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Iconic Portrait Photographers

Portrait photography, or portraiture, is probably the most popular and one of the oldest forms of photography. Portraits are often about capturing the personality of the subject, using effective lighting, backdrops, and a variety of different candid and staged poses.

But more and more photographers take their portraits around the world without the help of a studio environment. Portrait photography, in this case, seems even more honest and candid, compared to staged pictures, as some of these people might be photographed for the first time in their life.

All About Photo has compiled the most interesting examples of such photography. Below is our list of famous portrait photographers who have been able to unveil the raw beauty of our fellow humans. In this list, you’ll find a mixture of famous portrait photographers from past and present to get you inspired.

Richard Avedon

© Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980. Courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon (1923 - 2004) was an American fashion and portrait photographer. From the beginning of his career, he made formal portraits for publication in Theatre Arts, Life, Look, and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, among many others. He was fascinated by photography’s capacity for suggesting the personality and evoking the life of his subjects. He registered poses, attitudes, hairstyles, clothing and accessories as vital, revelatory elements of an image. He had complete confidence in the two-dimensional nature of photography, the rules of which he bent to his stylistic and narrative purposes.
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Yousuf Karsh

Claude Castonguay. Library and Archives Canada, e010683552_s1 / Claude Castonguay. Bibliothèque et Archives e010683552_s1

Yousuf Karsh is the most renowned portrait photographer of our time. He has perceptively photographed the statesmen, artists, and literary and scientific figures that have shaped our lives in the 20th century. Known for his ability to transform ''the human face into legend,'' many of the portraits that he created have become virtually the image of the great man or woman they portray, whether Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Georgia O'Keefe or Helen Keller.
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Annie Leibovitz

© Robert Scoble from Half Moon Bay, USA - Annie Leibovitz at her SF exhibition

Annie Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer best known for her engaging portraits, particularly of celebrities, which often feature subjects in intimate settings and poses. Leibovitz's Polaroid photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken five hours before Lennon's murder, is considered one of Rolling Stone magazine's most famous cover photographs. The Library of Congress declared her a Living Legend, and she is the first woman to have a feature exhibition at Washington's National Portrait Gallery.
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Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron, 1870

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 - 1879) was a British photographer. She became known for her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for photographs with Arthurian and other legendary themes. Cameron had left no mark on the aesthetic history of photography because her work was not appreciated by her contemporaries and thus not imitated. But this situation was evidently already changing by then thanks to his popularisation of her work, for instance in 1975, Imogen Cunningham had commented ''I'd like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don't think there's anyone better.''
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August Sander

August Sander, 16 January 1940

August Sander was a German portrait and documentary photographer. As a practitioner of New Objectivity, an avant-garde art movement that sought to depart from abstraction and artifice and return to realism, Sander wanted his photographs to expose truths. ''Pure photography allows us to create portraits which render their subjects with absolute truth,'' he said. ''If we can create portraits of subjects that are true, we thereby in effect create a mirror of the times.'' Though his desire was to ''honestly tell the truth about our age and people,'' Sander’s depiction of German people is unavoidably subjective.
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Nadav Kander

David Lynch - Courtesy Trunk Archives / © Nadav Kander

Nadav Kander is a London-based photographer, artist, and director. His work forms part of the public collection at the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Kander's work is also exhibited in numerous international galleries and museums. Renowned for his portraiture, he has, throughout his illustrious career photographed some of the most prominent figures from across art, sport and politics, most famously Barack Obama, who he captured, after his inauguration, for the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Whoever his sitter may be and what stature they may hold, Kander’s aims in portraiture remain the same—to demonstrate the humanity within, rather than making a simple documentation: ''Revealed and concealed, beauty and destruction, ease and disease, shame and shameless.'' as the photographer puts it.
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Paul Strand

Paul Strand by Alfred Stieglitz, 1917

Paul Strand (1890 - 1976) was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century. Although Strand is best known for his early abstractions, his return to still photography in this later period produced some of his most significant work in the form of six book 'portraits' of place.
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Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus, 1949

Diane Arbus (1923 - 1971) was an American photographer and writer noted for black-and-white square photographs of ''deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.'' Arbus believed that a camera could be ''a little bit cold, a little bit harsh but its scrutiny revealed the truth; the difference between what people wanted others to see and what they really did see – the flaws.''
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Martin Schoeller

Martin Schoeller at one of his ''Face'' exhibitions in New York.

Martin Schoeller is one of the world's preeminent contemporary portrait photographers. He is most known for his extreme-close up portraits, a series in which familiar faces are treated with the same scrutiny as the unfamous. The stylistic consistency of this work creates a democratic platform for comparison between his subjects, challenging a viewer's existing notions of celebrity, value and honesty. Schoeller's close-up portraits emphasize, in equal measure, facial features, of his subjects - world leaders and indigenous groups, movie stars and the homeless, athletes and artists - leveling them in an inherently democratic fashion.
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Philippe Halsman

© Philippe Halsman, Self-Portrait

Philippe Halsman was born in Riga, Latvia and began his photographic career in Paris. In 1934 he opened a portrait studio in Montparnasse, where he photographed many well-known artists and writers — including André Gide, Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier, and André Malraux, using an innovative twin-lens reflex camera that he designed himself. Over the course of his career, Halsman enjoyed comparing his work to that of a good psychologist who regards his subjects with special insight. With his courtly manners and European accent, Halsman also fit the popular stereotype at a time when Americans regarded psychology with fascinated skepticism. In fact, Halsman was proud of his ability to reveal the character of his sitters. As he explained, ''It can't be done by pushing the person into position or arranging his head at a certain angle. It must be accomplished by provoking the victim, amusing him with jokes, lulling him with silence, or asking impertinent questions which his best friend would be afraid to voice.''
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Gordon Parks

