The genre of street photography isn’t well defined, but it seems to mean real, in-motion photography of humanity mostly. This encompasses shots, including people, animals, and landscapes.
Each of the famous street photographers on this list has made their mark in this field. All of these famous street photographers have become famous for being able to capture intimate real moments on film.
These images usually capture reality, but they can be staged in some situations. But what they have in common is that they each evoke some type of emotion from the viewers.
These eighteen famous street photographers reformed and created what we appreciate in the best street photography, including creating terms like the decisive moment and transitioning from black and white photography to color.
Most Famous Street Photographers
We’re presenting eighteen of the best famous street photographers throughout history who have stood out as the greats in this niche. These famous street photographers have refined the definition of this fine art and made a name for themselves.
1. Bringing Photos to Life: Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander is a famous American street photographer. He got his start with urban social landscape images, primarily the reflections of the store-fronts and framed structures around New York City.
He has also worked as a photographer for many magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Esquire, as well as for Atlantic Records photographing blues and jazz musicians.
Friedlander has a unique style of capturing a scene that makes it feel like it’s alive and in front of you. You can see a million things happening at one moment, and it will resonate deep within you. By far, I find him as one of my favorite famous street photographers.
His collection of images he took while on a road trip across all 50 states particularly moves me. I love how each photo has a tension to it.
And in my opinion, he’s one of the first users of the “selfie” portrait so many people do these days. His 70s’ collection titled Self Portraits is a must-view.
2. The Photojournalist: Eugene Smith
W. Eugene Smith is an American street photographer who got his start working at Newsweek in New York in 1938. Since then, Eugene Smith has risen in the ranks to be regarded as one of the best famous street photographers in history.
Smith was also featured in Life magazine, which is what started his rise to fame. In addition to Country Doctor, his Life feature, he also completed a piece for The Jazz Loft, which was part of his work with Magnum.
Unfortunately, Smith suffered an accident where he was attacked while trying to shoot photographs in Minamata, where there was industrial sewage causing health problems for the locals. The incident left Smith partially blind, which required him to quit.
3. Life in Motion: Garry Winogrand
New York street photographer Garry Winogrand made a name for himself for his captivating snapshots of New York City. A Bronx native, Winogrand had a flair for capturing images in motion, with chaotic imperfections adding life and action.
In addition to his work, Winogrand also published four books related to photography. His work appears in multiple publications, museums, and art collections.
While Bresson’s photos were perfection, Winogrand was famous for the fact he captured images that had unusual aspects. Some of his pictures could even be considered eerie or spooky. His images captured the underlying emotions of a scene authentically.
4. Hidden Talent: Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier is a newcomer to the best street photography scene. Her recognition as a famed photographer didn’t occur until after she’d passed away. A nanny by profession, Vivian Maier kept her talent for capturing life on film a secret.
It was only by chance when a photographer happened to collect her belongings in an auction that her work as a photographer was ever presented to the public. She had over 200,000 negatives that had never been seen.
Despite not being known while she was alive, Vivian certainly deserves a place among the best famous street photographers. She had a knack for capturing life in motion with some inspirational results. She now has fans around the world.
5. A Range of Emotions: Robert Doisneau
Robert Doisneau is a fan favorite due to his ability to record humor and emotion in still-form. He is still considered a master of the best street photography, as well as being a concept artist capable of photographs with a sense of surrealism.
His collection of photographs is extensive, with over 450,000 photos, many of which have received awards and recognition. To this day, he is considered a pioneer of photojournalism.
Doisneau liked to take images that showed how society worked as well as photographs that evoked emotions from his viewers.
6. Inspiration and Symbolism: Jill Freedman
American street photographer Jill Freedman earned a spot among the best street photographers for her inspirational photos starting after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. His passing inspired her to move from New York where she was a copywriter, to Washington D.C., where she started her career.
In addition to photographing her neighborhood and hut in a low-income part of town, she also worked as a photographer for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. She lived in a van and followed the show around the country.
