As a change from the technical flavour of our questions I would like to turn to photography as an art, so I am afraid this is inevitably subjective.

Which photographer, in your mind, is especially inspirational, why and if possible give an example of his/her work.

This is a continuation of a similar question asked last year by CodeToGlory (What is your favourite photograph?)

To get the ball rolling I will post an answer below.

Since this is now community wiki, I (@lindes) will add: one photographer per answer (and please look for that photographer in existing answers before adding your own), but you may submit multiple answers if you find multiple people inspiring. (I think that's what makes the most sense for this type of question. If others disagree, please edit this paragraph. :)

  • 3
    This is argumentative. Are these kind of questions permitted?
    – kacalapy
    Jan 23 '11 at 20:26
  • 6
    I agree this is subjective, but on the other hand I think this is a good topic to talk about. Perhaps if we elaborate a bit on the "why" part in the answers, it might be generally useful enough?
    – che
    Jan 23 '11 at 20:40
  • 2
    Community wiki...
    – rfusca
    Jan 23 '11 at 20:45
  • 3
    @kacalapy, if the question was 'which was best photographer...?', that could be argumentative.
    – labnut
    Jan 23 '11 at 20:46
  • 1
    I don't think this is subjective at all, what inspires you isn't open to debate, it's a statement only you can make.
    – Joanne C
    Jan 23 '11 at 21:47

21 Answers 21


Gregory Crewdson (more) For the surreal mood and feeling he can craft in a photograph with his controlled lighting mixed with 'in situ' lighting. That and the storytelling nature of the photographs that cause you to linger on the image, wondering what the subjects are doing... or have done.

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  • If you enjoy Crewdson check out Holly Andres (25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ldrzae5oKI1qdjdjeo1_400.jpg)
    – Shizam
    Jan 23 '11 at 21:26
  • Gregory Crewdson has always fascinated me by the way his photos look like movie scenes. When I saw some pictures of his setups, I found out that is because he uses as much light as whole film crew. (Nothing against that, this is just a note. His "Woman in flowers" never ceases to amaze me.)
    – che
    Jan 24 '11 at 10:09
  • I think it would be best if we had one photographer per answer. Could you split this into two answers?
    – lindes
    Jan 24 '11 at 18:15
  • Sure. Moving the suggestion for Todd Hido to a comment (google.com/…)
    – Shizam
    Jan 25 '11 at 19:21
  • I don't find it inspiring because of the mortals-need-not-apply nature of the setups: massive lighting rigs, models, props, sets, bla bla bla. It's more oppressive feeling than inspiring to me. Not that I don't like the images, it's just that it's the kind of thing that would inspire a Hollywood director, not your lowly still photographer. It's hard to imagine the typical photographer taking inspiration from such a massive production, but who knows?
    – Kevin Won
    Feb 9 '11 at 2:15

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Michael Kenna inspires me the most. You can see his work compilation here. There's a short documentary on his techniques.

His work exudes sophistication through simplicity. You sense the solitude, the etherealness, and tranquility, as if you were in the scenes yourself.

"Six Sticks" pictured above, is one of my favorites of his. I emailed him a while back asking what went through his mind when he took that photo. I totally did not expect a busy world-renowned photographer would respond. But he did:

As for what I was thinking…

Perhaps it was an attempt to reduce the complicated, noisy, colorful, cluttered, busy, fast paced world, to something calm, simple and meditative. But I rather believe interpretation should be in the mind, heart and soul of the beholder. So, perhaps it is better that you think about it yourself : )

That earned me even more respect for him, not only as a photographer, but as a kind and humble person.


One among many that's been hugely inspiring to me:

Twin Cities Brightest

He's got some really interesting light-painting work, much of which has interesting conceptual components to it, e.g. his "alien abductions" series, including this one:

gallium antimonide

He also frequently shows how he does what he's doing, which is another way he's inspirational to me, e.g.:

An image with Kaleidoscope imagery embedded into the frame:

Behind the scenes of this technique (with descriptive text, if you click through):

tricks of the trade

Or this:

AE-35 unit

... where not only can you see the tools that were used:

(See also: his cold cathode tutorial.)

... but you can also see a making-of video, to see how this exposure came together.

(And he has a whole set of tutorial stuff, too -- lots of good information.)

Putting these things together -- interesting images, and good how-to information, I've found him to be one of the most inspiring photographers out there for me right now. It may also help that he's quite prolific -- he seems to be out shooting nearly every night -- which just amazes me.

