When most people think of portraits, they picture things from those expensive department store “portrait” studios. While those photos may technically considered portraits, many of them are nothing more than posed people in front of generic backgrounds. There are images of humans through which the soul is captured. These famous portrait photographers became recognized as such because of their ability to capture the beauty of the human soul in unique and inspiring ways through portraiture.
When you see a photo of former first lady Jackie Kennedy or Marylin Monroe, there is a good chance it was taken by Eve Arnold. Though she photographed many American icons, she was also known for her work photographing average people.
If you have ever taken an American history class, it’s likely that you’ve seen Dorothea Lange‘s photo of the migrant mother during the Great Depression. While she started out in her own portrait studio, Lange turned to street photography when the Great Depression began. Her work earned her a job working for the government, and eventually brought to light the suffering of the poor in America.
Known for her bold, often eccentric portraits of celebrities, Annie Leibovitz is a highly respected portrait photographer. She was the last to photograph John Lennon for Rolling Stone Magazine just hours before he was killed.
Having photographed the likes of Albert Einstein, Philippe Halsman is known for many of his photos of high profile subjects. From Audrey Hepburn to Salvador Dali, he has worked with many notable figures, giving even them an identity through his portraiture.
One of the most well recognized children and family photographers in the world, Anne Geddes is know for her stylistic portraits of young babies. Her photos are colorful and intricately posed, often making the babies in them look doll-like.
Steve McCurry is recognized as a risk taker in the world of photography. His career began with him traveling to Pakistan, concealed in traditional clothing, and documenting the conflict between the Soviet Union and Pakistan. From there his world travels provided the world with close ups of humans all over the globe. You would likely recognize his iconic photo known as “Afghan Girl” was featured on the front page of National Geographic in 1985.
Mary Ellen Mark
Mary Ellen Mark focuses her lens most often on issues such as poverty, homelessness, and prostitution. She puts a face to serious social issues. Nearly all of her photos are in black and white. If you’re feeling inspired by Mary’s candid photography try learning The Art of Black and White Photography.
Portrait photography is an art just like any other form of photography. Portraiture documents the human condition, and preserves the legacy of those being photographed and those photographing. By being inspired by these and the many other distinguished portrait photographers, portraits can help you do the same.
Know of a great portrait photographer that wasn’t listed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!