We’ve put together a list of 21 female photographers whose art will inspire and amaze you. Coming from all over the world, these female photographers have captured everything from street, travel, and landscapes, architecture and war photography.
They are artists from different time periods, different backgrounds, and who are following different genres.
We concentrated on women photographers who have left their mark in a great way. But there are many other photographers out there deserving of praise even though they may not be household names (yet!).
In no particular order, here’s our list of 21 female photographers whose creativity and vision will have you take a moment and look twice at their pictures.
1. Nan Goldin
An American photographer, Goldin started by focusing on the post-punk new-wave music scene in Boston. Between 1979 and 1986, she created her most important body of work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
These images portrayed drug use, violent, aggressive couples and autobiographical moments. She sees it as a diary that she would let people read.
Her images are usually shown as a slideshow rather than a typical exhibition of prints. The main themes of her work are love, gender, domesticity, and sexuality, usually photographed using available light.
2. Corrine Day
Day was a fashion photographer turned documentary photographer. She was the first to take images of Kate Moss in her teens. She took pictures for British Magazines such as The Face and I-D, and American Vogue.
Day’s documentary photography started when she left the fashion world. Her photography focused on her friends who were habitual cocaine users. She documented her own struggles after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, which she died from.
3. Sophie Calle
Calle, a French photographer and artist, started her photographic journey in Venice. She followed a man around the city over a few days. Everywhere he went, she followed and photographed him like a private detective.
Her most notable work is The Hotel series where she worked as a chambermaid. This is where she photographed inside the rooms, focusing on the guests’ items.
Her work looks at human vulnerability and examines identity and intimacy.
Wearing is a conceptual artist from Birmingham, UK, incorporating photography, video and text. Her most notable work is Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say.
Signs is a street photography project, focusing on portraits of strangers she encountered in London. She approached each subject with paper and pen and asked them to write their thoughts down.
Each of the subjects wrote something that changed her perception of them. Her work looks at individuality and how people see themselves.
5. Diane Arbus
Arbus was an American photographer focusing on marginalised people. The focus was on transgender people and circus performers, such as dwarves and giants.
She began her career in the commercial world. From photographing items in a department store to creating studio images of models.
She was quickly dissatisfied with this role, and moved on to street photography. She worked on assignment for Vogue, among others. Her work draws inspiration from Richard Avedon and Weegee.
6. Deborah Copaken
Copaken is best known for her war photography and documentary photographic journalism. She was born in Boston, and graduated from Harvard. To follow her photographic dream, she moved to Paris in the late 80s.
Knocking on the doors of French photographic agencies got her an assignment. Photographing the Mujaheddin, who were freedom fighters at the time.
From there she found herself in Moscow, Zimbabwe, and Amsterdam. In Romania she documented conditions of state-run orphanages.
She left the business as she portrayed other photojournalists as vultures. She found distaste preying on the unfortunate.
There is no other female portrait photographer as famous as Annie Leibovitz. Throughout her expansive career, she photographed Demi Moore, The Queen and more notably John Lennon on the same day as his death.
She started as a staff photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. This helped her hone her specific style.
She once said “A very subtle difference can make the picture or not.”
8. Vivian Maier
Maier has become the most famous street photographer of the last few years. Her work was discovered after her death, all hidden in huge suitcases, by a photographer who bought them at an auction.
She was prolific in capturing street photography. Her main position was that of a nanny, keeping her photography as a hobby. She kept her passion secret for her entire life.
Thanks to the finder of her hundreds of thousands of negatives, her work has been shown across many countries. A documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, was created to try and find more information about this secret photographer.
No other female photographer covered the dust-bowl period of America as much as Dorothea Lange. Her portraits of impoverished people through one of the harshest periods of depression are harrowing.
Her work was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration. The images she created influenced the development of the documentary style from there on after.
Even after high-school, and not yet owning a camera, she was adamant she would become a photographer. For the 15 years before the great depression, she was a studio photographer.
10. Cindy Sherman
Cindy is a New-Jersey born photographer who specialises in conceptual portraits. Sherman shoots alone in her studio, assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress, and model.
She disguises herself, and shoots self-portraits that focus on social role-playing and sexual stereotypes.
In the mid to late 90s, Sherman began to work with fashion, creating concepts for runway shows as well as ads for numerous labels.
