Over the past several decades, the world’s most famous fashion photographers have paved the way and defined this industry with their own style and vision. If you’re an aspiring fashion photographer, it’s important to learn from iconic fashion photographers. Not only will their work inspire you, but it will also provide you with immense knowledge and insight into this creative field.
Here is our list of the 20 most famous fashion photographers, and what we can learn from them!
Most Famous Fashion Photographers:
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1. Richard Avedon
An American fashion and portrait photographer who started out as an advertising photographer in 1944, Richard Avedon was quickly scoped out by individuals in the fashion industry.
Avedon is regarded as a pioneer of the fashion niche, with works that are both timeless and recognizable. So much so, that his New York Times obituary read “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty, and culture for the last half-century.”
Works that brought Avedon to the spotlight included celebrities such as Gloria Vanderbilt, Bob Dylan, Bianca Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, and so many more. From Kate Moss and Aya Thorgren for Versace to Audrey Hepburn for Maxim’s Paris, his fashion campaigns remain some of the most iconic images in the world.
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Avedon once said, “My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” As such, Avedon’s work is unmistakable. His images are full of emotion, personality, and movement. All in all, when you look at Avedon’s work – it makes you feel connected and compelled by what he has created.
This perfectly describes what we can learn from him as a fashion photographer. Rather than just focusing on what your subject brings to the image, think about how you can showcase your identity in your work. Use your subject as a blank canvas and capture an image that is a reflection of who you are.
2. Helmut Newton
Born in 1920 in Berlin, Germany, Newton was an Australian-German photographer.
As a fashion photographer, Newton went on pushing societal boundaries, opting for more erotic imagery and capturing nudity. Despite this, Helmut Newton’s work was frequently published in publications like Vogue, among others.
Some of his recognizable fashion images include Le Smoking for Yves Saint Laurent, Janice Wakely for Australian Wool Board, How to Make Fur Fly for British Vogue, David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini, and so many more.
Newton’s work defied conventionality. He never played it safe. Instead, he created images that tested limits and provoked the world. By incorporating nudity, sexuality, and femininity, Newton showcased women in a liberating light and redefined the standard of models. His black and white images are complex and beautiful – just like his subjects.
From him, we can learn that, with fashion photography, it’s okay to take risks. By that, we mean that it’s okay to go beyond set boundaries. You should always have your own style. He also teaches us that edge and mood can change the entire concept of an image. By daring us to look past the simplicity of our subjects, we can find a picture worth creating. A snapshot with an emotion worth crafting through our visual viewpoint.
3. Edward Steichen
Referred to frequently as the true first pioneer of modern fashion photography, Edward Steichen lived from 1879-1973 but his fashion photography escapades truly hit the limelight in the 1920s. Having been recommended by Lucien Vogel (the publisher of Jardin des Modes and the Gazette du Bon Ton) to Paul Poiret, he photographed the designer’s ball gowns in such a magnificent manner that it landed him a role as chief photographer at Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Those ball gown images became the first true example of fashion photography as we think of it today, making him a true visionary in the genre. Throughout his impressive career, Steichen captured celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, and more.
From Steichen we can learn to be influenced by the clothing itself, ensuring that the pieces we are capturing have their own life in the image. Steichen focused heavily on allowing Paul Poiret’s gowns to be captured in such a way as to portray their true elegance and physical sense.
4. Tim Walker
Tim Walker is a photographer who pushes the definitions of fashion photography, opting for more surreal images. He regularly shoots for magazines such as Vogue, W, and Love.
Some of his most memorable images include subjects such as Elizabeth Moses, Codie Young, Karen Elson, and Edie Campbell.
Walker’s images are marked with a heightened sense of imagination and whimsicalness. In other words, his works represent an alternative viewpoint on the world. One that gives us a feeling of nostalgia and curiosity. The out of the ordinary nature of Walker’s images provides us with a key teaching moment. We can’t be afraid to produce bigger, stranger, and more complex images.
His work represents creativity at its finest. And this is something that should inspire us to go out and craft photographs that defy the limits. Walker shows us that vision is rewarded in the photography world.
5. Steven Meisel
Born in 1954, Steven Meisel is an American fashion photographer. Known for his images for both US and Italian Vogue as well as photographs of Madonna in her book, Sex. During his career, he has worked with names such as Naomi Campbell and Laura Mercier. His numerous covers for Vogue and W magazine have earned him a spot as one of the most famous fashion photographers, today.
