Portrait photography is one of the oldest forms of photography. And nearly 200 years on, portraiture remains one of the most popular pursuits within the art form.
This is a history of portrait photography told through the lens of great portrait photographers. We’ll look at the best past and present portrait photographers.
Our journey starts with the great portrait photographers of times past. Then we’ll look at the best portrait photographers of today before finishing with the rising stars of portrait photography. It’s a journey that’s sure to inspire your own portrait photography.
The Enduring Popularity of Portrait Photographers
Portrait photographers have been at the vanguard of the photography craft. They’ve documented some of history’s most famous and infamous individuals. And they brought photography into the mainstream.
Portrait photography has given us the protagonists of our shared history. They’ve connected us to presidents, prime ministers, and stars on the stage and screen. Their portraits are hung in prominent galleries all over the world. And they’ve graced the covers of Time, Vogue, and Rolling Stone. These faces have become part of public consciousness.
But portrait photography isn’t just about the big names. Portraits are about people. And portrait photographers use their cameras to tell personal stories. They capture the spirit of the people they encounter, from farmers to fishermen and businessmen to bandits.
As well as being a discipline in its own right, portrait photography is a feature in many types of photography. Portraits play a significant role in fashion and editorial photography. And you’ll find portraits everywhere, from photojournalism to wedding photography.
Portrait photography endures because we love characters. We want to know the players in the stories humans tell. And the best portrait photographers let us glimpse hearts and souls laid bare on celluloid. Portrait photography allows us to connect with people we may never know.
46 Famous Portrait Photographers You Should Know
The best source of inspiration for portrait photography comes from looking at the masters. By looking at the work of the most famous portrait photographers, you’ll see how personalities are explored and characters are created.
We’ve split our extensive list of famous portrait photographers into three sections. The first section looks at the all-time greats of the genre. The second section looks at the best photographers of our era. And the final section looks at the rising stars of portrait photography.
Famous Portrait Photographers from History
In this section, we’re celebrating the portrait photographers of the past. They’re artists who have led the way in portrait photography over the decades, breaking rules and setting standards.
These portrait photographers have created some of the most iconic images of the last 100 years. You might be familiar with some of these photographers, while some names might be new to you. But all of them are worthy of your attention.
1. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)
Julia Margaret Cameron was a true trailblazer of portrait photography. Not only was she a woman thriving in a man’s world, but she also developed her own style of portrait photography. Her style wasn’t appreciated in her own time, and many criticized her work.
But over the years, her portraits have been praised for their genuine intimacy. Her portrait photos are softly focused with a natural feel. They were at odds with the stale and static portraits of the Victorian era.
Her subjects were the great and the good of upper-class Victorian society. Her most prominent subjects were Charles Darwin, Henry Taylor, and Sir John Herschel.
2. Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952)
Edward S. Curtis is one of the most important names in American photography. He was a photographer working in the American west near the turn of the century. His portrait collection is an important historical archive.
Curtis photographed hundreds of indigenous people from various tribal groups across America. They include the Hopi tribes in the southwest and the Inuit peoples of the north.
His subjects include names eternally linked to the myth of the Wild West. The portraits of Geronimo, Red Cloud, and Chief Joseph are particularly special.
3. James Van Der Zee (1886-1983)
James Van Der Zee was an essential part of the Harlem Renaissance of the ’20s and ’30s. His portraits are stylish and well crafted. But his work also serves as a historical document for a significant moment in Afro-American history.
Van Der Zee used his camera to document the fashions and figures of a black culture revival in New York. His portraits show a middle-class African-American society. It’s a self-confident community that was thriving culturally.
Some of his notable subjects are dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and civil rights leader Marcus Garvey. He worked mainly in a studio, using lavish props and set dressings.
4. George Hurrell (1904-1992)
George Hurrell is a portrait photographer from the golden age of cinema. As the official photographer of the MGM studio, his portraits captured some of Hollywood’s most iconic actors and actresses.
Hurrell’s celebrated list of subjects includes everyone from Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart to Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe.
The archetypal celebrity photographer, his portraits are intensely glamorous. His collection strengthens the legend and mystique of this timeless Hollywood era. His style is dramatic, with strong contrasts between light and dark.
5. Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Angus McBean is often overlooked when it comes to lists of the most famous portrait photographers. But he shouldn’t be. His portraits were wholly original, blending a sharp style with surrealism and wit.
McBean’s style was less polished and more earthy than his contemporaries. His lighting was sharp and dramatic, which he used for a darker tone in his work. He wasn’t afraid to add surrealist elements or humor, even when working with Hollywood stars.
