Famous Portrait Photographers

Famous Portrait Photographers – Framing Personalities

Portraiture has become one of the most famous genres of photography practiced everywhere and anywhere, by the young and old! The 21st-century version of the self-portrait or “selfie” is one such example of portraiture that you may love, but looking at the history of portraiture in its entirety is also just as beneficial and may spark your interest in the art of photographing another (or yourself!). In this article, we will explore the top 15 most famous portrait artists of the past and present.



The Art of Portrait Photography

The art of portrait photography has been a practice adopted and loved by many curious individuals who have grown inseparable from the camera. Portrait photography is used in different photography genres and includes the genres of fashion photography, wedding photography, conceptual photography, photojournalism, and editorial photography. Portrait photography is typically aimed at capturing the image of a person using different lighting techniques, sitter poses, or backdrops.

Traditionally, portraits are commissioned for different purposes and these include commemorative portraits or portraits used for artistic purposes.

Since the invention of the daguerreotype in the 19th century, the sitting period for portrait production had been significantly reduced and with the help of technology and further experimentation, photography has become the easiest and fastest medium to practice portraiture.

Famous Female Photographers

The most famous portrait photography practitioners also employ a variety of lighting techniques to produce imaginative and captivating portraits. These include common setups such as three-point lighting, fill lighting, key lighting, backlighting, butterfly lighting, high-key, and low-key lighting. Among the most common portraiture styles of lighting include window light portraiture where artists would use natural window light to help with the lighting. All famous portrait photographers are also well-versed in the popular style of headshot photography, which is often used in the entertainment industry.



The Top 15 Most Famous Portrait Photographers

Each artist has their own unique approach to photography and can specialize in different genres of photography that make their practice even more desirable to prospective clients. Below, we will introduce you to the top 15 most famous portrait artists from the past and Contemporary periods.


Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)

Name Julia Margaret Cameron
Date of Birth 11 June 1815
Date of Death 26 January 1879
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesVictorian portraiture, Christianity, religious art, allegory, mythology, and illustrative photography
Famous Artworks●      Queen Esther before King Ahasuerus (1865)
●      Alice Liddell (1872)
●      Maud “There has Fallen a splendid Tear From the Passion Flower at the Gate” (1875)

Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the first photography pioneers and portrait artists of the 19th century who not only invented her own style of portrait photography, but also received much criticism for it as a female artist. Many of her portraits include a unique approach to her visual language that prioritized a soft focus yet remained quite natural. Many of her sitters were from upper-class Victorian society and included figures such as Sir John Herschell and Charles Darwin.

Examples of Feminist PhotographersMaud “There has Fallen a splendid Tear From the Passion Flower at the Gate”, 1875; Julia Margaret Cameron, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

She is considered a pivotal figure of early photography whose portraits were embedded with her interests in biblical subject matter, allegory, and history. Cameron’s narrative approach to photography was also complimented with a dream-like aesthetic accompanied by her dramatic use of lighting for added symbolism. Additionally, Cameron was also inspired by her interest in sculpture and painting, as well as the paintings of Renaissance masters as seen in a few of her portraits that express dynamic figurations.


Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)

Name Edward Sherriff Curtis
Date of Birth 19 February 1868
Date of Death 19 October 1952
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesAmerican West, and Native American cultures
Famous Artworks●      Princess Angeline (1896)
●      U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1904)
●      Crow’s Heart, Mandan (1908)
●      Cheyenne Maiden (1930)

Edward Sheriff Curtis was one of the most popular American photographers of the 19th century who was best known for his portraiture of Native American people and images of indigenous culture and the American west. Curtis took up photography during an apprenticeship in Minnesota in 1885 at the age of 17 and later partnered with Rasmus Rothi while working at a photo studio for about six months. One of Curtis’ most famous images was a photograph of princess Angeline, who was the daughter of Chief Sealth. In the early 20th century, Curtis was funded by J. P. Morgan to create a series documenting Native American culture.

Types of Portrait ArtistsPrincess Angeline (Duwamish) in an 1896 photogravure by Curtis; Edward S. Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The commission was incredibly specific and included over 1,500 photographs spread across 20 volumes. Curtis was also remembered in an American anthropologist journal which identified many of Curtis’ works with a broad expression of a “societal infatuation with primitivism”. This highlighted an important aspect of ethnography, which points out the problematic idea of photographing Native American cultures in order to profit from it. Many of his images are also considered somewhat controversial due to his presentation of Native Americans as “vanishing Indians”.


Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)

Name Dorothea Lange
Date of Birth 26 May 1895
Date of Death 11 October 1965
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, Documentary photography, portraiture, the Great Depression, and social change
Famous Artworks●      White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco (1933)
●      Policeman on Street, San Francisco (1934)
●      Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother) (1936)
●      Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma (1936)
●      Six Lettuce Pickers (1965)

Famous portrait photography artist Dorothea Lange was one of the best portrait photographers of the 20th century and was most famous for her photograph White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco, which was shot in 1933. Lange was also one of the most famous photographers of the Great Depression during the 1930s, which left many American citizens homeless and vulnerable. Lange’s contribution to photography was admired by all for her ability to capture moments of society during some of the most trying times in America. Among Lange’s most notable works includes a photograph called Migrant Mother, which was published in 1936 and portrays a mother, Florence Owens Thompson, with her children, which also stirred some controversy decades later regarding the lack of publicity that was given to the sitter.

Female PhotographersLange’s iconic 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother; Dorothea Lange, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The photograph also resulted in Lange winning one of the most prestigious fellowships of the time, the Guggenheim fellowship, for her achievements in photography. In the 1950s, Lange co-founded the famous photography magazine Aperture and by 1984 she became a member of the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum. Today, many of her books can be found in collections across the world, including the Oakland Museum of California, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


George Hurrell (1904 – 1992)

Name George Edward Hurrell
Date of Birth 1 June 1904
Date of Death 17 May 1992
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesHollywood Glamour Photography, Modern art, portraiture, and celebrity portraiture
Famous Artworks●      Ramon Navarro (c. 1930)
●      Jean Harlow (c. 1930)
●      Portfolio III (c. 1930 – 1940)
●      Gary Cooper (1937)
●      Arnold Schwarzenegger (1977)

George Hurrell was one of the most famous 1930s Hollywood glamor photographers in America. Hurrell’s career in Hollywood began in the 1920s when he partnered up with the actor Ramon Navarro on a series of portraits and photographs. The resulting images impressed Navarro so much that Hurrells’s work was also shared with the actress Norma Shearer. By word of mouth in Hollywood and MGM studios, Hurrell began his career in entertainment photography and collaborated with many celebrities, including Anna May Wong, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Greta Garbo.

Portrait PhotographerOlivia de Havilland by George Hurrell 1938; George Hurrell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After his period in Hollywood Harrell moved on to producing training films for the United States Army Air Force on the First Motion Picture Unit. He later returned to Hollywood in the mid-20th century to produce idealized images of celebrities. His return to Hollywood, however, was not entirely successful due to the old Hollywood glamor style receding out of fashion. He then moved to New York where he practiced his glamor photography in the advertising industry. Towards the end of the 20th century, Hurrell began photographing work for various musicians and worked on multiple album covers, including projects for Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and Paul McCartney.


Philippe Halsman (1906 – 1979)

Name Philippe Halsman
Date of Birth 2 May 1906
Date of Death 25 June 1979
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesSurrealism, Modern art, and portraiture
Famous Artworks●      Salvador Dalí (1953)
●      Ava Gardner (1954)
●      Marilyn Monroe (1959)
●      Angelica Huston (1968)
●      Woody Allen (1969)

Philippe Halsman was one of the most famous portrait photographers of the 20th century, who was best known for his collaboration with Salvador Dalí. According to Halsman, his passion for photography began when he was 15 years old after he discovered an old view camera in his family home. As a child, Halsman spent his time traveling Europe with his family, which was one of the most influential periods that influenced his interest in photography and portraiture.

Examples of the Most Iconic PhotoDalí Atomicus (1948) by Philippe Halsman; Philippe Halsman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Halsman also collaborated with many fashion magazines, including Vogue and Life magazines. One of his best collaboration projects was his collaboration with Salvador Dali, where he invented the “jumpology” method to capture his models mid-air. Halsman also shot portraits for other high-profile figures, including Winston Churchill and Marylyn Monroe.