In his fashion images, Meisel is not only creative but conversational. He aims to capture images that speak to a higher meaning. From this, we learn that we can use fashion photography as an outlet for expression. We can draw attention to larger ideas and causes. And, in effect, utilize our images as a catalyst for awareness.
He pushes us to understand that fashion photography is more than just beauty and glamour. But, it is about the way we understand and experience our society and culture.
6. Patrick Demarchelier
Patrick Demarchelier is a French fashion photographer who captures more clean-cut images of his fashion subjects, both in the studio and out on the streets. His style is very clean and crisp, with an attention to composition and framing. He truly understands how to capture his subjects creatively.
It’s apparent that Demarchelier’s style is versatile. He understands how to capture his subject in the studio as well as on location and within society. Demarchelier’s photographs are a representation of fierce females with beauty and grace. By mixing portraits and full-body compositions, his spreads are a representation of the editorial design. His work is the perfect mix of both mood and style – making him a fashion photographer worthy of recognition and praise.
From Demarchelier’s work, we can learn how to capture and create the best possible fashion spread. This involves taking notes of his perspective, editing, and framing. Through this, we can understand the style of today’s magazines.
7. Irving Penn
After World War II, Irving Penn revolutionized American fashion photography, alongside photographers such as Richard Avedon. His camera work did a stupendous job of capturing true feminine style and glamour photography as we think of it today. Alongside fashion, Penn also achieved notoriety by capturing commercial still-life images and adding some modernist touch to mundane subjects such as food. As a result, Penn holds the first Vogue Magazine cover with a solely still life subject.
Penn has an artistic background, having studied a variety of mediums such as drawing, painting, graphics, and more. This well-rounded artistic knowledge arguable contributed to Penn’s wonderful compositions and unique photographic takes. From Irving Penn we can learn the value of composition; how you arrange your image makes a massive impact on whoever views the photograph.
8. Paolo Roversi
Italian photographer Paolo Roversi takes the adjective of “dreamlike” to a whole new level with his fashion photography. Having begun working in the industry in 1970 with Associated Press documenting news-worthy events, through this pathway Roversi met a multitude of celebrities and continued to foster connections.
Once discovering the works of Avedon, Bourdin, and other incredible staples of the fashion photography industry, Roversi found himself inspired. This led to a fantastic career that continues to this day!
Paolo Roversi’s fashion photography is very painterly and mystical in style. The use of color and texture is very prominent, adding a very traditional-art character to the works. Roversi’s work inspires us to view the world through our own personal lens, and define our photographs as individuals.
9. Peter Lindbergh
If you were attentive to the fashion and entertainment industry of the ’90s, you will likely quickly recognize the works of Peter Lindbergh. This German photographer was the first to really introduce story-like narratives to fashion photography, pushing on what the term “editorial” truly means.
World-famous models such as Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford found themselves in front of Peter’s lens, captured in photography that remains iconic today. Lindbergh lent his talents to magazines such as Vanity Fair, Allure, Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker.
Much of Lindbergh’s photographs were in the black and white genre, making the viewer have to be very attentive to the subject matter and shape rather than distracted by color. He refused to do much retouching or edits to his images, many of the photographs are as natural as they come. As such, Lindbergh is often cited to have coined the natural look in glossy format.
From Lindbergh, we can learn not only the exquisite ways to bring a story to an editorial but how to also capture all that we want to say right in the camera – without the need for excessive retouching.
10. Bruce Weber
When we think of fashion photography, most people think of the photographers who capture women with beauty and grace. But what about the men? Bruce Weber is a fashion photographer whose images were first found in GQ Magazine in the 1970s.
He had a very recognizable Americana-style way of capturing men in fashion, a look that is frequently emulated today. You can thank Weber for the way men are captured today, as he really brought forth the idea of showing men with a lot of skin in their fashion editorials. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Abercrombie & Fitch are all clients of his.
From Weber, we can certainly take away not only his way of capturing men in fashion photography but also the idea that just because something hasn’t been done before… doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done! His male portraits were quite controversial but quickly led Weber to become one of the most famous fashion photographers in the world – with a style that continues in everyday men’s fashion photography.
11. Nick Knight
With fashion designers that constantly push the envelope, such as Alexander McQueen and Christian Dior, their photographers should be doing the same. Nick Knight is a British photographer who tested boundaries and frequently broke through them in his photography work, with this courage and drive honored by designers, Universities, and the publisher that looks upon his work.
