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20 Most Famous Street Photographers You Should Know in 2024

Last updated: April 19, 2024 - 15 min read
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Street photography captures the beauty of the everyday. There’s a special improvisatory skill that street photographers need. It’s a way of seeing the world.

One way to improve your street photography is by looking back at the best. So let’s look at the masters of street photography, their stories, and the stories they photographed.

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20 Most Famous Street Photographers

These names may sound familiar to you if you know some photographic history. Many worked in the mid-to-late 20th century. And we have a lot to learn from them.

With much difficulty, we’ve limited our list of famous street photographers to 20.

1. Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) photographed in America during the Great Depression. Her image of a migrant mother in Nipomo, California, became the iconic image of the era.

Lange traveled the country and later the world. She photographed poor rural farmers and unemployed working classes. Her goal was to shine a light on instances of social injustice.

She brought empathy to her images, capturing a softness and compassion. See an overview of Lange’s work in the photo book Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits.

Dorothea Lange's most famous images. Migrant mother, Nipomo, California. Taken in 1936.
Migrant mother, Nipomo, California,1936. One of Lange’s most famous images.

2. Jill Freedman

Jill Freedman‘s (1939-2019) work hovers between street photography and photojournalism. Her subjects included marginalized populations and public servants.

She photographed issues of social justice and political protests. And Freedman immersed herself in her subjects.

She joined the circus for two years, rode along with the New York City police, and lived with firefighters. Close relationships with subjects let her make personal, behind-the-scenes images.

Her work was often under-appreciated. Yet she still is one of the most important street photographers.

Each Freedman’s book features images of a different project. Jill Freedman: Resurrection City, 1968 gives you a look into one of these projects.

Two firefighters from the FDNY embrace after a 'five-alarm fire', New York City, 1976. Photo by Jill Freedman
Two firefighters from the FDNY embrace after a “five-alarm fire,” New York City, 1976. Photo by Jill Freedman.

3. Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander (born 1934) captures the social landscape of cities. He photographs both the people on the streets and their urban environment.

His subjects include storefronts, urban frames, and signage. These are the human artifacts of the modern world.

Friedlander photographed a series of self-portraits beginning in the 1960s. He often captured himself in a reflection or his shadow in an image. The photographer became a participant in the scene.

His black-and-white images capture a “snapshot aesthetic.” It’s a quick, immediate documentation of a scene. The book Lee Friedlander is an introduction to the man and his images.

Iconic street photography by Lee Friedlander
Street through a store window in New Orleans, 1968. Photo by Lee Friedlander.

4. Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt (1913-2009) captured a poetic view of mid-20th century New York City. She photographed women, children, and community street life.

In her later career, she worked in color and black and white. Her color images of the 1960s paved the way for other street photographers.

Unfortunately, many of her color transparencies and prints from this period were stolen.

Her images of the city are warm and approachable. They show a side of urban life full of community. Her pictures are vignettes of domestic life.

The book Here and There is a collection of Levitt’s favorite images over seven decades of shooting.

New York City, 1981. Photograph by Helen Levitt
New York City, 1981. Photograph by Helen Levitt.

5. Bruce Gilden

Bruce Gilden (born 1946) is a controversial figure among urban photographers. He isn’t just a candid photographer—he’s a confrontational one.

Gilden doesn’t photograph people on the streets of New York as he finds them. He confronts his subjects. He jumps into their personal space with a wide-angle lens and a high-powered flash.

This elicits a strong reaction, often one of surprise, sometimes anger. So his portraits show an unfiltered, raw emotion. And Gilden’s methods are often debated in the world of street photography.

His method may be unorthodox. But the images he gets are unique. His photos show an immediate and direct intimacy with his subjects.

The book Facing New York will give you a glimpse into Gilden’s style.

An iconic street portrait by Bruce Gilden
An iconic New York City street portrait by Bruce Gilden.

6. William Klein

William Klein (born 1928) is an American-born, French-based street and fashion photographer. He often mixes the genres by photographing high fashion models on the streets.

Klein shoots with a wide-angle lens in a quick and energetic style. His urban photography shows motion blur and grain. His is a world off-center.

He approaches street photography as an anthropologist. He captures the immediate culture of the urban lifestyle.

He returned to his native New York after living in Paris. He photographed the rugged streets of the mid-1950s showing a harsh reality.

The project culminated in the influential book Life is Good & Good for You in New York. Klein’s Photofile is another book well worth checking out of you like his work. And you can follow William Klein on Instagram.

William Klein mixed fashion and street photography. Evelyn Isabella Nena Mirrors, NewYork, 1962
William Klein mixed fashion and street photography. Evelyn Isabella Nena Mirrors, NewYork, 1962.

7. Daidō Moriyama

Daido Moriyama (1938) is a Tokyo-based Japanese street photographer. His street photography focuses on the conflict between traditional culture and the modern world.

