If you are into creative photography or are looking for inspirational ideas to grow your photography portfolio, you could consider looking into the art photography of the greats who have gone before you!

When it comes to the best photography through the ages, it is often instantly recognisable by beginner photography students and even those who know nothing about creative photography. Some images are simply famous either for their content or appeal.

Researching your chosen subject matter, no matter what it is, even photography is always important. Not only will it influence your own style, but it will inspire you to take chances and charter new territories.

In the words of Terry Freedman, “research can shed light on issues we didn’t even know existed and can raise questions we hadn’t even realised we needed asking.” When you consider this, studying the photography greats is a great way to research your craft.

So if you are interested in creative photography, it is likely that you are actually interested in the personalities behind the best photography out there. If so, keep reading, because whether you are interested in adding depth to your photography portfolio, or simply want to open a photography studio, these 8 lives are sure to inspire you!

1. Fashion Photographer, Mario Testino

When it comes to famous work done in photo studios, Mario Testino is probably the most influential of all the world’s fashion photographers. Born in 1954 in Peru, Testino is a regular contributor for the most prestigious magazines like Vanity Fair, V Magazine and Vogue. His photography studio has seen the likes of Kate Moss, Princess Diana and Naomi Campbell to name a few, and his work has made brands like Burberry and Versace not only unique but known for some of the best photography in the marketing of fashion.

In 2014 Mario Testino received the coveted Order of Knight in the British Empire distinction for his contribution to fashion through some of the best photography that the world has ever seen.

For any student, Testino’s photography studio work is a highly recommended reference.

2. Photojournalist, Steve McCurry

Hailing from the state of Pennslyvania, Steve McCurry who is a great reference for future photojournalists was born in 1950. His best photography work includes the famous portrait entitled Áfghan Girl also known as Sharbat Gula.  This piece, which captures the iridescent green eyes of a young refugee on her way to Pakistan, is a symbol of the 1980’s refugee crisis as well as an iconic depiction of the atrocities of war.

McCurry whose work is a far cry from that found in photo studios has won all the major photojournalism awards including those from Life Magazine and WordPress agency. Perhaps this is because instead of focusing on the brutality of combat, McCurry was an expert documenter of human expression within the context of war. Today, he dedicates his life to humanitarian aid in Asia.

equipment for studio photo shoot
You're sure to learn a thing or two from David Bailey's lighting techniques. - Photo by Kyle Loftus on Pexels

3. Photographing the Greats, David Bailey

When it comes to a photography studio that saw some of the most famous personalities in the entertainment industry, it must be the one owned by David Bailey whose dramatic lighting style and austere backgrounds made him one of the most fashionable photographers of the 1960s.

Bailey, who worked for British Vogue did well to immortalise the time period known as Swinging London when London was the pop culture and fashion capital of the world.

While some of his best photography came about in England, Bailey worked in France, especially because he married French actress Catherine Deneuve in 1965. In fact, Bailey was so well known for his art photography that the main character of the film Blow-Up was inspired by his life and his work in photo studios around the UK and France.

4. Pop Photographer, David LaChapelle

If you are looking for creative photography inspiration, then the art photography of David LaChapelle is an excellent resource. LaChapelle was absolutely passionate about art photography which all began with one brilliant shot of his mother and which continued to grow after that.

He was noticed for his talent by Andy Warhol who gave him a job for Interview Magazine.

Influenced by other greats like Salvador Dali and Jeff Koons, the work of LaChappelle was known to be kitsch, pop and strong in social messaging.

5. Art Photographer of Native Americans, Edward Sheriff Curtis

One of the ways to immerse yourself in the history of photography is by studying the early 20th century images by Edward Curtis.

From the state of Wisconsin, Edward Curtis, born in 1868 was the son of American Civil War veteran. Curtis’s interest in photography came about through the meeting of a famous Indian chief’s daughter called Princess Angelina.

Thereafter, his important work documenting the culture, religious ceremonies and portraits of Native Americans (or American Indians) from Alaska to South Western regions of the United States, won him fame and recognition.

The work of Edward Curtis is considered the best photography on the topic of Native American culture.

6. Annie Leibovitz, LA Photographer

There’s no doubt, Annie Leibovitz must be the most famous female photographer on the planet, and if you are looking for inspiration to grow your photography portfolio, or want to compare photography studio work, hers is an excellent resource.

Leibovitz, who was born in 1949 was always interested in art, most particularly painting. As an artist, she was fairly interested in photography, but it was only during a trip to Japan that she became captivated with it.

Beginning with black and white, and later in colour, it was a shot from the year 1980 that made her famous and will remain forever iconic.

Somehow she managed to convince John Lennon to pose nude with his wife Yoko Ono, but only hours after her shoot, Lennon was killed

Leibovitz was well known for taking portraits of A-list celebrities, and it was many of these photography studio shoots that made it onto the cover of Vanity Fair. Her photo studios saw some very interesting subject matter including Whoopi Goldberg bathing in milk or a very pregnant, naked Demi Moore.

baby swaddled and wearing flower crown
If you're interested in creating children's portraits, take a look at the work of Anne Geddes. - Photo by Baby Concept on Pexels

7. Anne Geddes, Famous Children’s Photography

For anyone wanting to grow a photography portfolio of children’s work, Anne Geddes is an essential reference. Love her or hate her, Geddes made a name for herself with the series called Cabbage Kids where children were posed resting in vegetable leaves. This quirky style was very popular during the ’90s when children were photographed in photo studios as fairies, small children, flowers or small animals.

Self-taught, Geddes has sold over 18 million books and is, without doubt, an icon of pop culture. If you are into studio photography, Anne Geddes is certainly one to study, especially if you love to work with children.

8. Ansel Adams, Landscape Photographer

Nature has and always will inspire photography. If you are interested in showing the beauty of nature through the skill of photography, you should most certainly consider the work of one of the most profound photographers of all time.

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902 and became both a photographer and an environmentalist. Driven by his passion for conservation, Adams was determined to portray nature in its most pure state. He was known for his impactful landscapes of the America West and also for his captures of famous natural parks like Yosemite Park.

His black and white, large format style is instantly recognisable, but again it was 1980 when Adams’ career peaked. He was awarded the Freedom Medal (the most prestigious medal in America) for his work as a conservation activist and photographer.

Adams published books on how to photograph nature without disturbing it.

people in boat on lake, surrounded by mountains

Study the work of Ansel Adams, if landscape photography interests you. - Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on PexelsOne of the best ways to discover and perfect new photography styles is by studying the biographies and work of famous artists that you admire. You could also sign up with a private photography tutor to help you hone your own particular style and guide you in terms of valuable study references.

In South Africa, there are thousands of private photography tutors located all over the country. By using a website like Superprof that verifies their qualifications and experience, you also have the added advantage of checking out their reviews on their personal Superprof profile page.

When the average hourly rate for private photography tuition is only R257 per hour and with tutors responding within an hour to queries, Superprof is a good option. But not only that, 99% of Superprof tutors offer their first lesson for free which provides a valuable opportunity for you to assess whether they are actually right for you or not.

For instance, if you are passionate about landscape photography, there are many very specific techniques that you wouldn’t use for taking documentary or wedding photographs. Finding just the right tutor for you and then embarking on a study journey where you receive individual attention, could fast track your photography education by years.

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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.