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Famous American Photographers

Brief famous photographer biographies of 10 American snappers worth knowing about!


There are lots of famous American photographers whose collective work has captured significant events, beautiful landscapes and diverse peoples from across the United States and the world.

The US really has been a big home of photography and has produced many of the greatest photographers. So I want to introduce you to a small selection of my personal favourite American photographers, covering 5 key genres.

Ansel Adams

Galen Rowell
Annie Leibovitz
Richard Avedon Irving
Steve McCurry Joe Rosenthal Mathew Brady Dorothea Lange Margaret Bourke-White

I've given a very brief description of each of them and linked to collections of their work as well as, in some cases, longer bios in the famous photographer biographies section of Photography Art Cafe.

So, I have divided these famous American photographers into 5 sections: landscape/fashion/portrait/war/documentary.


Famous Landscape Photographers


Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)

Everyone is familiar with the beautiful black and white landscape photography of Ansel Adams. He is definitely one of the most famous American photographers.

He was actually destined for a career as a pianist at first, but his passionate conservationism and love of the photographic process eventually proved an irresistible pull.

Most of Adams' images were taken in the Californian wilderness, in particular the Yosemite National Park. He is famous for developing the 'zone system', which is a method for providing black and white photos with a full range of contrasting tones.

Ansel Adams Photo Gallery

Longer Ansel Adams Biography

ansel adams

Ansel Adams, 400 Photographs 

This book includes 400 stunning Ansel Adams shots. I definitely recommend it if you're a lover of landscape photography or black and white photography.


Galen Rowell (1940 - 2002)

Like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell was excited by mountainous landscapes and nature on a big scale. He was well known within the climbing community, and beyond, as having a unique ability to capture the thrill and sense of awe of being on a mountain.

He worked in colour and many of his photos use striking dawn, or evening, light to emphasise the intensity of natural colours in mountainous landscapes. Rowell was tragically killed in a plane crash at just 62.

Galen Rowell Photo Gallery


Famous Fashion Photographers


Annie Leibovitz (1949 - )

Annie Leibovitz is one of my favourite modern photographers. She has produced some of the most striking and well known portraits and fashion images. I love the way she fine tunes the lighting in her shots to conjure a precise mood. She also uses really bold compositions to make strong statements about her subjects.

Leibovitz has produced many iconic modern photos. One of the most recognisable is the picture of John Lenon clinging naked, almost like a child, to an outstretched and fully clothed Yoko Ono.

Annie Leibovitz Photo Gallery


Richard Avedon (1923 - 2004)

Richard Avedon was a real pioneer in fashion photography. He produced a large body of work that reflected and impacted popular culture throughout the 20th century. He's definitely one of the most famous American photographers of all time.

His fashion photographs departed from the convention of presenting models as serene and characterless. Instead he chose to bring the models in his images to life, both physically and emotionally. One of my favourite Richard Avedon photos is of Marilyn Monroe, dressed glamorously but with a distracted, confused expression.

Richard Avedon Photo Gallery

richard avedon

Avedon Fashion: 1944 - 2000 

Avedon's iconic work spanning 6 decades is fantastically compiled in this book. Every image is an absolute winner, so I thoroughly recommend it!


Famous Portrait Photographers


Irving Penn (1917 - 2009)

Irving Penn is one of my favourite portrait photographers. He pretty much photographed anyone who was anyone during the 20th century!

He was a real perfectionist in every area. If you get the chance to visit an exhibition of his work you'll see just how sharp and impressive the prints are. Penn applied a special coating to his photographs to give them a really gorgeous finish.

He put together his portraits very carefully, posing the subjects in rigid, classical compositions. But this order and neatness did not disguise personality or emotion. In fact, Penn was often able to capture strikingly unguarded and natural expressions in some very famous sitters.

Irving Penn Photo Gallery

Longer Irving Penn biography


Steve McCurry (1950 - )

Like most of the famous American photographers on this list, McCurry does not belong squarely and solely in the category in which I have placed him. He is a leading portrait, documentary and war photographer.

McCurry's work is quite simply breathtaking! He has spent most of his career in the countries of South East Asia, in particular Afghanistan. If you appreciate the aesthetic richness of photography at its best, you will love McCurry's work.

His unmatched use of colour and sensitivity to the world around him leads to images that combine graphic beauty and emotional power. One of his most famous portraits, "The Afghan Girl", appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, and is possibly the most compelling and iconic image of the modern world.

Steve McCurry Photo Gallery

Longer Steve McCurry Biography

The Unguarded Moment, by Steve McCurry

This is the most colourful, compelling and inspiring photography book I own! I cannot suggest it to you strongly enough.


Famous War Photographers


Joe Rosenthal (1911 - 2006)

Joe Rosenthal is one of the most famous American photographersthanks to his photo, taken in 1945, that captured a symbolic moment of the US military’s Second World War campaign in the Pacific.

Rosenthal was present as a group of troops were raising their flag on Mt Suribachi, having just captured the island of Iwo Jima. The image he took was described by the judges who later awarded it a Pulitzer Prize as "a frozen flash of history"

"Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" has become a major cultural emblem in the United States. It has come to represent not just military achievement, but all collaborative endeavour and success.

After the war Rosenthal became chief photographer of Times World Photos.

Joe Rosenthal Photo Gallery

Longer Joe Rosenthal Biography


Mathew Brady (1822 - 1896)

Mathew Brady is my favourite of several famous American photographers from the American Civil War. His photos bring to life the people, places and events of that period, including Abraham Lincoln himself.

Although photographic equipment at the time made it impossible to freeze fast moving subjects, Brady made a point of getting close in to the action. He recorded scenes from the battlefields and was even nearly captured himself at the First Battle of Bull Run.

Some of Brady's documentation of the war featured disturbing images of corpses. These were presented to the American public in New York and provided a shocking awakening to the realities of war.

Mathew Brady Photo Gallery


Famous Documentary Photographers


Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965)

Dorothea Lange is one of the most famous American photographers to have recorded the Great Depression in California during the 1930's. She photographed many of the worst effected people, such as exploited migrant workers, with keen observation and compassion.

One image, titled "Migrant Mother" is especially well known. It features a woman living in very tough conditions, caught in a moment of reflection as her children drape themselves either side of her. It's one of the most well known photos ever taken and has become a universal symbol of motherhood.

Dorothea Lange Photo Gallery

Longer Dorothea Lange Biography


Margaret Bourke White (1904 - 1971)

Margaret Bourke-White was a true adventurer! She was prepared to overcome just about any obstacle to get the photos she wanted.

Bourke-White's early career focused on industrial and architectural subjects. She captured the grand scale of man made structures throughout the U.S, and then became the first Western photographer permitted to record Soviet industry.

When WWII broke out, Bourke-White became the first ever female war correspondent. She was never far from the action and had a number of close scrapes, earning her the nickname "Maggie the indestructible".

During Partition in India she took a photo of Gandhi sitting reading in front of his spinning wheel that became a famous symbol of his non-violent message.

Margaret Bourke White Photo Gallery

Longer Margaret Bourke White Biography


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The above are just my personal favourite American photographers - but no doubt many other people's too!

The US continues to be a place where photography thrives. Photography schools and famous museums/galleries like MoMA have done a lot to develop this great tradition.

So, needless to say, there are loads more famous American photographers - including famous landscape photographers, famous fashion photographers and so on - whose amazing pictures are out there waiting to be discovered!


Have Your Say and Share Your Photos

Which famous American photographers do you like the most? Talk about them and tell us why their images grab you.

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