Much of his work greatly challenges the “conventional notions of beauty” by producing photographs that comment on the difficult societal topics of racism, ageism, and much more.
Knight’s work is fascinating, beautiful, and sometimes considered uncomfortable. But, oftentimes, challenging our preconceived ideas is uncomfortable but also very necessary to progress. From Nick Knight we can take away his passion for wanting to change conventions and use his artwork to comment on the world, really proving how important artwork is to get a message across.
12. David LaChapelle
It’s hard to utter the term “fashion photography” without also mentioning American photographer David LaChapelle. Described frequently as the father of “kitsch pop surrealism”, LaChapelle’s colorful and intriguing fashion photography made him one of the most easily recognizable photographers, even for those that share little to no interest in fashion or photography.
Despite being one of the more current photographers on our list, his notoriety would make it feel as if he has been a fashion photographer since the dawn of the genre itself.
LaChapelle discovered photography very early on after having taken a photo of his mother. Artist Andy Warhol noticed David’s talent and granted him the opportunity to work for Interview Magazine. This was the catalyst in David discovering who he was as a photographer and proceeding to esteemed ranks for his unique, bizarre, “hyper-real and slyly subversive” style. You can also see some of his other interests, including history, in his work.
From David LaChapelle, we can certainly learn that there are no limits or boundaries to what you can create!
13. Annie Leibovitz
Someone active in our current era, Annie Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer. She is known for her portraits of celebrities and works with several high fashion magazines including Vanity Fair. Currently, she also runs educational workshops and classes, passing on her life passion to aspiring photographers.
Images that defined her as a fashion photographer include Kate Moss for Vogue, Donatella Versace, Demi Moore, and more.
Everyone wants to be able to shoot and capture images like Annie Leibovitz. So much so, that young photographers have attempted to emulate her style for many years. Yet, despite this push for similarity – the most important thing we can take away from Leibovitz’s work is the pursuit of originality. Her art teaches us that it’s possible to find your own voice and identity through your subjects. And that no matter what, your own representation will surpass any form of imitation.
14. George Hoyningen-Huene
With such a brilliant play on light and shadow, George Hoyningen-Huene was a photographer whose work lit up the exquisite 1920s and 1930s. In his early 20s, Russian-born Hoyningen-Huene moved to Paris where he met Man Ray – a meeting that led to an amazing career. With Man Ray, Hoyningen-Huene created an impressive portfolio of fashion photographers that was noticed by some of the most influential people in the industry.
Moving to Paris made an impact as well, as this decision allotted Hoyningen-Huene the opportunity to be the first to capture the specific style of the haute couture fashion houses of Paris. You may know many of these fashion houses like Chanel, Balenciaga, and Cartier. He then rose to the chief photographer of Vogue. After relocating to New York City in 1935, Hoyningen-Huene became for Harper’s Bazaar.
His photographs are black and white and perfectly elegant, using shadows and highlights to bring his subjects to life. Many of his works can be likened to Greek figures, photographing from somewhat elevated vantage points. From Hoyningen-Huene we can learn how lighting influences the shot, using light and dark to separate our subjects from their backgrounds.
15. Man Ray
Having mentioned Man Ray above, it’s time we talk a bit more about him. Although not a conventional fashion photographer in the literal sense of the term, Man Ray is a photographer that had his hand in inspiring a multitude of photographic genres.
The father of photography surrealism, Man Ray took a type of art that was once reserved for painting, drawing, and sculpture and adapted it to photography and film. Some of the fashion photographers on our list had their own encounters and dealings with Man Ray that contributed significantly to their careers!
Although both his career history and his Dada and surrealist photography can span a novel (and this is a fashion article, after all), let’s focus on the fashion side of his work. Fashion houses such as Chanel, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and Lanvin all found a great interest in Man Ray’s unusual way of viewing the world.
Man Ray has a very specific aesthetic and idea to his work, which he was able to bring to his paintings, photography, collage, films, and more. Through Man Ray’s career, we can be inspired by his own truth. No matter what medium he was working with, Man Ray always created work that was so uniquely honest to him that you could find what was his through anything created.
16. Lee Miller
Our list doesn’t feature many female photographers, but of the ones it does, they are extremely influential. Welcome to the stage Lee Miller, an outstanding female fashion photographer noted as one of the 20th century’s most significant fashion photographers! Vanity Fair even went as far as to declare her one of the “most distinguished living photographers” during their time.
