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Top 10 Most Influential Photographers That You Can Learn From

In the age of smartphones, we generally tend to take photography for granted. But photography has indeed come a long way since the early days of processing film negatives in a darkroom. Over the years, there have been many influential photographers who have helped to shape the art of photography into what we have today.

This is a list of the most influential photographers that I’ve compiled. I’ve learned allot about the art of photography over the years - I also have books from some of these photographers.

The list is in no particular order - and I may need to add more as time goes by. How many of these photographers do you know? Feel free to leave your comments below.

John Rankin Waddell

John Rankin Waddell photography

John Rankin Waddell is a popular British portrait and fashion photographer. If you’ve never heard of him before, then you probably might know him by his studio name - Rankin. He actually left the relatively boring field of accounting to study photography at Barnfield College Luton and then at the London College of Printing.

Over the years, he’s played a key role in launching a number of publications such as “RANK”, “AnOther Magazine” and “HUNGER”. In 2002, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by The Royal Photographic Society. You can check out more of his work at the official Rankin website.

Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon photography

Richard Avedon is remembered as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. For his obituary, the New York Times posted the following: "his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century".

He provided stunning photographs for popular magazines such as “Harper’s Bazar”, “Vogue”, “Life Magazine” and much more. In addition to taking photos for fashion magazines, he also took influential photos of real life news events. The Civil Rights movement, patients in mental hospitals, the Vietnam War and the fall of the Berlin Wall were all caught in his camera.

Richard Avedon held many museum exhibitions around the world. In 1989, he received his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. His work is commemorated on his website: The Avedon Foundation.

Peter Hill Beard

Peter Hill Beard photography

Peter Hill Beard is an American artist, photographer, and writer who lives and works in both New York City and Kenya. Since the 1960s, his photographs of African animals and the African environment have been extensively shown and published in various publications.

Unlike many other photographers, Peter’s work incorporates his own distinctive style. His portraits are a combination of his photography, original artwork and various elements derived from his daily diary-log.

His first art exhibition was held at the Blum Helman Gallery, New York, in 1975. He has since had subsequent art exhibitions in various locations around the world such as Toronto, London, Madrid, Milan, Vienna, Berlin, and Tokyo.

You can see examples of his unique art style at the official Peter Beard website.

William Eugene Smith

William Eugene Smith photography

William Eugene Smith was a renowned photojournalist who acquired a reputation for being heavily devoted to his work - some would say to the point of obsession. According to many, his professional and ethical standards were uncompromising to say the least. This dedication has made him one of the most influential photographers of the early 20th century.

Some of his most notable works were his photo studies of the brutality of World War 2, the pollution crisis which deteriorated the health of the residents of Minamata in Japan, and the clinic of Dr. Schweitzer in French Equatorial Africa.

The legacy of William Eugene Smith continues to live on through the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund to promote "humanistic photography". Over the years, the fund has awarded various photographers for extraordinary accomplishments in the world of photography.

Irving Penn

Irving Penn Photography

Irving Penn was a very popular American photographer known for his fashion photography, still life photos and portraits. He is most noted for his excellent photography work for Vogue magazine. He is considered as one of the most influential photographers in the fashion industry.

Penn pioneered fashion photography by being one of the first photographers to pose his subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop. This is now a staple in the fashion photography industry.

He has held multiple art exhibitions across America, and although he died in 2009, his work is still displayed in exhibitions to this day.

The Irving Penn Foundation commemorates his lifetime of work. You can visit his website for the latest exhibition dates.

Bertram "Bert" Stern

Bertram "Bert" Stern photography

Bertram Stern was an American commercial photographer and filmmaker. He is best known for his work on “The Last Sitting”, a collection of 2,500 photographs of actress Marilyn Monroe taken for Vogue Magazine over a three-day period, six weeks before her death.

Stern's book, The Last Sitting, was first published in 1982 and then republished in 2000.

Over the years he did many other photography projects for celebrities, such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Drew Barrymore and even Lindsay Lohan.

He also co-directed the documentary “Jazz on a Summer's Day” with Aram Avakian. This documentary chronicled the events of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The United States Library of Congress deemed the film as "culturally significant" in 1999. The film is now preserved in the National Film Registry.

The website Bert Stern Madman commemorates his life’s journey in the photography and advertising industry.

Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin photography

Guy Bourdin is remembered as one of the most influential photographers of fashion and advertising of the second half of the 20th century.  He was a French artist and fashion photographer who became famous for his provocative images.

He did multiple photography projects for magazines such as “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazar”. He also did various advertising campaign projects for Charles Jourdan, Bloomingdale's, Pentax and Chanel.

His works can still be see in art exhibitions in Paris and around the world.

Walker Evans

Walker Evans photography

Walker Evans was an American photographer and photojournalist. He was known as the Photographer of The Great Depression. His most famous photographs chronicle the lives of people struggling through that difficult time in American history.

He used a large format, 8x10-inch camera to take these pictures. He said that his goal as a photographer was to make pictures that are "literate, authoritative and transcendent". If a picture says a thousand words, then his pictures can write a novel.

The historical significance of his pictures cannot be overstated. His photographs are now part of the permanent collections of museums and have been the subject of retrospective studies at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and George Eastman House.

Now the above mentioned photographers have influenced my work on a general level. However there are two photographers that I just have to mention - for they have influenced my designs on a more direct level.

Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby photography

Scott Kelby is an American photographer, an author and publisher. Over the years, he’s published multiple periodicals and tutorials dealing with the art of digital photography and Adobe Photoshop software, for design professionals, artists and photographers.

Besides being a professional digital photographer, he’s also been involved in other roles. He is the president and co-founder of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and he’s also the president of Kelby Media Group - an organization for digital photography and software training.

He has published over 60 books relating to digital photography and Photoshop related topics - and his popular books have also been translated into other languages.

You can check out his work on the official Kelby One website.

Terry White

Terry White photography

Terry White is not only one of my current influential photographers, but a really popular name in the Adobe Photoshop and digital photography community. He is the Principal Worldwide Design & Photography Evangelist for Adobe Systems, Inc. and he has been working with Adobe for over 20 years.

His extensive contributions to the world of digital photography and Adobe Photoshop were rewarded with an inductee award in the 2016 Photoshop Hall of Fame.

Besides all of the work that he’s contributing to the digital photography and Photoshop community, he’s also managing two websites - a technology website and a photography website. Feel free to visit his websites to check out his work.

What Influential Photographers Do You Know?

So there’s my list of influential photographers. They’ve all encouraged me in multiple ways to use my digital camera more often. Do you know any of the photographers on this list? What photographers have influenced you? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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