As a celebrity portrait photographer, he worked with A-listers like Audrey Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, and The Beatles.
6. Philippe Halsman (1906-1979)
Philippe Halsman was one of the first great portrait photographers to inject a sense of fun into his work. He had close connections to surrealist artists and was a long-time collaborator with Salvador Dali.
His portraits are joyful and exuberant. His subjects are often snapped in mid-air as they jump and dance before the camera. But despite the humor, there’s always a personal warmth to his images. His portrait photos are uniquely personal.
As well as Salvador Dali, prominent subjects include Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Muhammad Ali. His skill behind the camera also led to a career as a fashion photographer.
7. Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Yousuf Karsh is undoubtedly one of the greatest portrait photographers of all time. You may not be familiar with his name, but you’ve probably seen a few of his portraits.
His name reached global acclaim with his stunning portrait of Winston Churchill in 1941. He went on to photograph some of the most iconic individuals of the 20th Century. These include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Muhammad Ali, and Nikita Khrushchev.
His style is clean and classy. The portraits are posed and deliberate. But they all pack a punch of personality and charm. Most modern portrait photographers owe a debt to Yousuf Karsh.
8. Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Some might be surprised to see Robert Capa on a list of famous portrait photographers. It’s true that he made his name as a photojournalist. But there’s a case to be made about Capa’s abilities as a portrait photographer.
Capa is famed for his courageous war reportage, with stunning images from the Spanish Civil War and World War II. But as you look through his collection, you’ll find it’s littered with captivating and enchanting portraits.
He died on the job in 1954, shooting the rising conflict in Vietnam. And much of his color photography and portraits have only come to light after his death. His noteworthy subjects include Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.
9. Arnold Newman (1918-2006)
Arnold Newman is an American photographer famed for his “environmental portraits.” Rather than ply his trade in a studio, he took his portrait photography into the wild. Although working on location, his portrait photos were still styled and considered. He combined a sense of freedom with a meticulous approach.
His portraits have been printed in Life, Fortune, and Newsweek magazines. He has portraits of some significant players from the 20th century. These include presidents like Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan and artists and musicians like Picasso and Stravinsky.
10. Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
Richard Avedon was an American fashion photographer born and raised in New York. His catalog oozes class and elegance. And his work as a portrait photographer is intelligent and creative, setting him apart from his peers.
His work spans several decades of the 20th century. And he has portraits of many notable figures from the arts, fashion, and politics. They include Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, and George H. W. Bush during his time as director of the CIA.
Avedon set the standard for portrait photographers to come. The elegance and coolness of his images have influenced many photographers who followed in his footsteps.
11. Herb Ritts (1952-2002)
Herb Ritts defined a generation. He worked with some of the most famous people on the planet throughout the ’80s and ’90s. But to call him a celebrity photographer would be a disservice. His images are the definition of cool. And he produced some of the most iconic images of the period.
His sharp and stylish portraits led him to a career as a fashion photographer. And with his portrait photos, he helped establish the era of the supermodel. He worked with Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Claudia Schiffer.
12. Elliott Landy (1942- )
Elliot Landy won’t be on everyone’s list of great portrait photographers. And I’ll admit this is a rather personal choice. But Elliott Landy played a significant role in defining an era of pop music.
Landy was a portrait photographer for some of the greatest music artists of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Some notable names are Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But his best work as a portrait photographer comes from his collaborations with Bob Dylan and The Band.
Famous Photographers Of Our Time
The following shooters are the most famous portrait photographers of the modern era. They’re the biggest names in portrait photography. And if you don’t know their work already, it’s time you do.
These portrait photographers are at the top of the photography profession. You’ll see their work in galleries across the globe and on the pages of major publications.
13. Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz might be the most famous portrait photographer in the world right now. For the last 50 years, she’s blazed a trail in the portrait genre. Her portraits have graced the cover of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and Vogue.
Annie Leibovitz has photographed nearly every celebrity you can imagine. The list includes presidents past and present to rock stars of mythical status. But rather than use their fame to enhance her portraits, her photos add grandeur to her portrait subjects.
She works in studios and on location. But the most striking aspect of her portrait photography is her composition. The shots are structured for a strong impact. But her subjects always have an air of openness.
14. Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry is one of the most renowned photojournalists. He documents conflicts and hardships across the globe. His portrait work plays a huge part in his journalism, bringing depth and soul to his war reportage.