11. Candida Höfer
Höfer is an interior architectural photographer from Cologne, Germany. Her work is known for technical perfection and a strictly conceptual approach.
She worked on empty spaces from 1979, while studying in Düsseldorf. Her focus is primarily on cultural and institutional spaces, including libraries, zoos, and opera houses.
Another notable series of hers is the Zoologische Gärten series from 1991. Here, she seeks to deconstruct the role institutions play in defining the viewer’s gaze by documenting animals in their caged environments.
12. Hilla Becher
Becher and her husband, Bernd, worked as a collaborative in photographing architecture. They are best known for their photographs of industrial buildings and structures.
These images are often organised together in grids.
She studied photography in Potsdam. This is also where she gained her apprenticeship. Together they began working as freelance photographers for the Troost Advertising Agency in Düsseldorf. Here, they concentrated on product photography.
This conceptual duo influenced Andras Gursky and Candida Höfer, among others.
13. Sam-Taylor Wood
Wood is an English photographer who concentrates on fine-art photography. She attended Goldsmiths University and is part of the Young British Artists group.
She is best known for her series Crying Men, which features many of Hollywood’s celebrities crying. This series saw portraits of the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Sean Penn and Robin Williams.
Currently, she focuses on directing. Her first feature film is Nowhere Boy, a biopic about the childhood of John Lennon.
Cunningham was an American photographer best known for her nudes, botanical and industrial architecture photographs.
She was a member of the Californian Group f/64, known for its dedication to the sharp focusing of simple subjects.
After graduating university with a degree in chemistry, she began working for Edward S. Curtis. Here, she learned about portrait photography and helped in documenting American Indian tribes for the book The North American Indian.
15. Gerda Taro
Gerda was a war photographer, the companion and professional partner of photographer Robert Capa. Like Capa, she also died photographing the front lines of war. She is regarded as the first female photojournalist.
Taro was born in Stuttgart and emigrated to Paris in 1935 after escaping anti-semitism in Germany. She met Endre Friedmann (Capa) there. During this time, she worked for the Alliance photo agency.
16. Sally Mann
Sally Mann is an American photographer, best known for her large-format, black-and-white photographs. She started by photographing her young children. She turned to landscapes later on in her life.
Her landscapes were photographed using a 100-year-old large format camera. She captured her images on wet plate 8×10 inch glass. This process allowed Mann to show and manipulate flaws in the images.
She has published many books of her work and still exhibits today.
17. Zoe Strauss
Strauss is an American street photographer who joined the photographic group Magnum. Her images around Philadelphia depict the struggles of daily life.
Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is her most notable exhibition. She describes it as “a narrative about the beauty and difficulty of everyday life.”
The series of 54 images shows her documentary and street photography of her travels.
Her work looks at themes of odyssey, journey and homecoming.
18. Martine Franck
Martine Franck was a documentary and portrait photographer from Belgium. She was a member of Magnum Photos for over 32 years. She studied in Madrid and Paris and turned to photography because she had no talent for writing.
After returning from her travels in the far-east, she assisted photographers at Time-Life. She also freelanced for Vogue and Life among other magazines.
In 1980 she joined Magnum photos (an agency founded by Capa), becoming a full member in 1983.
19. Kunié Sugiura
Kunié is a Japanese photographer born in Nagoya in 1942. She moved to America in her 20s.
Her medium was the photogram. She used these to capture flowers and creatures of the sea. Living and dead.
A photogram involves capturing silhouettes of people and objects through harsh contrast. Rather than focusing on the detail of the subject, a photogram gives you a definitive shape.
20. Shirin Neshat
Shirin Neshat is an Iranian visual artist who lives in New York City. She uses photographic, film and video mediums.
Her artwork centres on the contrasts between the West and Islam. It also has themes of femininity and masculinity, and bridging the spaces between these opposites.
Her strong light contrasts mirror these strong thematic contrasts. Text, in the form of Persian calligraphy, is also common in her portraits.
21. Tina Modotti
Tina was originally born in Italy but emigrated to the US when she was 16. She tried to enter the world of the motion picture industry in Los Angeles while keeping her bohemian lifestyle.
Instead, she became a fine art photographer. By 1921 she had moved to Mexico to open a studio with Edward Weston.
Here, she photographed folk art and landscapes, moving on to more abstract images. She continued to experiment with architectural interiors and flowers.
For even more famous photographers you should know about, check out our Top 20 Young Photographers article.