Freedman was so successful she worked with Magnum Photos, although she never became a member. Her work is in museums and collections across the globe. Freedman’s most notorious skills as a street photographer are her ability to record symbolism and humor in her shots.
7. Capturing the Great Depression: Walker Evans
Walker Evans is another American photographer who made his mark on history while documenting life during the Great Depression.
One of his most known projects was in a New York City subway, where he captured candid, unposed shots of the subway patrons. He kept his camera hidden under his jacket, so no one was aware of him taking pictures. Quite clever, I must say!
Many of Walker’s photographs are depicted in black and white, giving them a more dramatic feel. His ability to freeze the perfect candid moment on film makes him a rightful member of the best street photographers list.
8. The Innovator: Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson is a French street photographer from 1908 to 2004, considered to be the pioneer of this genre. He also perfected the style of candid, unposed photos.
Henri Cartier Bresson is the coiner of the photography term, the decisive moment, which happens when you learn how to anticipate a moment before it happens so you can capture the shot at the precise moment that something happens.
Henri Cartier Bresson’s street work is widely appreciated by photography lovers and serves as an inspiration for the best street photographers in the urban photography field around the world. He’s been in multiple museums and publications, including the New York Times.
Henri Cartier Bresson is also one of the founders of the publication Magnum, which features many of the photographers we include on this list. To be featured in Magnum is an ambition for many professional photographers.
9. The Advocate: Susan Meiselas
Susan Meiselas is another American photographer who has been featured in prominent publications like the New York Times, GEO, Paris Match, and Time. She’s also received the Robert Capa Gold Medal and is a MacArthur Fellow.
She’s most famous for her work covering human rights issues in our country and others. She has also worked as a film director and published books and e-books. She is undoubtedly a multitalented lady who has rightfully earned her place among the best street photographers.
10. Politics in Prague: Josef Koudelka
A photographer that is famed for one of the best street photographers with political ties is Josef Koudelka, a Czech-French photographer who started as an engineer.
Koudelka has become well-known for his photographs of life behind the lines of Prague as Soviets invaded. His photos depicted scenes of the Soviet military forces decimating the Prague Spring forces.
These photos were sold and published to Magnum, for which he earned a Robert Capa Gold Medal for pictures that required exceptional courage. He is also famous for his intimate photos of Romanian Gypsies, an often misunderstood group.
11. Irony and Dogs: Elliott Erwitt
Elliott Erwitt made a name for himself by snapping monochrome candid shots of everyday life occurrences. He has a particular penchant for photographing dogs, which he has used as the subject in five published books.
Known for his ironic and often comical pictures, Erwitt used animal subjects as frequently as he did people. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt was a master of the decisive moment technique. This photographer knew precisely how to take the shot to make it life-like.
Elliot has become a beloved famous street photographer, both in the states and abroad. He has a particular fascination with photographing the city of New York, as evidenced by his so-named photograph, which is one of his better-known pieces of work.
12. The Beauty in the Everyday: Gianni Berengo Gardin
An Italian street photographer born in 1930, Gianni Berengo Gardin earned his place on the best street photographers list for his exceptional work capturing social investigation, architecture, and the environment.
He has a collection of almost a thousand reportages in his portfolio, and his work has been awarded the World Press Photo Award and the Brassai Award.
Many have praised Gardin for his humbleness. Despite finding fame among the best street photographers, Gardin continues to show humanity at its realist, unfiltered and raw.
He has also ventured into the fields of advertising and book illustrations. In addition to his expansive career as a reportage photographer.
13. Unique Techniques: William Klein
A true legend among street photographers, William Klein, is still adding to his street photography portfolio to this day (2020), despite being ninety years old!
Klein is most known for using odd techniques to take shots, including motion blur, and telephoto and wide-angle lenses to take scenes on the street, fashion, and photojournalism.
In addition to a massive street photographer portfolio, Klein also has awards for Outstanding Contribution to Photography from the Sony World Photography Awards, and the Prix Nader from the Royal Photographic Society.
14. Viewing the World in Color: Helen Levitt
Helen Levitt is lesser-known, but she is still a fantastic street photographer, famous for her funny and realist photos captured around the streets of New York City.