Miller was unique in how she did fashion photography – her fashion self-portraits landed her a top-tier spot in the echelon of incredible photographers. Having been a model herself in the 1920s, once moving to Paris, Miller had decided to become a fashion photographer and photojournalist. During World War II, she became a war correspondent for Vogue.
Miller had a goal of apprenticing under Man Ray after moving to Paris, and once he was convinced to take her on, the two had a romantic personal relationship. At the time, their individual styles tended to bleed into one another, but when Miller had left Ray and Paris in 1932, she opened up her own studio.
With her life as a fashion model, then fashion photographer, her war correspondence photography for Vogue showcased how the war impacted women. Through this lens, she captured the effects of world events on women’s lives and even afterward, documented how fashion resisted and embodied the impossible spirit.
Lee Miller is easily seen as a major inspiration to female photographers all over the world, proving that your own personal experience can shape the lens you use to capture images.
17. David Bailey
The Swingin’ 60s was quite a wild time in human history, and British photographer David Bailey was there to capture it from top to bottom! Made famous by his portraits of his frequent subject and muse Jean Shrimpton. While spending his time serving the Royal Air Force, Bailey began to brew a passionate interest in the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson. This little tickle of inspiration influenced Bailey’s photographic work, eventually pushing him to step into the world of fashion photography in 1960.
His high key and very contrasted photography style became world-famous, something that you can still find fairly frequently today as well. Celebrities such as The Beatles, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and many more appeared in front of Bailey’s lens, as well as his high-profile marriages.
Bailey’s very high contrast photography work is a difficult but exquisite style in and of itself, and we can learn how to use contrast effectively in our work by studying his photography.
18. Mario Testino
If you remember the Vanity Fair cover photos of Princess Diana, then you’ve been exposed to the work of Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino. Testino began his career by opening his doors to helping aspiring models develop photography portfolios for just a few pounds each (after settling in London), which attracted the attention of magazines with an eye for talent. This led to a life-long endeavor in the fashion industry as a photographer.
So much of Testino’s fashion work feels casual and spontaneous, like a spur-of-the-moment lifestyle image. One very famous series of his emanates this feel perfectly, the Towel Series featuring Kate Moss. The session itself really was unintentional, he saw Kate Moss sitting on set wrapped in towels and he saw the beauty in such a simple thing.
What we can learn from the work of Mario Testino is that fashion doesn’t always have to be complicated, you can bring forth a beautiful image out of the most simple things.
19. Roxanne Lowit
Sometimes, photographers become just as much celebrities as the actual celebrities they photograph! New York photographer Roxanne Lowit is one such entity in the fashion photography world. With a portfolio of work that is candid, true, and story-telling, Lowit has captured so many wild antics of the fashion scene throughout her impressive career. So much so, that there are plenty of books out exclusively on the backstage antics she immortalized on camera.
Lowit never actually set out to do photography, she studied textile design and art history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. It was through her work with textiles did a revelation occur to her that pushed Lowit into the world of fashion photography. After photographing her own designs at the runway and fashion shows, her long Rolodex of designer and model contacts began reaching out asking for her to do the same for them. Before she knew it, Vanity Fair, French Elle, V Magazine, and Glamour all began publishing her photography work.
Lowit teaches us that just because something wasn’t perfectly planned doesn’t mean it couldn’t come to be – ringing true in both the candid nature of her backstage fashion images and in her own career. Having not initially set out to be a fashion photographer, the career somewhat landed in her lap.
20. Cecil Beaton
Sometimes, you can land yourself in fashion photography without even actively trying to pursue that niche. Photographer Cecil Beaton shared his work as a society photographer with the world during a solo exhibition in London in 1926, at which Vogue swooped him right up and kept him as their photographer for 30 years!
Glamour and high society influenced Beaton’s fashion photography work, landing him a position as a court photographer for the British Royal Family as well. His passion for fashion (no rhyme intended!) also allotted this talented photographer the opportunity to do set and costume design for famous films.
Beaton’s work truly encompasses the elegance, confidence, and attitude of high society in Europe – with gorgeous lines and chins held high. The set designs play heavily with leading lines and composition, turning fashion photography into an image in which every element plays a key role. We can learn about styling photographs from Cecil Beaton, for every prop in each shot is perfectly tailored for that capture.
Finding Inspiration from the Most Famous Fashion Photographers
As you can see, these photographers have defined the fashion world with their unique vision and creativity. From published editorials to advertising campaigns, their work is admired around the world.
By analyzing and better understanding their work, we too can learn a few key tips on how to elevate our images and become creative, successful fashion photographers.