If you like this kind of stuff, I also recommend the light junkies flickr group, where he and others like him around the world keep pushing each other. I just noticed there's also a light painting competitions group... more to explore (and inspire me to enter)!

  • 1
    Oh, I gotta agree, TCB's work is totally mind blowing/inspiring. That dude is the Truth... Jan 25 '11 at 23:00
  • 1
    Go down more drains folks! :D
    – NULLZ
    May 14 '13 at 0:12

Although it is likely that most everyone is familiar with his work, I take great inspiration from the man who captured more dynamic, vibrant, striking detail in black and white than most of us are probably capable of in 16.7 million colors.

Ansel Adams - The Tetons and the Snake River

  • He also shot in colour, but nobody was able to print it to his satisfaction so most of his shots remained unseen until recently. A book of them was published recently.
    – Max Sang
    Jan 27 '11 at 10:40

Henri Cartier-Bresson. Another 'old master' who is just as relevant as today as 70 years ago.


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Garrit Pieper

I linked to http://garrit.deviantart.com and not to his own site (http://www.garrit.de) as it seems to be in redesign. Some work of him:

flowing cold war

and many more on deviantart.com

  • Yes, very impressive
    – labnut
    Jan 24 '11 at 13:33

I find Vivian Maier's street photography especially inspirational.
Vivian Maier
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Over a period of some 40 years she took more than 100,000 photos, mostly street scenes in Chicago See this link and this link. She is remarkable for the single minded way in which she devoted her adult life to photography, spending her off duty hours walking the streets and taking photographs that showed a penetrating insight. Her obsessive devotion to photography, to the exclusion of all else, from the age of about 30, is probably an example of outsider art.

  • It's particularly interesting that she seems (at least according to your first link) never to have shown her images to anyone -- with many many rolls left un-developed at her death, even, so not even herself in some cases!
    – lindes
    Jan 24 '11 at 18:18
  • 1
    In the last years of her life she lived in straightened circumstances. It is possible she could not cover the cost of processing the final films.
    – labnut
    Jan 25 '11 at 19:23

I'll bet you 10 to 1 that I may the only one to post a link to an amateur, but I find the wife of a friend of mine to be one of the most inspiring to me. Her photostream on Flickr is a big reason for it, but the biggest reason is that she only started shooting a couple of years ago, never held an SLR in her hands before, and this is an example of what she comes up with:

alt text

Her stream is filled with image after image as impressive as this. She keeps it up and National Geographic will be knocking on her door. Hence, I'm inspired.

  • heh, the 10:1 bet is enticing... but what if the amateurs turn pro? (e.g. if National Geographic comes knocking on your inspiration's door?) ;) (I'm about to post some amateurs-gone-at-least-semi-pro, so I'm guessing I can't claim the bet, but they were surely "just" amateurs (i.e. not making their art for money) when I started following some of them.)
    – lindes
    Jan 24 '11 at 18:08
  • Wow, she's amazing. Added. Jan 26 '11 at 0:49

Most of those who inspire me are already listed, bar one: Oleg Novikov. I've never been big on landscapes until I saw his photos, and now I'm smitten. He still shoots a lot of film, mainly Velvia and Provia, and he writes pretty well too.


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There are many awesome super-star photographers which I find inspiring such as Jay Maisel, Jack Dykinga, Tom Mangelson, David Norton, etc. However I've personally found it easier to be inspired by less intimidating names.

Wilson Tsoi is an amazing photographer, he is equally capable to shoot awesome pictures with a compact camera than a DSLR. He has an amazing eye for composition and his love for night photography is comparable to mine.

Michael Reichmann inspired me early on too as a master of composition simplicity. Amid the chaos of places like Bangladesh he still manage to capture simple yet powerful images.

PS: Feel free to be inspired by me too, it would be a pleasure ;)

  • 1
    I love your travel photography
    – labnut
    Jan 24 '11 at 13:41

I started being turned on by the usual suspects -- Weston, Karsh, Adams -- but I'd have to say that the one photographer who really changed my mind about what the craft could be is Shin Sugino. My first introduction to his work was an overview of his commercial work in the (absolutely gorgeous) Canadian magazine Applied Arts Quarterly (as it was then). From food to large products (like automobiles) his work was simply impeccable. Then I saw his personal work, and I understood that this medium is both art and craft, capable of conveying an intensity of emotion and subtlety of expression I had hardly imagined before.