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 1963 - NARA - 542074

Gordon Parks, one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, was a humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice. He left behind an exceptional body of work that documents American life and culture from the early 1940s into the 2000s, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life. His extraordinary pictures allowed him to break the color line in professional photography while he created remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination.
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Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, sitting atop a Ford Model 40 in California. In her lap is a Graflex 4×5 Series D camera, Library of Congress

Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange had little interest in classifying her photographs as art: she made them to effect social change. Although she had led a successful career as a portrait photographer in San Francisco throughout the 1920s, by 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, she began to photograph life outside her studio. Lange's photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.
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Edward S. Curtis

Self-portrait, c. 1889

Born in 1868 near Whitewater, Wisconsin, Edward Sheriff Curtis became one of America's finest photographers and ethnologists. By age 17, he was an apprentice at a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his life seemed to be taking a familiar course for a young man with a marketable trade, until the Curtis family packed up and moved west, eventually settling in Seattle. There, Curtis married 18-year-old Clara Phillips, purchased his own camera and a share in a local photography studio. The young family lived above the thriving Curtis Studio, which attracted society ladies who wanted their portraits taken by the handsome, athletic young man who made them look both glamorous and sophisticated. And it was in Seattle in 1895 where Curtis did his first portrait of a Native American. These portraits represent ideals and imagery designed to create a timeless vision of Native American culture at a time when modern amenities and American expansion had already irrevocably altered the Indian way of life.
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Herman Leonard

Portrait of Herman Leonard by his dear friend © Douglas Kirkland

Herman Leonard took intimate, decisive photographs of nearly every now-legendary jazz singer and musician, amassing a visual record of the genre’s heyday in New York and Paris from the 1940s to the ’60s. Throughout his long life, he traveled and lived around the world, capturing images with his distinctive style. Whether he was photographing Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong or a street musician in his home in New Orleans, Herman's smile, warmth and engaging personality continued to open doors for him and his camera.
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Lee Jeffries

Lee Jeffries © Photo Festival Photographique de Moncoutant

Lee Jeffries lives in Manchester in the United Kingdom. Close to the professional football circle, this artist starts to photograph sporting events. A chance meeting with a young homeless girl in the streets of London changes his artistic approach forever. Since that day Lee has been on a mission to raise awareness of – and funds for – the homeless. His work features street people from the UK, Europe, and the US whom he gets to know by living rough with them, the relationship between them enabling him to capture a searing intimacy and authenticity in his portraits.
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Cyndy Sherman

Cyndy Sherman,2016

Cyndy Sherman is an American artist whose work consists primarily of photographic self-portraits, depicting herself in many different contexts and as various imagined characters. Her breakthrough work is often considered to be the collected ''Untitled Film Stills'', a series of 70 black-and-white photographs of herself evoking typical women roles in performance media (especially arthouse films and popular B-movies). In the 1980s, she used color film and large prints, and focused more on costume, lighting and facial expression.
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John Rankin

© John Rankin

Synonymous with compelling portraiture, Rankin's lens captures, creates and unveils icons. Rankin has launched and published widely influential magazines like Dazed & Confused, Rank and AnOther Magazine. For seven weeks in 2009 with his Rankin Live project he photographed people straight off the street, completing one shoot every 15 minutes, with the portraits printed and hung within 30 minutes. He photographed over 1,000 people for the project, with each subject getting a print of their portrait to take away.
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Stéphan Gladieu

Stéphan Gladieu

Stéphan Gladieu main focus is on his personal and artistic work through series of portraits in which DNA is colour and the play of contrast between subject and background in natural settings. Stéphan Gladieu plays on the iconic character of the frontal image and on the frontier between the real and the unreal. His portraiture has included covering the Saudi Princes, Princesses in Nepal, actors & directors behind the scenes at Cannes Film Festival, politicians, intellectuals, but also everyday people the world over.
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Manfred Baumann

Manfred Baumann

Manfred Baumann was born in Vienna in 1968. The Leica photographer has since presented his works worldwide in the form of exhibitions, books, and calendars. His photographs are displayed in museums as well as in international galleries. Over the past years, Baumann has taken his place among the most influential photographers of our time.
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Stephan Vanfleteren

Stephan Vanfleteren

Stephan Vanfleteren is a Belgian photographer, best known for his portraits in black and white and his depictions of Belgium and abroad. Vanfleteren's portraits have been his best-known and most recognizable work. Always in black and white, he has photographed many people from the art world but also many who are unknown.
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Platon (born Platon Antoniou, born 20 April 1968) is a British portrait and documentary photographer. Platon has photographed many well known leaders. Bill Clinton was the first president that he worked with and photographed. Other photographs of well known leaders include Donald Trump, Muammar al Qaddafi, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Muhammad Ali. His photograph of Vladimir Putin was on the cover of Time in 2007.
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Nadar, Self-Portrait, 1860. Archives Charmet, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820 - 1910), known by the pseudonym Nadar, was a French photographer, caricaturist, journalist, novelist, balloonist, and proponent of heavier-than-air flight. In 1858, he became the first person to take aerial photographs. Photographic portraits by Nadar are held by many of the great national collections of photographs. His son, Paul Nadar (1856–1939), continued the studio after his death.
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Inspiring Portfolios