His style favors high-contrast, grainy images. His photos are often harsh and blurred. This gives them an abstract quality. The tilted horizons and fragmentary compositions highlight urban angst.

It’s difficult to recommend just one book by Moriyama. There are hundreds. Daido Moriyama: The World Through My Eyes is a curated collection and overview of his work.

A black and white photo of a carousel by Daidō Moriyama
A black and white photo of a carousel by Daidō Moriyama.

8. Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget (1857-1927) was possibly the first street photographer. Atget photographed the streets of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He worked at a time when photography was rising in popularity.

His photos were still-life photos of the street. Often, the people behind the images were implied. Many of his photos are architectural with context.

Atget’s work is not technically street photography. But he is cited by many later street photographers as a major influence.

Championed by American photographer Berenice Abbott, his work became part of the mainstream. His work influenced the street photographers of the next generation.

The book Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris is a glimpse into Atget’s photography.

Paris street scene. Photo by Eugene Atget.
Paris street scene. Photo by Eugene Atget.

9. Diane Arbus

New York-based photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) is known for her street portraits. She focused on questions of identity and people living on the fringes of society.

She photographed people she saw as creating their own identities, like performers, twins, and transgender individuals. And she photographed subjects that were, until that time, forbidden.

Some view Arbus’ images as compassionate portrayals of individuals. Others see them as bizarre and disturbing. She sought intense clarity in her pictures, showing the details of a secret life.

Her estate carefully guarded her work for many years. But there are now many biographies. Diane Arbus: Photographer is an excellent place to start.

iconic photo by Diane Arbus
A Family on Their Lawn On Sunday in Westchester, New York, 1968. Photo by Diane Arbus.

10. Walker Evans

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was a street photographer and photojournalist working in America. He captured his most famous work in the American South during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

He photographed rural life and small towns. He captured both the poverty and the humanity of his subjects. His photos document the American culture of the time.

Later, Evans would document unguarded moments on the New York subway.

In collaboration with writer James Agee, Evans created the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. This classic book documented farm life in Alabama and contains some of Evans’ best work.

A black and white photo of a musician playing on a train by Walker Evans
View Down Subway Car: Accordionist Performing in Aisle, 1938. Photo by Walker Evans.

11. Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt (1928) is an American street photographer. He captured life on the streets of New York and around the world during the mid-to-late 20th century.

He is famous for ironic and humorous street photos. He was a master at finding candid moments that speak to us emotionally.

Erwitt also photographed dogs. He devoted five books to dog photography. He also created iconic images of famous people, including Che Guevara, shown in the book Cuba.

An excellent introduction to his work is Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best

Paris, 1989. Photo by Elliott Erwitt
Paris, 1989. Photo by Elliott Erwitt.

12. Brassaï (Gyula Halász)

Brassaï (1899-1984) was born as Gyula Halász. During the 1920s and 1930s, he photographed the nightlife of Paris. His photos depicted the seedier side of the city.

His subjects included prostitutes, transgender individuals, and the criminal underworld. He found stories on gritty streets and in Paris’ high society.

He perfected the demanding technique of photographing life at night. The resulting images were moody and expressionistic.

Brassaï’s first book was Paris by Night. He compiled it in 1933. And it remains one of the best introductions to his work.

Putting out a streetlight, rue Émile Richard c. 1932. Photo by Brassaï.
Extinguishing a Streetlight, rue Émile Richard,1932. Photo by Brassaï.

13. Robert Frank

Swiss street photographer Robert Frank (1924-2019) is best known for his book The Americans.

As an immigrant to the United States, Frank explored the back roads of his new country. He quickly became disillusioned by the commercialism and prejudice he encountered.

His photos of 1950s America later came to define the era. But they were initially dismissed as being too far removed from the mainstream.

His photos were blurry, grainy, and dark. They contrasted those valued during the period.

His look is referred to as “the snapshot aesthetic.” This personal, spontaneous look influenced later street photographers.

Trolley in New Orleans, 1955. Photo by Robert Frank
Trolley in New Orleans, 1955. Photo by Robert Frank.

14. Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand (1928–1984) worked primarily in New York during the 1960s. He was both a street photographer and a photojournalist.

He is known for his photos of crowded public places, including zoos and airports. And his photos are filled with complex social interactions.

Winogrand’s photos capture the anxiety of the times. His pictures show politics, society, and media colliding, particularly in the 1960s.

Ironically, Winogrand hated the term “street photography.” He enjoyed the process of taking the photo above the final product. He left almost 2,500 rolls of film undeveloped when he died.

Winogrand is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable.

The Man in the Crowd: The Uneasy Streets of Garry Winogrand is an excellent book introducing his work. You can also check out the excellent collection The Street Photography of Garry Winogrand

New York City, 1968. Photo by Garry Winogrand
New York City, 1968. Photo by Garry Winogrand.

