Photography documentaries are fantastic combinations of knowledge and entertainment. You can learn so much from the masters of photography. And because photography is a visual endeavor, documentaries are a great way to learn.
We’ve compiled this list to help inspire you. There are all sorts of photographers on this list. So there’s something to inspire everyone, no matter what type of photography you shoot!
The Best Photography Documentaries
Inspiration can strike at any time. So why not watch the masters of photography to inspire you? Continue reading for our top photography documentary picks.
1. Edward Weston – The Photographer
This movie was made by Williard Van Dyke. It is about Edward Weston, one of the best documentary photographers of former times. This 26-minute-long photography documentary shows us all about Weston’s life. There are a couple of quotes that stood out to me:
“Look for the light that will best reveal the nature of the material you’re photographing.”
“There are no rules of composition because each picture presents its own special set of problems. You can use no shortcuts, no formulas; the answer must be worked out each time.”
2. Gordon Parks – Half Past Autumn
Gordon Parks was a true modern renaissance man with achievements in many fields. Among his many accomplishments, he was a groundbreaking documentary photographer.
His images had a deep impact on our culture. The documentary is well worth 90 minutes of your day.
3. Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye
This excellent 90-minute-long documentary is part of the PBS American Masters series.
Alfred Stieglitz was a documentary and street photographer. This one is considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time.
4. Imagine | The Colorful Mr Eggleston
Watch William Eggleston, a documentary photographer at work in his hometown of Memphis.
It’s only 47 minutes long, so you can fit it in on your lunch break.
5. Annie Leibovitz 1993 Documentary
Annie Leibovitz is one of the greatest portrait photographers of our age.
Her celebrity pictures, including the iconic shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are world-famous. The list of stars she has photographed is endless. It includes celebrities like Demi Moore, Keira Knightley, Mark Zuckerberg, and Adele.
The Library of Congress named her a Living Legend. She is the first woman to have a feature exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.
This 50-minute documentary depicts the development of Annie Leibovitz’s career.
6. National Geographic Live! The Life of a Photographer
Veteran National Geographic photographer Sam Abell offers a look inside the heart and mind of a master photographer.
This video is 43 minutes of pure wildlife photography inspiration.
7. The Real Weegee
This is an hour-long photography documentary on Weegee, the famous New York photographer.
He specialized in street life and crime scenes in the 40s and 50s.
8. Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Documentary
Here is a photography documentary showing a portrait of Andy Goldsworthy.
He is an artist who specializes in ephemeral sculptures made from elements of nature. The documentary is only 30 minutes long but provides some inspirational insights.
9. National Geographic: Search for the Afghan Girl
The documentary focuses on the subject of one single photo taken by Steve McCurry.
In 1984, he took a portrait of an adolescent girl living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The portrait, Afghan Girl, was on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic and quickly became famous.
The 47-minute movie follows Steve McCurry in his search for his long-lost subject, the Afghan girl.
10. Duffy: The Man Who Shot the Sixties
Together with David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Duffy is recognized as an innovator of “documentary” and fashion photography.
This style revolutionized fashion imagery and the fashion industry. Their images were so influential that in 1962, The Sunday Times dubbed Duffy, Bailey, and Donovan the “Terrible Trio.”
Norman Parkinson further added to their notoriety by naming them “The Black Trinity.” Together they dominated the London photography scene, constantly pushing each other to new heights. Even socially, they would spend many hours together talking, living, and breathing photography.
In the 70s, Duffy suddenly disappeared from view and burned all his negatives. Filmed on the eve of the first-ever exhibition of his work, Duffy talks about his life, his work, and why he made it all go up in flames. It only takes an hour to get to know the legend.
11. No Worries: Martin Parr
Magnum documentary photographer Martin Parr was photographing Western Australia when he was asked by FotoFreo Festival Director Bob Hewitt to photograph three port cities.
Fremantle, Broome, and Port Hedland are shown here in a short (15-minute) but sweet photography documentary.
12. Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Pen, Brush & Camera”
Acclaimed as one of history’s most influential figures in the photographic field, Henri Cartier-Bresson gives a revealing interview about his life, work, ideas, and beliefs.
Additionally, this coincides with three major London exhibitions.
This 50-minute documentary is one of the best documentaries about photographers today.
13. Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light
This photography documentary is a solid, revelatory film about an artist who revolutionized the very concept of fashion documentary photography.
Avedon sums up his philosophy by saying, “To be a photographer, you have to nurture the things that most people discard.” Watch the documentary here.
14. BBC LOMO Documentary
Here is an hour-long photography documentary on Lomography. It originally aired on the BBC in 2004.
It is different from the other documentaries as it follows a company rather than a documentary photographer.
Here, you will see many images and subjects covered by this documentary photographic movement. This documentary is thoroughly enjoyable and one of the best photography documentaries of its time.
15. Paparazzi Documentary – Next Generation
This documentary shows a group of photographers that we don’t always appreciate or respect.
Watch and enjoy at your own risk. The playlist consists of seven videos, each 10 minutes long.
Conclusion: The Best Photography Documentaries
There are many ways to learn new techniques and find inspiration for your photography. Watching a documentary on photographers is not only entertaining, it’s also very educational.
Choose one or two of the above documentaries every week, and see how they affect your style!
You can also find heaps of creative inspiration in our Creative Photography Cookbook!