His subjects are the people he encounters on his travels. They’re the afflicted and the conflicted, the protagonists and the victims. McCurry adds humanity to conflicts that can seem abstract to newspaper readers.
McCurry has an eye for a powerful image. He picks his subjects with precision and photographs them with compassion. His images are some of the most recognizable portraits and stand out in an era of mass media.
15. David LaChapelle
David LaChapelle has been on the rise as a professional photographer since the ’80s. And as a famous portrait photographer, he now sets the tone of modern pop culture.
LaChapelle has a bold style that combines a kitsch aesthetic with a surrealist sensibility. He’s not afraid to exaggerate with colors or styles. There’s a realism in his work, but he turns it up to 11.
David LaChapelle’s portraits have become a staple of popular music and culture. He’s worked with Lady Gaga, Eminem, and Tupac. Many of his images are just as iconic as the artists themselves.
16. Mario Testino
Mario Testino came to prominence in the ’90s, photographing huge names like Madonna and Kate Moss. But his true breakout came from his photoshoot of Princess Diana. This shoot defined him as a truly famous portrait photographer.
Testino’s portrait style is bright and clean, with a hint of old Hollywood glamor. His shots are styled and considered, with nothing left to chance. But his images have a familial quality. The subjects always seem at ease, like they’re in the company of friends.
17. Mark Mann
Mark Mann is a British portrait photographer. He’s made a name for himself as one of the finest celebrity portrait photographers. He’s worked with famous people in the arts, sports, and politics.
Mann’s portraits are rich in detail and color. He often uses a close-up composition for powerful and intimate portraits. Mann’s a master of the studio portrait. His lighting is deliberate but warm and sympathetic. He looks for the depths in his subjects.
Mark Mann has had his portraits published in every publication from Vanity Fair to Esquire. And his client list reads like a who’s who of Washington and Tinseltown.
18. Lorenzo Agius
Lorenzo Agius is a British photographer. His work encapsulated the feel-good hedonism of the Brit Pop of the ’90s. His early work with Ewan McGregor brought him to prominence. And since then, he’s become one of the most famous portrait photographers.
You can still find the fun-loving aesthetic of his ’90s work in his modern work. His best portrait photos have a cheeky sense of fun. He has the style and compositional skills of a fashion photographer. But he always brings out the humor in his subjects.
19. Jimmy Nelson
Jimmy Nelson is a British portrait photographer. But he’s also an extensive traveler photographing people from every corner of the earth. His portrait photography studies and celebrates traditional cultures worldwide.
Nelson’s portrait photography serves as a window into traditional cultures. His subjects wear the traditional dress of their people. And Nelson explores and examines everything in glorious detail. His portraits celebrate the heritage and roots of ancient cultures.
20. Peter Lindbergh
With a long and storied career, Peter Lindbergh has become one of the most well-respected portrait photographers in the fashion industry. His catalog is brimming with all the top models of the last few decades. And he’s constantly featured in fashion publications.
Often working in black and white, his portraits are sharp and dramatic. The shots are styled, but they have an atmosphere of casual disruption. His shots often seem like he took them during the break of the shoot. His relaxed approach brings the personality out of his subjects.
21. Martin Schoeller
Martin Schoeller is a German photographer who perfects his trade in Hollywood. By photographing some of the film industry’s biggest stars, he’s become one of the best-known photographers in the world.
Schoeller has a distinct style that sets him apart from other portrait photographers. He’s a fan of the extreme close-up. He heightens the intensity with hard lighting and bright colors. And yet his portraits retain a warmth that’s drawn from his subjects.
He takes two different approaches. One is more minimalist, with nothing but lights and a plain backdrop. And the other is more stylized, with lavish sets and props.
22. Alessio Albi
Alessio Albi is an Italian portrait photographer working in the fashion industry. Relatively new to the fashion photography scene, he’s setting a new standard with his visionary and atmospheric compositions.
Albi’s portrait style blends realism with a stylized approach. He creates an atmosphere of heightened reality. He has a collection of fabulous studio portraits, often in dynamic black and white. But his location shots steal the show with their cinematic vision and depth.
23. Kenneth Willardt
Kenneth Willardt is a fashion photographer with a passion for close-up portraits. He’s one of the hottest contemporary portrait photographers in the fashion industry. And he’s become a mainstay of all the top fashion magazines.
His portraits are intense, popping with color and energy. Hair, makeup, and set design play a huge role in his photography. All this, combined with his strong compositions, makes his portrait work stand out from the crowd.