Most of her black and white images featured people in their daily lives – children playing, adults conversing, walking around shopping.
Viewing Levitt’s work is like being transformed back to a more simple era in life when we weren’t ruled by technology and consumerism.
Her photos speak the truth about humanity in an era that was filled with hardships, yet displayed compassion and comradery. She was also one of the first street photographers to transition from black and white style to color. A true pioneer of her times.
15. Up Close and Personal: Bruce Gilden
Bruce Gilden is another American street photographer who is still alive and pleasing the world with his unique ability to take candid and close-up images of ordinary people meandering through the streets of New York City, as well as other locations.
Gilden has no qualms about invading his subject’s personal space and beaming them with a flashgun light, which causes his photos to look eerie and the person to be captured with a look of shock or surprise.
He has been the recipient of the European Publishers Award for Photography and is a member of Magnum Photos. He’s also a Guggenheim Fellow.
16. The Advocate for the Outcasts: Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus was an American street photographer from New York City that had a preference for photographing marginalized groups, such as transgender people and circus members.
She started her journey by photographing things in studios and department stores. She’s worked with Vogue and Esquire, as well as being part of New Documents, alongside famous street photographers Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand.
Arbus is most known for being able to take unique subjects that transform what is normal into their own personal brand. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963.
Despite her robust career, Arbus sadly committed suicide in 1971.
17. The Painter and Photographer: Saul Leiter
Saul Leiter was an incredible American street photographer, but he was also a painter, which helped him take images in a different way than others.
His work in the 40s and 50s led to the creation of the New York School of Photography, alongside William Klein and Robert Frank.
While Leiter got his start in black and white street photography, he found his passion for color photography, of which he quickly became a pioneer.
Most of Smith’s images are of his neighborhood in East Village in New York City. He is a master of style and content in street photography, and anyone serious about being a street photographer should study his works.
18. The Outsider: Robert Frank
Robert Frank was born in Switzerland but is a well-known photographer for his unique images of America in the post-war 50s when everyone was supposed to be living the perfect American Dream.
Due to being Jewish, Frank faced multiple issues, including being accused of being a spy and being arrested because he was Jewish.
It was his position as an outsider among America that allowed him to take controversial images that displayed the real issues going on at the time that everyone pretended didn’t exist.
Poor, blacks, outlaws – Frank preferred to photograph the outsiders that many overlook. He liked to register regular moments, showing loneliness, despair, stress, boredom. All emotions he felt deeply on his lonely journeys.
Frank started as a fashion photographer working for Harper’s Bazaar before becoming a freelance journalist. After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, Frank began to travel around the United States, photographing over twenty-eight thousand streets images of life in America.
What is the point of street photography?
The purpose of street photography will change depending on the street photographer’s beliefs. Some photographers believe that the point of street photography is to freeze life in still form as a way to freeze a moment in time for the world and future generations to see and appreciate.
These street photographers are often hoping to shed light on a particular statement or situation on their work, or they’re trying to impact a change. Photographing poverty areas, rundown urban streets, and the desolate depression in rural parts are examples.
Other street photographers believe that street photography is just a form of art, a way of preserving the moment as is so that you can appreciate the situation in the streets. These images usually convey an emotion to the viewer.
What is good street photography?
To stand out as good street photography, an image must emotionally move a person or affect their way of thinking.
Street photography is a picture journal of the photographer’s journey through life. Photographers should capture images that speak to you, that says something you want to share.
Why is street photography so popular?
Street photography is so popular because it captures real moments on film. It allows you to get a peek into the life of someone else. It makes you feel emotions.
Street photography is a great form to use when you’re trying to shed light on social injustice, cultural differences, or life in action.
Capturing street photography on film allows photographers to share a story where viewers can come up with an infinite number of outcomes. Anything is possible.
Who’s Your Favorite Famous Street Photographer?
We’ve given you our favorite famous street photographers, but there are still a ton more out there for you to explore. Expand your horizons and take time to admire different street photographers. Now, it’s your turn to share your favorite with us!