Black and white photography is almost a separate medium to color photography, with the focus on tones giving black and white photos a more artistic, sometimes abstract view of the world.
This article will help you take a look at some of the most famous black and white photographers, to give you inspiration for your own photography, and to hopefully introduce you to work that you might not otherwise have seen.
15 Famous Black and White Photographers
1. Zhou HanShun
Zhou is what you call a photographic artist, originally from Singapore. He is a storyteller who uses the visual medium and by profession is also an art director. His goal with photography is to investigate and document the people and culture of the many cities he has lived in.
One of his most popular projects is a series called The Frenetic City which explores how chaotic and intense some of the most populated cities in the world are.
It’s not a theme unknown to many of us, but Zhou manages to capture the heart of soul not just of the physical spaces of these cities but also the tension and psychological aspects of such a culture.
And they are all beautifully captured with multiple exposures on a black and white film. And through this technique, he reveals how each moment in these busy cities has many more of those moments layered into the parameters of time.
2. Jerome Le Tellier
If you like mystical pictures that show the timelessness of nature without the interference of humans, Le Tellier is your man.
His pictures are all about the mysteries of this planet and how they unravel whether or not there is an audience.
But they are not just landscapes.
Jerome Le Tellier focuses particularly on classical gardens and reveals the beauty of these places, one frame at a time.
They are melancholic, evocative, nostalgic and more, all at the same time. And each of them captures the spirit of timelessness of these places. There is calm, tinges of happiness, modernity and tragedy in them all.
Alexandre’s tryst with photography began in the year 2000 when he was traveling in Brazil. He started capturing the landscapes of the strange yet wonderful city of Sao Paulo with his disposable camera with the goal of capturing its emotions, beauty and pathos.
But over time, Manuel’s work became more about natural scenery that is removed from human presence. You might catch a shadow or a silhouette once in a while but most of the time, it is about the natural state of structures that surround us humans.
This one is a fascinating choice. Hengki Koentjoro is an Indonesian photographer who takes pictures and videos exploring the spectral dimension.
His work can be classified as fine art photography which is all about the lines, shapes, texture and composition of the contradictions around us.
The contradictions are often found in the form of light and shadows and they are eye-grabbing for more reasons than one. But the most prominent observation might be that Koentjoro manages to dive deep into the multitudes of minimalism.
5. Stephen King
No, not the writer. Stephen King is a Hong Kong-based landscape photographer who does his best work capturing the calm and chaos of unique patterns that are created by nature.
His pictures have the quality of paintings which is a style he practices by playing with composition, color and light. Some of his work is classified as American Abstract Expressionism and most of what he takes is on the Sony A7Rii and Phase One XF.
King’s work is quite popular among collectors across the globe. And a lot of them also find a spot in publications like Zoon Magazine, Art Investment Magazine, National Geographic and more.
6. Ansel Adams
This is one of the most popular names when it comes to black and white photography. He captures these seemingly larger-than-life landscapes in monochrome with every little detail captured vividly.
The tonal range, clarity and sharpness are remarkable and also highlight the complexity of his work in the darkroom.
7. Robert Frank
Then there is Robert Frank, a photographer from Zurich in the 1920s who moved to the US in 1947. He began his tryst with photography just a little before that but the move cemented his fascination with American culture.
He took about 30,000 pictures back in the day, traveling across the country for about two years. Remember, these were pictures on film, so that is quite the number. He picked 100 of them and published them in one of his most well-known works, The Americans.
Frank’s pictures make for an interesting narrative not just because they are photographs from the past, but also because they are from an outsider’s point of view.
And they have their own charm because he did it right after he moved. So, he noticed everything that might seem quirky to an outsider but not Americans themselves.
8. Sally Mann
Sally Mann might be a bit controversial but there is no debate that she’s immensely talented. Mann’s photography does exactly what art is supposed to do. It makes you think, discuss and debate.
She covered a lot of the American landscape in the south and is actually well known for these pictures in black and white.
Some call her work innocent depictions, while others have made serious accusations and called to censor her work. But everyone agrees that she was at the very least a highly capable black and white photographer who could capture an incredible tonal range in her images.
And finally, we have Joel Peter Witkin who also does work that is controversial and hence evocative. But the discussion about Witkin’s work, if you see it, goes beyond the regular layers of controversy.
This is not the kind of work everyone can handle because at some point they start to feel like optical illusions. Are they dead bodies? Are they two heads coming together for a kiss? Or is it one head cut in the middle? Whatever it is, if you can’t handle powerful images that might possibly churn your insides, Witkin is not for you.
But if you are not squeamish and can handle decay and death and more you will have a great deal of fun immersing yourself in the monochromatic drama surrounding dwarves, hermaphrodites and more.
As far as technique is concerned, Witkin uses his hands to tone the prints. He is also said to scratch the negatives and/or the final print to create certain effects.
10. Thomas Devaux
Thomas Devaux, a famous French photographer, creates artwork using photography as a base, that results in photos that owe something to drawing and painting.
He exhibits his work in galleries across the world, and is a good choice to follow for those who are looking for something a little different from standard photography, who are interested in turning photos into more surreal pieces of art.
11. Raphael Macek
Raphael Macek is considered by many to be one of the most famous equine photographers, with a large portfolio of stunning photos of horses.
He sells his work around the world in large prints, with his work showing his real passion and love for horses.
It’s clear that Macek’s work owes a lot to his sensitive approach to the animals that he photographs, with his dedication and passion for his own brand of photography unmistakable in his work.
Highly recommended if you have any interest in equine photography.
12. Nick Brandt
Primarily known for his tinted black and white photographs, focusing on African wildlife, Nick Brandt creates truly exceptional work that is equally at home in a fine art display as it is in a wildlife photography exhibition.
His compositions really set up his photos, and like many black and white photographers, he uses light in a way that might not work if shooting in color, letting spots of light pick up textures in the animals.
Brandt has also ventured into more artistic wildlife photography than most, with his Inherit the Dust series showing photos of animals printed life-size, then placed on objects in urban areas where these animals once used to roam.
He has produced many coffee table books, which are an excellent investment if you are at all interested in the artistry of animal photography.
13. Marina Cano
Marina Cano is a Spanish wildlife photographer who has spent over 20 years photographing nature. She photographs in both color and black and white, with the latter images being particularly powerful, showing an excellent control of light and sharpness.
She has published four books of her work and has regularly has photos used on the cover of National Geographic. Cano takes a more intimate view of wildlife than you usually see from other photographers, capturing those small moments that really give the animals personality, and make them seem real for the viewer.
14. Harry Callahan
Harry Callahan was involved in abstract city photography, taking photos of small details of cities where he lived, as well as regularly photographing his wife and daughter. In later years, he spent time in France where he made images that are more environmental in nature.
He was a lifelong educator, first teaching photography in Chicago, before moving to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was a strong proponent of his students using their own lives as inspiration for their photography. You can see through his photography that he believed in clean lines, and had an eye for bright, clear objects.
15. Edward Weston
Not only was Edward Weston one of the foremost abstract nature photographers of the 20th Century, he was also an Olympian, competing in archery.
He had wide ranging photographic interests, primarily concerned with portrait photography, but made a number of highly regarded still-life images of vegetables in the 1930s that are clear examples of abstract fine art photography.
Although Weston’s work was well thought of at the time, it’s lack of commercial intent meant that he never made much money from his photography, although his reputation as an excellent photographer has only increased with time, making his prints all the more valuable today.