24. Jovana Rikalo
Rikalo uses intricate costumes and set designs to create her scenes. She’s a visual storyteller, and each shot takes us on another step of the journey. Her portraits have incredible attention to detail. And her set design skills are matched by her camera work.
25. Philip Edsel
Philip Edsel is a fashion photographer working in the sports arena. He’s worked with some of the greatest athletes of our generation. And he’s headed projects for the biggest sports brands, like Adidas and New Balance.
When you look through his collection, his portraits are always a highlight. His black and white photos are sharp and elegant. And his color photography is vibrant with near-neon tones. Edsel brings a cinematic eye to sports editorials.
26. Mert Alas
Mert Alas is one of the top portrait photographers in the fashion industry. If you’ve leafed through a copy of Vogue in the last 20 years, you’ve seen some of his work. His work with Gucci and Versace has made him one of the most in-demand fashion photographers in the world.
His style ranges from highly styled to natural and laid back. He often uses lavish sets with extensive costume and makeup design. But much of his portrait work is candid with a fun-loving realism.
27. Pamela Hanson
Pamela Hanson is one of the busiest women in portrait photography. Her photography is constantly featured in all the top fashion publications, making her one of the industry’s most famous photographers. Her portraits have recently graced the covers of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.
Hanson’s photos are intricately put together. But the atmosphere of her shots is always relaxed and natural. She brings the heart and soul out of her subjects, giving her portraits a warm glow.
You’ll find some heart-warming family portraits on her website. They show a different side to her portrait work.
28. Joe McNally
Joe McNally is an American photographer. And his portraits have explored many areas of American pop culture. As an experienced photographer, he’s developed a powerful and unique style.
He’s produced portrait editorials for musicians, athletes, and fashion brands. He never fails to create memorable images. McNally has a detailed and illuminated style. He uses a mix of lighting to bring his subjects to the fore and create a sense of heightened reality.
29. Erik Almas
Erik Almas was born and raised in Norway. But his work as a professional photographer has taken him all over the globe. He’s created images used by some of the world’s biggest companies.
Almas has an expansive style of photography. His shots are bright and open. They contain many intricate details, but they never feel busy. He’s not shy when it comes to post-production techniques. But he also has a collection of minimalist portraits that are just as impressive.
30. Lee Jeffries
Perhaps more than any other portrait photographer, Lee Jeffries has an appreciation for the human face. His portraits are character studies. He examines every detail of the face, leaving nothing unseen.
Jeffries’s style is intense. He often uses extreme close-ups with a razor-sharp focus. And lighting is used to intensify the lines of the faces. Each portrait is a punch of personality. They’re almost intimidating!
31. Nirav Patel
Nirav Patel is a fine art photographer based in San Francisco. Portraits play a huge part in her dramatic photography, as she explores human emotion.
Patel’s portraits have a cinematic tone. Each shot is meticulously constructed to evoke emotion. Patel uses natural and soft lighting to create deeply atmospheric images. The color palette is rich and dark. But the photos buzz with energy.
Rising Stars of Portrait Photography
Now we’re moving on to the next generation of portrait photographers. These are the artists currently making a name for themselves in the portrait photography arena. They’re the portrait photographers to pay attention to.
32. Rosie Matheson
Rosie Matheson is fast becoming one of the UK’s top portrait photographers. Her award-winning work continues to grab attention in the photography world. Matheson has turned to film photography, mainly using medium format cameras.
Matheson has a casual style of portrait. Her subjects are always relaxed like they’re hanging out with friends. She likes pastel colors and faded tones. Combined with a soft-focus, her portraits are warm and personal.
Sasha Aruntyunova is a Russian-American photographer currently living in Paris. Despite her young age, she’s heading straight to the top of the portrait photography world. Her subjects have included Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Sasha uses natural light to create deep and moody portraits. Although light is sometimes at a premium, her atmospheres remain joyful and warm. This approach to light gives us portraits that seem honest and authentic.
34. Justin Hogan
Justin Hogan is one of the finest young portrait photographers working with musicians and singers. He also has a collection of sports photography projects worthy of your attention.
For his portrait photography, Hogan mainly works in black and white. The deep tones of his work create warmth in his photos. Many of his shots are staged and planned, but they still have a sense of honesty.
35. Ire Chernova
Ire Chernova is one of today’s best portrait photographers. She’s experimental and daring with her ideas. But she holds true to the original concepts of the genre. She gets to the heart of her subjects with warm and personal portraits.