Yousuf Karsh (1908 – 2002)

NameYousuf Karsh
Date of Birth23 December 1908
Date of Death13 July 2002
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art and portraiture photography
Famous Artworks●      The Roaring Lion (1941)
●      Jawaharlal Nehru (1950)
●      Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1957)
●      John Glenn (1968)
●      Muhammad Ali (1970)

Yousuf Karsh was one of the most famous portrait photographers, who was best known for his portraits of politicians, celebrities, and other famous figures. One of Karsh’s most famous images was a portrait of Winston Churchill, which was shot in 1941 called The Roaring Lion. The Armenian Canadian photographer is also one of the most influential photographers, with his works acquired by many art institutions across the world.

Different Portrait ArtistsKarsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill, titled The Roaring Lion, 30 December 1941; Yousuf Karsh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

His approach to photography was characterized by dramatic lighting and his expert attention to detail backed up by hours of preparation for a single image. Karsh remains one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century, who also photographed portraits of prominent historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Audrey Hepburn.


Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004)

Name Helmut Newton
Date of Birth 31 October 1920
Date of Death 23 January 2004
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, fashion photography, portraiture, and entertainment
Famous Artworks●      Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue France, Rue Aubriot, Paris (1975)
●      Upstairs at Maxim’s (1978)
●      Sie Kommen (1981)
●      Pool at Suburban House, Melbourne (2004)

Famous portrait photography artist Helmut Newton was one of the most famous German-Australian photographers of the Modern era, who was also associated with some of the most controversial photographs taken of celebrities in provocative and edgy styles. Some of Newton’s most well-known themes explore sexuality, power, voyeurism, and surrealist art styles.

Famous Portrait PhotographyPortrait of Laurel Martyn, 1952; Helmut Newton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The award-winning photographer was also a specialist in fashion photography with a focus on the relationships between the human figure, societal standards of beauty, and femininity. Newton’s images have been published in many famous publications, including Playboy, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar.


Diane Arbus (1923 – 1971)

Name Diane Arbus
Date of Birth 14 March 1923
Date of Death 26 July 1971
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, portraiture, family portraits, identity, New York culture, and representation
MediumsPhotography, painting, and drawing
Famous Artworks●      A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC (1966)
●      Identical twins, Roselle, NJ (1967)
●      Boy With a Straw Hat Waiting to March in a Pro-War Parade, NYC (1967)
●      Untitled (6) (1970 – 1971)

One cannot discuss portrait photographers without mentioning one of the most impactful photographers of the modern era, Diane Arbus, whose portraiture, and representation of New York culture stand as one of the best accounts of the 1950s to date. After her studies with Elizabeth Modell, Arbus began her journey into documentary photography and by the mid-20th century, she had already established herself as one of the leading professionals in modern portraiture.

Arbus’ photography style was one of the most influential styles since she adopted a square format and large format view in her process while producing high-resolution images that provided psychological insight into her sitters and revealed an exploration of identity. While many might describe Arbus’ style as somewhat unsettling or unconventional, the manner in which she captured her sitters can be admired for her talent to convey the complexity of displaying vulnerability. Her work also encourages viewers to explore their own prejudices and stereotypes towards marginalized members of society.


Richard Avedon (1923 – 2004)

Name Richard Avedon
Date of Birth 15 May 1923
Date of Death 1 October 2004
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, fashion photography, portraiture, theater, and entertainment
Famous Artworks●      Suzy Parker, Evening Dress by Dior, Paris Studio (1956)
●      Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas (1960)
●      Francis Bacon, Artist, Paris, 4/11/79 (1979)
●      Boyd Fortin, Thirteen-Year-Old Rattlesnake Skinner, Sweetwater, TX (1979)

Perhaps one of the best portrait photographers of the 20th century – Richard Avedon was incredibly influential for his black-and-white portraits of models, celebrities, and other cultural figures. Avedon’s minimalistic approach also explored societal notions of femininity and beauty through fashion, photography, and photographic styles that employ dramatic lighting.

Avedon’s high-contrast black-and-white photography also historicized popular celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Martin Luther King Jr. through his impactful approach to contrast and value. Avedon was praised for his ability to capture his sitters’ personalities quite accurately in a way that memorialized their image as witnessed by the public.


