If you have a particular interest in anything in life, it is helpful to consider (and even study) the experts who have gone before you.

This of course is also true for the professional photographer, who by studying vintage photography and other famous photos of our time, can learn to create beautiful photography by adding some of the methods of the greats to their own personal style.

In studying vintage photography, you will find that this is an art that was first born in France, which is why some of the famous photographers of yesteryear are indeed French!

By studying their techniques and styles, you will find that it will add depth to your own work and help you to create beautiful photography that is based on important founding principles of this art form.

If you are passionate about becoming a professional photographer, it would be helpful to also become passionate about the works of the famous photographers, and their equally famous photos, who have gone before you!

In this article we will look at some of the best photography from some of these famous photographers. Be prepared to be inspired by their work!

1. The Famous Photos of Henri-Cartier Bresson

There is no doubt that Frenchman Henri-Cartier Bresson, who lived from 1908 until 2004 is still considered to be on the greatest photojournalists in the world. Not only a photographer, but also a designer, Bresson made the Leica camera, that produced this beautiful photography, famous. As a sensitive observer of world events, his famous photos expertly, and poignantly, conveyed the fragility of human existence.

It is due to the extraordinary vintage photography of this exceptional professional photographer of days gone by, that black and white photography, as well as the square format, first became popular.

His Behind Gare Saint-Lazare, image from 1932 has done down as some of the best photography of that era.

2. The Beautiful Photography of Robert Doisneau

Born in Paris in 1912, Robert Doisneau, started out his working life as an engraver before becoming a professional photographer.

It was only at the end of World War II that the world recognised that Doisneau’s ability to capture furtive moments produced some of the best photography ever seen. This was confirmed by leading publications of the day like Paris Match or Life magazine who published many of his documentary images from life on the streets of Paris.

Whether these were artisans, children, lovers or street artists, Doisneau had an uncanny way of capturing random events and people that powerfully depicted the collective post-war state of mind.

Defining himself as a ‘patient passerby’ he did well to wait for the exact moments that would become some of the most famous photos of our time.

3. The Vintage Photography of Brassaï

black and white photographs
Brassaï's work was inspired by his love for life in Paris. - Source: Unsplash

Transylvanian native, Brassaï who was born in 1899 fell so in love with France during his studies that he decided to adopt the French nationality.

As a journalist, his interest in photography, and passion for Parisian life, combined to produce some of the best photography examples that we have of French daily life. His fascination with bohemian culture of the 1930’s was always characterised by a touch of both romance and humour.

Brassaï was also famous for the particular way in which he calculated time exposure – by smoking cigarettes! Apparently he smoked one cigarette for a normal exposure and two or three for a long exposure. And there’s a vintage photography fact to show you how far we have come!

4. The Creations of Yann-Arthus Bertrand

Born in Paris in 1946, Yann-Arthus Bertrand was an environmentalist who discovered photography through his love for animals. It was during his three-year study of a pride of lions in Kenya that he realised that he wanted photography to be his full time career when he returned to France.

Through his photography work for publications like Geo and National Geographic he decided to create his own aerial photography agency called Altitude. This later gave way to the publishing of his own book called The View of Heaven from Earth, which is in fact, the bestselling photography book in the world!

Today, he is the president of the Good Planet Foundation which promotes healthy environmental ecology.

5. Nicéphore Nièpce: One of the Earliest Famous Photographers

Not only a photographer, but also an inventor and physicist, Nicéphore Nièpce most certainly had the greatest impact on the development of photography.

Born in 1765, he began important photograph development research including how to use chemicals to fix an image in a dark room. Through this process, he first invented the concept of photo engraving which finally developed into the development of film that we know today.

His most famous photos date back to 1827 including Point of View in Grasse which is said to be the oldest preserved photo in the world!

When it comes to the genesis of photography, beginner students do well to use the works of Nicéphore Nièpce as a reference.

6. The Famous Photos of Bettina Rheims

French born Bettina Rheims, began her career in 1978 and was made famous by her series of portraits of strippers and acrobats which were exhibited in Paris at the prestigious Pompidou Center in 1981.

Working first as a model and then a journalist, Rheims combined her skills to become one the most famous photographers of the 19th century. Her diverse range of work often found its way into popular culture including advertising, record covers, fashion and posters for film.

Rheims also won the 1994 Photography Grand Prix of the City of Paris and is well known for her work with women, androgynous teenagers, transsexuals and even famous politicians. One of her most famous photos is the official portrait of French President, Jacques Chirac. She is also known for incredible images of celebrities like Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Claudia Schiffer. Her studio portrait techniques make a worthwhile study for any photography student.

light in photo studio
If you're interested in studio portrait photography, you should learn more about the techniques of Bettina Rheims. - Source: Unsplash

7. Fashion Photographer, Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) was a famous fashion photographer who was highly regarded by the advertising profession. He was well known for avoiding personal accolades and exhibitions and for his dedication to making the products of his clients memorable through his photography skills. He was also famous for his use of ubiquitous red and for framing the subject of sex and violence in a raw way.

During the height of his career, Bourdin often collaborated with publications like Vogue Italy, Vogue France and Harper’s Bazaar, before a stint of obscurity. However, his work was revived posthumously and appreciated through various new perspectives.

8. Louis Daguerre, One of the Fathers of Photography

Collegian and friend of Nicéphore Nièpce, Louis Daguerre, who in many ways picked up the work of Nièpce, is often referred to as the inventor of photography.

His work which dates back to the 1830’s and includes the discovery of mercury and indeed the origins of photography, is actually an integral step for all photography students today. His methods can be found in many photography books or photography classes today.

In fact, if you are searching photography classes near me consider a website like Superprof, which is host to dozens of photography teachers who are located all over South Africa.

vintage black camera amongst pastel flowers
Studying vintage photography techniques can help you to create more beautiful photographs. - Source: Unsplash

9. The Rare Works of Marc Riboud

Frenchman, Marc Riboud who lived from 1923 until 2016 was known for some of the best photography in the world.

Not only did he work in France, but also Algeria, England, Vietnam and China, but it was his famous The Girl with the Flower, that was taken in America that first made him famous. His most important and famous photos include a body of work which was shot during the 1960’s in northern Vietnam. These famous photos are not only poignant, but also rare, given that photographers were mainly forbidden in that territory at that time.

Riboud’s shocking documentary work is demonstration of both the ugliness and beauty of the human condition.

For anyone interested in photojournalism or documentary photography, the work of Riboud is an essential study.

10. Famous War Photographer, Raymond Depardon

Raymond Depardon was a famous French photographer, filmmaker and journalist born in 1942. He was the founder of a photography agency called Gamma and was highly acclaimed in the film industry for his excellent documentary films.

As a photographer he was well known for his coverage of conflict in countries like Algeria and Vietnam.

His techniques and others are an important step towards becoming a documentary photographer, all of which can be learnt through the skills of a private photography tutor. You could do this through an organisation like Superprof which is a reputable platform that verifies the qualifications and experience of all of its tutors. Not only that, but on Superprof you could search for a photography tutor by location and find someone near to you. If not, you could opt for online lessons using your internet and webcam with a tutor from anywhere in the world!

If photography is something you have always wanted to learn, start today because with most Superprof tutors offering their first lesson for free, it is even more possible than you think!

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.