Her compositions are bold. And she confronts interesting themes in her work. But her portraits are always humane with a soft affection. She always gives her subjects the respect they deserve. And this is repaid with openness from her subjects.
36. Rhiannon Adam
Rhiannon Adam is an Irish portrait photographer based in London. Her photography combines travel and photojournalism. Portraits play a huge role in her work, as she documents the people she encounters on the road.
Adam has an honest and authentic style. She photographs people as they are. There’s no fancy trickery or effects. There’s a bond between her camera and her subjects. This approach allows her to give an honest portrayal of real people. Writing also plays an important role in her work, and she’s as skilled with a pen as she is with a camera.
37. Manny Librodo
Manny Librodo uses portrait photography to celebrate different cultures around the world. His shots are stylized and constructed. But they are true and respectful to the traditions they depict.
His color palette is deep and rich. And he enhances the colors of traditional clothing to make his portraits stand out. Librodo’s portraits photos are full of details, with everything deliberate and considered. His library will take you on a trip around the world.
38. J. Flynn
J. Flynn is a London-based photographer. And he’s fast becoming one of the most exciting and in-demand portrait photographers in the UK.
His portraits have a casual style. Every shot seems candid and natural. The focus is slightly soft. And the color tones are muted, giving his images a rich but soft finish. The rapport he has with his subjects is clear in every portrait. You feel as if you’re in the company of friends.
39. Olivia Bee
If you’re into the alternative music scene in the USA, you might be familiar with Bee’s work already. She’s a rising star in music photography, with her portraits appearing on album covers and in Billboard magazine.
Her portrait style is earthy and honest. It invokes the portraits of folk and country stars of past ages. Her portraits are down to earth with a hint of 21st-century reverie.
40. Kelly Ann Bobb
Kelly Ann Bobb is a professional portrait photographer from Trinidad. She’s new, but she’s already turning heads with her vibrant approach.
She takes a traditional approach to portraits. She shoots in film, using 35mm and larger format cameras. And her studio compositions echo the portraits of photographers from the early 20th century. Her location work embraces her culture and her environment. She celebrates Trinidad with her photography.
41. David Lazar
Lazar uses portraits to explore cultures all around the world. He goes on journeys, but it’s about the people he meets. More than any landscape, the people are his subject.
42. Clement Pascal
Clement Pascal is setting new trends in the world of portrait photographers. He’s new to the fashion business, but his portrait style is becoming more and more popular.
His portraits have a gentle feel. All the lighting is natural, and he loves muted color tones. It gives his portraits a feeling of familiarity. The subjects are relaxed and natural, making the viewer feel the same.
43. Omar Victor Diop
Omar Victor Diop is a master of self-portraits. More often than not, he’s his own subject. But he also takes excellent portraits of others. His distinct style is turning heads across Europe and America.
His portraits have a 19th-century influence, often resembling paintings of that period. And there’s a knowing nod to Orientalism in his designs. The stunning portraits are alive with color, using bright reds, yellows, and greens. It’s humorous and celebrates traditional cultures.
44. Nina Masic
Nina Masic is a young German photographer breaking into the fashion business with her elegant and stylish portraits. Her profile is quickly on the rise.
Masic has a clean and fresh style of portrait. She uses closely-cropped compositions. And she’s able to match everything in her photos to the skin tones of her subjects. It comes together for a styled yet natural-looking portrait.
45. Zhamak Fullad
She may be young, but Zhamak Fullad is becoming one of the hottest portrait photographers around. Her candid, anarchic style is making her popular with top brands like Calvin Klein and Puma.
Her portraits are characterized by a high-energy and chaotic atmosphere. It’s as if nothing is planned and everything is done on the fly. The DIY appearance also comes from her mixed media approach, as she sometimes uses film and Polaroid cameras.
Caroline Mackintosh combines fine art and portrait photography, creating fabulous images that promote freedom and openness. And there’s a hint of cultural studies in there too.
Her style is all-natural. The light is natural and everything is shot outdoors. The colors come from the environment and the subjects are in harmony with them. Her work is a celebration of the natural world and our place in it.
That was our list of the best portrait photographers of past, present, and future. Their portraits have excited and enticed us for more than a century. And the rising stars of portrait photography are setting new standards.
This list is packed full of portraits to get you inspired. Check out their work and think about incorporating some of their styles into your own portraits!
Check out our Fairytale Portraits course from Jovana Rikalo—one of the photographers on this list— to get amazing inspiration and instruction for your next portrait!