15. André Kertész

André Kertész (1894-1985) inspired both street photographers and photojournalists. His work spans from the 1920s through the 1960s.

He photographed the streets of Paris and New York. He explored unique camera angles and distortion.

Though he influenced many 20th-century photographers, including Cartier-Bresson, Kertész felt underappreciated. His work was at the forefront of photography as an art form.

Critics of the time struggled to place photography alongside other forms of visual art. But they struggled with Kertész’s photography specifically.

Kertész’s work is collected into several books. One of the best books, to begin with, is perhaps André Kertész: His Life and Work.

A black and white street photo by André Kertész
Rainy Day, Tokyo, 1968. Photo by André Kertész.

16. Fan Ho

Fan Ho (1931-2016) documented the Hong Kong street scene in the 1950s and 1960s.

The city at the time was a very different place from what it became later in the century. He photographed the everyday life of children and workers in the city’s side streets.

His photos are masterpieces of light and shadows, shapes and action. This led some to call him the “Cartier-Bresson of the East.”

Ho was a celebrated photographer, actor, and filmmaker during his lifetime. Books of Fan Ho’s works are difficult to come by but keep your eyes out for Portrait of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong market scene. Photo by Fan Ho
Hong Kong market scene. Photo by Fan Ho.

17. Vivian Maier

Unknown during her lifetime, Vivian Maier (1926-2009) is now one of the most famous street photographers. Her discovery is shown in the Academy Award-nominated film Finding Vivian Maier.

Collector John Maloof discovered hundreds of thousands of her negatives at an auction. He championed her photography, showing it to the world. He wrote Vivan Maier: A Photographer Found.

Maier captured moments of street life, mostly in Chicago, during the 1950s and 1960s. Her photos have a sense of gentleness and sometimes whimsy.

Her subjects were diverse. She photographed children, the working class, and the wealthy on the street. She shot anything that caught her eye.

Her photos included herself. There are many self-portraits in her collection, captured in reflections.

Maier’s story, an unrecognized artist in our midsts, captured the world’s interest. But her story has also brought up copyright issues and the ethics of publishing photos not shared by the artist.

Her photos are in many books, including Vivian Maier: Street Photographer.

Self-portrait Vivian Maier.
Self-portrait Vivian Maier.

18. Robert Doisneau

Many images by Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) of mid-century Paris streets are icons. For an introduction to Doisneau’s work, see the book Robert Doisneau (Icons).

One of his most famous images, Le Baiser de l’hôtel de Ville, also known as The Kiss, encapsulates French romance.

A shy man, Doisneau first began capturing details of the street itself. Then he photographed children before moving on to adult subjects.

His photography was about capturing candid moments on the street. He favored the odd moments in life—funny juxtapositions or romantic ones.

Le Baiser de l'hôtel de Ville (The Kiss) byRobert Doisneau
Le Baiser de l’hôtel de Ville (The Kiss), Paris, 1950. Photo by Robert Doisneau.

19. Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter (1923-2013) was an American photographer working in the 1940s and 1950s. He photographed in black and white. But he is known as an early pioneer of color street photography.

His images capture the quiet moments of the city. Soft focus and reflections give his pictures an impressionistic, painterly quality.

Filmmaker Tomas Leach gave us an insight into the man and the photographer. He filmed the 2012 documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter.

You can see Leiter’s photos in many books. This includes the retrospective Saul Leiter by Vince Aletti and others.

Color photography by Saul Leiter. Snow, 1960
Snow, 1960. Color photo by Saul Leiter.

20. Henri Cartier-Bresson

The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) is the most famous street photographer ever. He is known for his candid photography and for capturing the “decisive moment.”

The decisive moment is the precise moment of action. It is the split-second of time encapsulating a whole story in an image. He describes what the decisive moment is in his own words.

It is “…the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

Cartier-Bresson was well-traveled. He photographed in post-war Europe, Asia, and the American South. He was also a founding member of Magnum Photos.

Magnum Photos is a collection of photos documenting life and events of the last 75 years. The organization has become significant in recognizing photographic talent.

Cartier-Bresson inspires generations of photographers through his images and his philosophy of art. Books of his works are numerous. A good starting point is Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer.

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Conclusion: Most Famous Street Photographers

Street photographers capture the emotions of life. They capture the quirky, the surprised, the angry, and the bored.

These 20 street photographers documented the world as they saw it. And because it was in a different era, we can look back on the work and walk the streets of cities that are no longer there.

We can share in the lives of everyday people who look very different. But we discover they aren’t as different as we expected!

Compact, Versatile, High-Quality
Fujifilm X100VI
Fujifilm X100VI
For street photographers seeking inspiration, this is a must-have premium compact camera. It has a wide-angle fixed lens, intuitive operation, and advanced auto settings. Capture the emotions of life on the streets with ease.