The Top Ten Most Influential Photographers Everyone Should Know About

I don’t particularly like to play favorites, but there are certain photographers whose works have resonated with me over the years and are simply too hard to disregard. People’s taste and photography in general is very subjective so I am 100% sure that everyone reading this will disagree with at least one if not even all of my selections. I am partial to documentary and war photography, so that is what my list will primarily be made of, but there are certain figures that despite style have altered the entire landscape of photography to the point that they cannot be ignored. The descriptions of all the photographers and photojournalists, and the example of their works do not give them the proper credit that they deserve, and everyone reading this article should independently look up their works and immerse themselves in the collections that these people have created.

Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984)

Even if someone doesn’t know who Ansel Adams is they have definitely seen his work hung up somewhere, either in a gallery, or reprinted in someone’s house, office, etc… The American landscape photographer was one of the most prominent figures in the entire modern nature photography scene, and pioneered the industry as a whole. Ansel Adams is truly one of the most influential photographers in every sense of the meaning.


James Nachtwey (1948 – )

My personal favorite photographer and photojournalist is James Nachtwey. I’ve spent endless hours looking through his work, and even wrote an essay on him back in my undergrad days. The award-winning war photojournalist has covered conflicts in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and the West Bank and Gaza to name a few. James Nachtwey has been the recipient of the most-coveted and most-respected awards in photojournalism for his heart-wrenching depictions of war and the impact of conflict on the people that live in the general and surrounding areas. He dedicated his life to making sure that people see what is going on around the world. James Nachtwey is quoted in saying, “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”

Steve McCurry (1950 – )

The photographer of “Afghan Girl” which had been featured on the cover of National Geographic several times has been documenting the world around us for decades upon decades. Steve McCurry’s work spans from covering conflicts to contemporary culture. Every piece of work he has created is unique and impactful in its own right. McCurry’s book “Portraits” has gone down in history as one of the most celebrated publications in the history of contemporary photography.

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)

No one can talk about war photography or photojournalism without at least mentioning Robert Capa. The Hungarian-born American photographer is considered the Godfather of war photographer, and is talked about by many to be the world’s greatest combat photographer in all of history. Robert Capa’s most famous quote is, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” This quote has influenced the work of thousands of photographers in the years to come. The photographer had covered such major events such as the Spanish Civil War and even World War II. Some of Capa’s most famous works surround his experience entering German-occupied France on D-Day on June 6, 1944. Robert Capa died in 1954 in Vietnam during the French Indochina War. His future posthumous publications would officially cement his fearless and legendary status as one of the greatest photojournalists.

David Yarrow (1966 – )

The British photographer has devoted his life to the observing the wild and the creatures that inhabit the areas where not many people will ever venture. David Yarrow has traveled all around the world to the most remote locations to document the life of the wildlife and indigenous communities. A student of Robert Capa’s school of “If you’re photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” Yarrow is primarily known for his photographs of animals from as close as humanly possible. In some cases Yarrow will leave his camera in the line of where animals will be traveling and takes the photos remotely in order to acquire the most undisturbed depiction of the beauty of wildlife. He has also lost several cameras to either stampedes or animals stealing them.

Don McCullin (1935 – )

Another photographer who has dedicated his life to the accurately capturing the life and effects of war, Sir Donald McCullin is considered by many to be one of the best photojournalists of all time. The British photographer has spent the better part of six decades covering the underside of society and war, including the documentation of the Vietnam War, Northern Ireland, and Syria. McCullin’s work is still actively on rotation at many galleries and museums around the world. If you get the chance to view some of the most impactful photographs created in the last half-century, I strongly suggest you take the opportunity.

Annie Leibovitz (1949 – )

The American photographer has made a name for herself through her engaging portraits of celebrities that display the figures in more intimate and vulnerable scenarios. Her unique style and body of work has been in part inspired by the works of other great photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. My favorite quote by Leibovitz is one that I feel resonates with all photographers, and that is, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.” No one quote that I’ve heard sums up the feeling of photography more than this. Annie Leibovitz most famous work has got to be the iconic portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The photograph was the last commercial photograph of the two together, and John Lennon in particular. John Lennon was shot and killed five hours after the creation of the photograph.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004)

The French photographer’s work primarily considered of humanist and real life depictions of life. A true master of the candid photograph, Cartier-Bresson was one of the founders of Magnum Photos in 1947, along with Robert Capa, David Seymour, and several others. The international photographic cooperative has documented the world’s most major events, and is responsible for the creation of some of the most iconic and influential photographs. Henri Cartier-Bresson was no different than his contemporaries in his ability to define a style of photography. The early pioneer of 35mm film is considered by many to be the Godfather of street photography, in the same way Capa is related to war photography.

Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004)

The Australian-German photographer made a name for himself with his fashion photography. Simply saying that Newton was a fashion photographer greatly discredits his impact and style on the entire style of photography. Newton’s work is instantly recognizable, and his provocative black-and-white portrayals of models graced the covers and the pages of publications such as Vogue. The U.S. Editor of Vogue, Anna Wintour described the work of the “King of Kink” as being completely synonymous with the glamour and mystic of Vogue itself. The influential photographer was extremely successful in his craft and his work was seen by millions of eyes all around the world.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946)

While being at the bottom of the list, Alfred Stieglitz is in no means last in any regard. The American photographer is credited as the key figure in making photography as we know it today into an acceptable form of art. The work of Stieglitz, which spanned over 50 years, saw his life being dedicated into transforming photography into a valid and respectable form of expression. One of the greatest photographers of his time, Stieglitz’ passion for photography has left behind a legacy for every future photographer that quite possibly will never be matched.