 hours later, John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman. Click here to see more amazing photography from Annie Leibovitz.
Mary-Ellen Mark (1940-Present)
Mary-Ellen Mark has 16 collections of her photography work published. She has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide. Throughout her career, she has received numerous accolades, including three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Click here to see more amazing photography from Mary-Ellen Mark.
Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Angus McBean became the official photographer for the Old Vic, Sadlers Wells, Stratford-on-Avon and Glyndebourne theatres. He also was the photographer for the theatrical productions of H. M. Tennent. For a decade he took no photographs professionally but in 1985 his earliest studio portrait of Vivien Leigh was turned into a postage stamp. He died in 1990 at the age of 86. Click here to see more amazing photography from Angus McBean.
Steve McCurry (1950-Present)
Steve McCurry is another one of the most famous portrait photographers who is best known for his evocative color photography. He was brilliant at capturing the essence of human struggle and joy. He is based in New York and offers weekend workshops for interested photographers who wish to have their work critiqued by him. Click here to see more amazing photography from Steve McCurry.
Irving Penn (1917-2009)
Irving Penn originally intended to become a painter, however, a job to design cover photographs for Vogue magazine in the 1940’s opened up and made him consider photography. He is one of the first famous portrait photographers to use natural light and spare backgrounds which he used for most of his photographic work. He died at age 92 in his home in New York City. Click here to see more amazing photography from Irving Penn.
Herb Ritts (1952-2002)
Herb Ritts began his career working in his family’s furniture business but moved to New York City where he majored in economics and art history. He became interested in photography when he and his good friend Richard Gere, then an aspiring actor, decided to shoot some photographs in front of an old beat up Buick. That photo shoot gained him notoriety. He died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50. Click here to see more amazing photography from Herb Ritts.
Francesco Scavullo (1921-2004)
Francesco Scavullo started to pursue his love with images of beauty by taking photographs of his sister with his father’s camera. He was known to have some more controversial work which included a Cosmopolitan centerfold of a nude Burt Reynolds, as well as photographs of a young Brooke Shields that some considered too sexual. He died of heart failure on his way to a photo shoot with a then up-and-coming CNN news anchor, Anderson Cooper. Click here to see more amazing photography from Francesco Scavullo.
Cindy Sherman (1954-Present)
Cindy Sherman photographed herself in a series called, “Untitled Film Stills,” which included 69 photographs. This series was one of her best-known works that challenged cultural stereotypes supported by the media. She later created a series including themes of pornography, Old Master paintings, and fairy tales, as well as dismembered medical dummies in graphic poses. Click here to see more amazing photographs from Cindy Sherman.
Which of the famous portrait photographers listed above is your favorite and why?