My vote: Paul Strand. Where the other photographers so far mentioned have yet to stand the test of time, Strand already has and is IMO just as relevant today as 100 some-odd years ago. His vision has been described as 'brutally direct' which I find accurate.

Plus, he's got to get props for doing this with the primitive tools of the day. With our fancy-ass gear, we contemporary photographers aren't doing as well ;-)


a few of his most inspiring images to me:

Wall Street

still life


portrait of girl


Another old master: Alfred Steglitz. He's arguably the most important photographer ever for a myriad of reasons--much like Jimi Hendrix is the most important rock guitarist ever and Shakespeare is the most important writer in English letters. He defined the genere, he created many of the idioms of which we take as coinage today, and he inspired countless people to move the medium forward.

If you aren't familiar with the dude, take a moment and read the Wikipedia article: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Stieglitz). Quote from that article:

"Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) is perhaps the most important figure in the history of visual arts in America. That is certainly not to say that he was the greatest artist America has ever produced. Rather, through his many roles – as a photographer, as a discoverer and promoter of photographers and of artists in other media, and as a publisher, patron, and collector – he had a greater impact on American art than any other person has had."

Basically there are two epochs in photography: before him, and after him. He's inspirational to me both because of his willingness to take photography to places it had not been before (he was one of the first proponents of the hand camera and did a lot of work in New York at night and in bad weather), and as a life-long advocate. He just had so much energy for it. Dude was also a master craftsman who pulled his own photogravure plates among other technical feats. We all live in his debt.

The Steerage

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I wrote mine up for my blog a while back, here with some details on why for those interested:

My photographic mentors and inspirations - chuqui.com


A couple of the photographers who represent the fields I'm passionate about myself.

Joey Lawrence - Fine art, editorial, commercial etc. Amazing work.

Joao Canziani - Similar work to Joey. Celebrities, people, editorial and commercial.

Jared Polin - Runs FroKnowsPhoto.com. Wedding, portrait, live music photographer.

I never even realised they were all J's!

  • I really like Joao Canziani's work
    – labnut
    Jan 24 '11 at 14:03

Two favourites of mine are Sebastiao Salgado and Steve McCurry:

  • Sebastiao Salgado - Salgado shoots technically superb, gorgeous black and whites, but he has a real social conscience and a need to document the hardships and abuses of the poorest people in the world. It can sometimes be hard to look at all the suffering underneath the flawless inky blacks and smooth tones!

  • Steve McCurry - McCurry shoots fabulous environmental portraits, with saturated colours and fast lenses. His Afghan girl is his most iconic image but there are many other breathtaking images.


My Flickr contacts:

Sarolta Bán - Why do I find her inspirational: the general "surrealist" mood in her shots, the composition and the creative elaboration are inspiring. I love post-processing my photos, and she is a master in this.

Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir - Why do I find her inspirational: I love her "twin" and "multiple-self" shots. I love the fact she is an autodidact (I am one too). Generally, I love the incredible mood there is in her Icelandic photos.

Andrea Benedetti - Why do I find him inspirational: because he's a perfectionist. On one of his photos he says that he waited some hours for the sun to disappear behind a cloud to take the shot. This is a real photographer IMHO.

P.S.: ok, some shots to avoid the brutal downvote :)

From Andy's:

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From Sarolta (mindazonaltal):

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From rebekka (but anything from her is fine):

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  • 1
    Could you split these out into separate answers, and talk a little about what inspires you from each one? (I actually may create an answer for Rebekka myself, so feel free to instead comment on/edit that one, instead, once it's up.)
    – lindes
    Jan 24 '11 at 18:21
  • I added an explanation of why I find them inspiring, but I prefer to leave this as one single answer! Jan 24 '11 at 18:43

Jane Bown has been a portrait photographer for The Observer for the last 60 years and her work includes some beautifully arresting images of generations of famous figures.

One unusual aspect of her work is the way her height (she's quite short) lends a characteristic angle to some of her portraits, e.g.:

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett by Jane Bown

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson by Jane Bown

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon by Jane Bown


Pietro Donzelli, a photographer from the Italian Neorealism movement.


david-lachapelle blows my mind. I am blown away some one can think up the stuff that goes on in hos photographs, let alone making such stunning images.

Another favorite is the one he has of Vince Vaughn.

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