Annie Leibovitz (1949 – Present)

Name Anna-Lou Leibovitz
Date of Birth 2 October 1949
Date of Death Present
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, Contemporary art, portraiture, and celebrity portraiture
MediumsPhotography and painting
Famous Artworks●      Lauren Hutton, Oxford, Mississippi (1981)
●      Sam Shepard, Santa Fe, New Mexico (1984)
●      Barry Humphries (c. 1991)
●      Sharon Stone, Anjelica Huston, and Diane Lane, Los Angeles (2006)
●      Annie Leibovitz, SUMO (2014)
●      Mick Jagger, Ed 8 + 2 AP (2019)

Annie Leibovitz is one of the most popular contemporary American photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Leibovitz started her photography career in the 1970s for Rolling Stone magazine and was employed as a staff photographer. It was here that her photography gained recognition and she developed her own style defined by a bold use of saturated colors and carefully curated compositions.

Female PhotographyLeibovitz in front of her More Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover photo, 2008; Marc Silber of www.silberstudios.com Carmel, CA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Annie Leibovitz is one of the best portrait photographers of the decade and has also received many awards for her contributions to photography. Among the many notable figures who Leibovitz has photographed, including Barack Obama, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Queen Elizabeth II.


Steve McCurry (1950 – Present)

Name Steve McCurry
Date of Birth 23 April 1950
Date of Death Present
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, portraiture, and photojournalism
Famous Artworks●      Afghan Girl (Portrait of Sharbat Gula) (1984)
●      Monsoon (1984)
●      Camels under a Blackened Sky (1991)
●      1991 World Press Photo Children’s Award-winning Photo (1991)

International portrait photographer Steve McCurry is one of the most well-known American portrait photographers of the 21st century. The award-winning photographer has also published around seven books and has received many awards, including a photographer of the year award granted by the National Press Photographers Association’s magazine and the Robert Capa gold medal. McCurry’s venture into photography began in the 1970s as a photojournalist documenting the beauty of different cultures from around the world.

Among his many destinations, McCurry was inspired by individuals from Africa, India, and Afghanistan. His most famous photograph, shot in 1984, was Afghan Girl, which illustrates a portrait of Sharbat Gula. This image quickly became the most widely produced image taken by McCurry as well as a symbol of beauty during trying times, especially in the Afghanistan war. McCurry was praised for his ability to capture such an unforgettable image, as highlighted by Gula’s striking green eyes.


Pete Souza (1954 – Present)

Name Peter Joseph Souza
Date of Birth 31 December 1954
Date of Death Present
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesPortraiture and Contemporary art
Famous Artworks●      Second-term official portrait of Ronald Reagan (1985)
●      First-term Official Portrait of Barack Obama (2009)
●      Hair Like Mine (2009)
●      The Situation Room (2011)

Contemporary photographer Pete Souza is a documentary photographer and photojournalist who produces some of the most compelling images following some of the world’s most defining historical events. Souza is most famous for his photographic career at the White House under President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2017.

Portrait ArtistsPete Souza (1954 – Present); Michael Evans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The globally-renowned artist also served as the official photographer for President Ronald Reagan and captured many defining moments in world history, including the fall of the Berlin wall and the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Souza is lauded for his ability to document, not only the physical value of the subjects in his images but also an emotional appeal and intimacy in his sitters that is not often seen in documentary photography.


Jimmy Nelson (1967 – Present)

NameJames Philip Nelson
Date of Birth1967
Date of DeathPresent
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, portraiture, and indigenous culture
Famous Artworks●      XV 80F Goroka, Eastern Highlands Papua New Guinea – Goroka, Papua New Guinea (2010)
●      XV 73 Menaja Koke Ponowi Village, Jalibu Mountains, Western Highlands Papua New Guinea – Goroka, Papua New Guinea (2010)
●      XIII 479 Raisa, Brigade 2, Nenet, Yamal Peninsula, Ural Mountains Russia – Nenets, Russia (2011)
●      Rauwhiri Winitana Paki, Taupo Village, North Island New Zealand (2011)
●      XXVIII 9 Wodaabe, Gerewol, Chad (2016)

British portraiture artist Jimmy Nelson is one of the most famous British photographers of the 20th century whose works focus on documenting the indigenous cultures of the world. One of his most famous series called Before they Pass Away, was created as a celebration of indigenous cultures who are threatened by the effects of globalization. The award-winning portrait photographer began his career in the fashion industry and after shifting to documentary photography, his practice in portraiture began to take shape.

