Beginner’s Guide to the Masters of Photography

Quick start to the Masters of Photography

If you’re new to the masters of photography, start with the articles below:

Introduction to the Masters of Photography

Dear friend,

You’ve probably had this situation — when you’re at some fancy art show, and you hear another photographer “name drop” other famous photographers.

You nod your head in agreement, but you have no idea who these master photographers are.

Consider this guide as a way to de-mystify and de-elitize the masters of photography.

I never went to art school, or photo school. I had to self-teach myself all the masters of photography. And now that I know them, I want this guide to help you (assuming you don’t know any of the masters of photography).

This page is currently a work in progress. I will continue to make edits to this page, as there are a lot of masters to cover.

Let’s get started:

Chapter 1: “Old school” photographers

“He without a past has no future.”

To start off, let us start off chronologically.

I know a lot of these “old school” photographers might seem a bit boring. However, the reason their work still has lasted, because it is classic. They have paved the way for all of us in photography. They experimented with the medium of photography, and pushed it forward. They made photography an acceptable art form. We have a great deal of debt to pay them.

This period of time is roughly the 1920’s:

1. Andre Kertesz

I’d recommend first starting to learn about Andre Kertesz, who was one of the first photographers who inspired Henri Cartier-Bresson (essentially the “godfather” of street photography). Andre Kertesz harnessed the classic form of geometry to photography, and was prolific all the way until his death.

2. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Of course, you need to study the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who first took 35mm photography to the next level. He innovated the concept of the “decisive moment“, and saw photography as an “instant sketchbook.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson is a great starting point if you love black and white photography, geometry, and composition. Further resources on Henri Cartier-Bresson here:

3. Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz was a photographer, who first pushed photography to be taken acceptably as “art.” Photography wouldn’t be where it is today without him.

Chapter 2: “New school” photographers

I consider this “new school” of photographers the next wave of photographers who innovated in photography, from around the 1950’s onwards to the 1980’s:

4. Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand was probably one of the most prolific street photographers to have ever lived. He shot because he loved it, and he was one of the innovators of the 28mm lens, getting close to his subjects, and creating “edgy”, dynamic, and off-kilter compositions. Not all his photos are pretty, but his work ethic, distaste for the art world, and his down-to-earth humor makes him a master to study.

5. William Klein

William Klein is one of the most badass street photographers in history. He said what was on his mind, and said it the way he wanted. He was a “director on the streets” — he would often interact with his subjects, engage them, and this puts his soul in his photos.

Klein also was innovative with fashion photography, film, and inspired many other photographers, including the highly influential Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama. In turn, Daido Moriyama inspired other master photographers such as Anders Petersen, and Jacob Aue Sobol.

Klein innovated using blur in his photos, high-contrast and grain, and multi-layered photos.

6. Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus is famous for photographing people on the fringes of society. Many of her portraits are a bit unsettling to look at, yet they show deep humanity and empathy. If you love shooting portraits, definitely check out Diane Arbus.

7. Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander is a funny photographer with a great wry sense of humor. He innovated in urban landscapes, creating complex scenes (without overlapping figures). Not only that, but his self-portraits have great humor and are quite introspective.

Chapter 3: Contemporary photographers

This section of photographers are personal friends of mine — photographers who I have gained a lot of inspiration from:

8. Josh White

Josh White is one of my best friends, and shoots with his soul. His body of work includes personal photos, as well as street photos. He is the one who inspired me to shoot more personal photos of my loved ones, and family.

9. Blake Andrews

Blake Andrews is a prolific blogger and passionate photographer. He has a no-nonsense approach to photography, and his knowledge on the history of photography (as well as his daily practice of photography) is a massive inspiration to me.

10. Jacob Aue Sobol

Jacob Aue Sobol is probably one of the hardest working photographers around. He has taken ‘personal photography’ to the next level– by getting both physically and emotionally close to his subjects. He constantly inspires me to push myself, photographically, and spiritually.

All the masters of street photography

If you’re ready to get your hands wet, see all the lessons from the masters of street photography below:

The Masters

Here is a full list of the masters:

To learn more, see Street Photography 101 >