8 Famous Black and White Photographers (The Past and The Present)

Black and white pictures have contributed a unique view of our world. In most cases, they give us a glimpse at what our world looked like before our time. But why does it seem to conquer so many photographers even today?

Black and white photograph
An Image of Black and White Photography

The new changes in photographic technology have contributed significantly to a big transformation in photography. The cameras and lenses, and even the different styles of photography have changed only a lot.

Even though many people prefer the bright colored portraits, there are still those that prefer the classical taste of black and white pictures. And some even prefer to watch black and white videos, for that matter. It is no wonder why so many portrait photographers and art lovers today are continuing this tradition.

Today I want to honor this distinguishing form of art by learning about some of the famous black and white photographers. The following are only 8 of the many photographers who devoted, or have devoted their lives entirely to this beautiful form of art.

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08. Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, an American-born black-and-white photographer, was also a very popular environmentalist who is admired by many even today.

Together with Fred Archer, they developed the “Zone System.” This is a popular photographic technique that helps to improve the quality of images. It guides you to adjust your camera’s exposure settings so you can capture an image the way you imagine it.

Likewise, Ansel Adams is also the founding father of “Group f/64.” This is a group of 7 photographers who have the same photographing style. Their work or imagery collection is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art even today.

Ansel Adams is also the person who invented the “rule of thirds” when Digital SLR cameras and professional image editing programs, such as Adobe Lightroom arrived. 

As a nature-lover, Ansel Adams displayed a scenic view of human-centered nature in nearly all his photographs, whether it’s a portrait or a landscape. Some of his famous photos are Winter Storm, Monolith, Sierra Nevada, and The Face of Half Dome. 

07. Robert Capa

Robert Capa, a 20th century photojournalist, was born in 1913 in Hungary, and died in Vietnam in 1954. The 40-year old war photographer and photojournalist accidentally stepped on a landmine when he was capturing the first Indochina War in 1954.

The world knew Robert Capa as a combat photographer who covered five wars:

  • The Spanish Civil War in 1936.
  • The Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
  • The apocalypse (World War II) in 1939.
  • The 1948-1949 Arab – Israeli War.
  • And the 1954 Indochina War where he died.

Furthermore, Robert Capa was also among the four photographers in history who started Magnum Photos (the world’s most reputable photographic firm). This was back in 1947; two years after the apocalypse, or in other words, the second World War. 

The four history photographers, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Rodger were motivated by both a sense of relief that the world had survived and the curiosity of seeing what had remained of it.

06. James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey is very famous for his war photography. In 2003, he got wounded while photographing in Baghdad. James have witnessed and photographed some of the world’s most catastrophic events and memories in history, including:

  • The 9/11 devastating attack in 2001
  • The 2003 US invasion or special operation in Iraq.
  • The 2004 Tsunami.
  • And the 2013 South Sudan conflict.

James Nachtwey is actually the guy who saw it all. And his black and white photographs serve as proof of his testimony to the world’s most devastating historic moments 

Similarly, James Nachtwey is also known for documenting tuberculosis, including how the disease took its toll across South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, and Cambodia. The world should never forget, or attempt to repeat the past ugly events that this living American photography legend has witnessed and captured with his camera.

05. Diane Nemerov Arbus

Diane Arbus was both a photographer and a writer. She was well-known for her square monochrome pictures and her broad range of subjects. To name a few, her subjects included children, elderly people, carnival performers, people with dwarfism, and strippers.

She may have captured some fashion photographs for Vogue magazine. But in 1956, she quit photographing for commercial purposes and focused entirely on her favorite subjects. Because she specialized in square images, she replaced her Nikon 35mm camera with a 2-lenses Rolleiflex camera so she can snap more square photographs.

In 1972, a year after her sudden death that was caused by taking an overdose of barbiturates, she became the first ever photographer to be featured in the Venice Biennale. This is where her exceptionally powerful and very strange black and white pictures were the immense impression of the American Pavilion.

04. Sharad Haksar

Sharad Haksar is India’s finest and most complete photographer who is widely recognized today. He is the only photographer in Asia to ever receive a Gold, Silver, two Bronzes, including 21 honorable mentions at IPA Awards.

He is also the founder of One Eyeland—the world’s biggest virtual community for professional photographers and creative artists. The One Eyeland’s website has more than 83 thousand members and receives about 8.5 million page views per year.

In 2005, Sharad was honored with the top 10 best lens-men in the world. A year later, he was again listed by Luerzer’s Archive as one of the best 200 photographers worldwide. Sharad has so far won more than two hundred national and global awards.

03. Bev Pettit

Bev Pettit is a famous photographer who specializes in equine photography. She has traveled throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico, capturing animals mostly wild horses) in their natural environments.

She may have lived and worked in large cities throughout her career. But according to her, she has always been the simple rural girl who was born and raised in a small western town in the United States of America.

Bev has great love and passion for nature and animals. Especially horses. Living in Arizona, United States, puts her close to some of the biggest working ranches in the West, where she has had the pleasure of covering ranch life.

Moreover, her work has appeared in art exhibits worldwide. And she has received several awards in most reputable global art contests, including Tokyo, Moscow, and PX3 Paris International Photo Awards, to name a few.

In 2021, One Eyeland; the best photo sharing website that features top artists and famous photography,  awarded her the #1 black and white photographer in the US, and #3 black and white photographers in the world.

02. James Lewin

Although he is purely British, James Lewin is a Kenyan based Fine Art wildlife photographer and conservationist who has a special love for black and white photography.

James Lewin likes both short and long exposure times, depending on his mood, the climate condition, or any other technical challenges. His black and white wildlife pictures have a timeless feel. And at the same time, they warn that endangered animal species are in more danger of becoming history, only to exist or be remembered through pictures.

His Art Galleries in Britain and the US donate 20-percent of the total sales to benefit the animals that we see in his photographs and the surrounding communities.

01. Eldon Lau

Eldon Lau is a widely recognized name in the fashion and wedding photography niche. He studied Visual Art and Image Concept and has over 10 years of professional experience in commercial portrait photography.

He is also the founding father and chief photographer at ME studio. Since 2014, Eldon Lau has won over 250 International awards from global contests hosted by several famous photographic societies, such as One Eyeland and World Elite Photographers.

In 2019, World Elite Photographers (WEP) also honored Eldon Lau with “WEP Master Photographer and Contest Judge.”

Final Remarks

Black and white photography just can’t go out of style. And even though the color photographs are visually appealing and eye-catching, there is something special about looking at a black-and-white picture that makes us feel more connected to the image.

I have only touched on a few famous black and white photographers from history and the present day. But there are many other great black and white photographers out there. Some may already be dead, but many of them still live and are embracing this distinguishing form of art.

Lastly, only the true art lovers admire the rewards of black-and-white photography. As technology and our Digital SLR cameras improve, monochrome photography will still continue and lend a unique timeless and true quality to the picture.