While Nelson’s photography is praised, it is also a hot topic of criticism regarding the apparent Western commercialization of images of indigenous communities. Nelson has also been criticized for glorifying the Western gaze of indigenous culture through exoticism and perpetuating a cycle of “Western cultural imperialism” to benefit from his art. While his portraits bring representation to these indigenous cultures, it is useful to unpack and critique the ethics of documentary photography, especially when it comes to the representation of indigenous cultures, and the artists who represent them.


Kelly-Ann Bobb (1985 – Present)

Name Kelly-Ann Bobb
Date of Birth 1985
Date of Death Present
NationalityTrinidadian and Tobagonian
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, portraiture, analog photography, documentary, landscape, still-life, editorial photography, and fashion photography
MediumPhotography and film
Famous Artworks●      Musings of Boscoe (n.d.)
●      Bahia: Mark Eastman (n.d.)
●      TheCloth (n.d.)

Kelly-Ann Bobb is one of the most famous freelance analog photographers of the Contemporary era whose works have been published in many prominent journals, including the British Journal of Photography and Forgotten Lands. Bobb uses her photography practice to explore creative expression and reveal parts of herself through her relationship with her sitters.

Bobb’s journey into portraiture photography began after she graduated from medical school and decided to utilize photography as a method of unmasking narratives that are often untold.

One of her artistic intentions involves validating the existence of her sitters as not merely subjects of an image, but as individuals with unique experiences and characters to offer. Bobb is currently based in Trinidad and Tobago and has exhibited in many international museums, including the Verzasca and SECCA museums.


Sasha Aruntyunova (n.d. – Present)

Name Sasha Aruntyunova
Date of Birth n.d.
Date of Death Present
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, and portraiture
MediumPhotography and film
Famous Artworks●      Rise and Shine (2017)

Sasha Aruntyunova is one of the world’s leading portrait photographers of the 21st century who explores themes such as memory, cultural identity, and heritage through the mediums of filmmaking, documentary photography, and portraiture. Aruntyunova’s works have been published in many prestigious publications, including the New York Times, Time magazine, and The New Yorker. Her works have been celebrated and appreciated for their exploration of emotion and for highlighting the complexity of the human experience.


There are many reasons why portraiture photography will remain one of the most important mediums for artistic expression. Not only can an artist create art, but they can also draw attention to other ways of presenting and creating visually appealing images. Portraiture photography also deepens connections and builds meaningful relationships between individuals and the way that they are perceived in society. It can therefore be said that portraiture photography is one of the most powerful tools that an artist can use to preserve and explore the human experience, while creating brilliant works of art that stand the test of time. We hope that you have enjoyed browsing through the best portrait photographers whose works you can be sure to learn from.



Take a look at our portrait photographers webstory here!



Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Significance of Portraiture Photography?

There are many reasons why portraiture photography is significant. These include the ability to document and capture the stories of communities or individuals that are often unheard of. Portraiture photography can also be used to celebrate the beauty of human diversity and culture. The practice of portraiture photography is also important to establish connections between the photographer, the viewer, and the sitter. Lastly, portraiture photography is an important tool to explore artistic expression through the use of photography techniques that include composition curation, and lighting to develop powerful images.


Who Are the Most Famous Contemporary Portraiture Photographers?

Some of the most famous contemporary portraiture photographers include artists such as Annie Leibovitz, Cindy Sherman, Platon, Tyler Mitchell, and Martin Schoeller, among many others who have made significant contributions to the field of portraiture photography.


What Are the Different Styles of Portraiture Photography?

There are many different styles of portrait photography, including environmental portraiture, traditional portraiture, lifestyle portraiture, candid portraiture, documentary portraiture, and fine art portraiture.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, “Famous Portrait Photographers – Framing Personalities.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. October 25, 2023. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-portrait-photographers/

Anthony, J. (2023, 25 October). Famous Portrait Photographers – Framing Personalities. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-portrait-photographers/

Anthony, Jordan. “Famous Portrait Photographers – Framing Personalities.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, October 25, 2023. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-portrait-photographers/.

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