There is no better time than the start of the year to explore talented photographers who all have the power to inspire others. Each one of them with a unique visual voice and creative approach, these are ten female photographers you should know and follow.
A large social media following is not the only factor that determines a photographer’s ability to be a trailblazer in their field, nor does it equate to the originality of thought or ability to inspire others.
In this list, we have compiled a list of women photographers who all bring something special to the table through various accolades, awards, international recognition of their work and contribution, courage to stand out, dedication to teaching others, and other achievements beyond social media followers count. They all actively shoot today, whether it is for personal, professional photography, or both.
Our selections are based on 10 different categories of photography and highlight astounding talent in each:
Street Photography: Sarah van Rij
Based in Amsterdam, van Rij is a street photographer with a distinct style that becomes instantly recognizable. Van Rij has numerous commissions under her belt, including a shoe series for Hermès, an adverting campaign for Dior, an editorial shoot for Vrij Nederland that explores the lives of people in disadvantaged areas in Copenhagen, and additional work that highlights environmental issues of Marseille’s highly polluted coastline.
Reinvented in #DiorMicroBag format https://t.co/nN0sP5Rs27 for #DiorAW21 by Maria Grazia Chiuri, the inimitable #LadyDior gets a humorous interpretation in #DiorMagazine 35 where its Cannage quilting and emblematic components are portrayed in surrealistic scale.
© Sarah Van Rij pic.twitter.com/2MSgnKMD1A
— Dior (@Dior) September 21, 2021
van Rij’s signature photographic style weaves through her commissioned and personal street photography work, regardless of the theme. Recently, enamored with the cinematic mystique of New York, van Rij planned a trip to the Big Apple with her partner and fellow photographer David van der Leeuw.
— Angela Chen (@chengela) October 3, 2021
The duo tells the British Journal of Photography they had over-romanticized the city — especially as it had begun its recovery from the pandemic — but still explored the streets together and created a body of work with abstract fragments of New York, titled “A City Fantastic.”
Similarly, van Rij captures different urban elements in other parts of the world, whether it is on her doorstep during a lockdown or on the other side of the world, like in Cuba. Images feature elements of mystique and creative compositions that leave the audience asking for more. However, once curated as a full body of work, the photos all share van Rij’s distinct visual voice.
Landscape Photography: Tara Workman
Tara Workman currently lives in Portland, Oregon, but is originally from Barbados. She doesn’t consider herself a professional photographer, however, Captured Landscapes crowned Workman as the Photographer of the Year 2021.
Her minimalist landscape scenes and abstracts are serene, subtle, and tranquil. Workman uses photography as a way to relax her mind, particularly during turbulent times in life. With a professional background in the medical field, photography gives Workman a mental escape.
Thanks for the photography recognition!
There’s a lot of amazing talent in this area. Here’s some of my current work. pic.twitter.com/p7mXanaJmh
— Tara Workman/Taraworkman.eth (@bajaninpdx) January 4, 2022
In a podcast interview with Talking Landscape Photography, Workman says she embraces all the seasons of the year, rain or shine, and says different conditions bring out something unique. For example, rainy weather will help create more atmospheric imagery.
Ss part of developing her own photography, Workman is often inspired by studying the work of others and enjoys the learning process. Alongside wider scenes, Workman incorporates creative choices, like intentional camera movement to create ethereal nature photographs.
Education: Pei Ketron
Pei Ketron’s background lies in teaching as she spent over a decade in the American public school system. Originally from Taiwan, Ketron has taken her skills all across the world and teaches photography through private and company classes, and educates creatives through various public speaking engagements, like Adobe MAX, and more.
Explore Brooklyn through the lens of a Leica and create stunning stills using natural light with Pei Ketron (@pketron) at @photovillenyc on 9/16, 1:30PM-3PM. Meet at the Leica Pavilion ahead of time to loan a Leica for the event. #Leicaville2018 #Photoville2018 pic.twitter.com/WWUw7nPkbV
— Leica Camera USA (@LeicaCameraUSA) September 11, 2018
The classic art of black and white photography is alive and well today at @adobemax
— Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (@Lightroom) October 28, 2021
Her photography covers a wide range of themes and subjects, shot on either a DSLR, a medium format camera, or her smartphone. Ketron’s mobile photography — which she began when Instagram launched — also caught the attention of Apple, which selected her as part of the company’s first “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign.
— girlsclub asia (@girlsclubasia) January 31, 2021
Her personal images carry strong compositions, vibrant colors, and seemingly mundane moments that have been turned into eye-catching photos. Meanwhile, her professional portfolio lists American Express, Google, Mercedes, Michael Kors, UNICEF, and other travel and commercial clients.
Fashion Photography: Ellen von Unwerth
Ellen von Unwerth, originally from Germany, started out in the industry as a fashion model first and later became a photographer, director, and now a founder of Von Magazine. Her fashion and editorial work, which has captured numerous celebrities, musicians, and models, is striking, provocative, and full of contrast, whether shot with flash or natural light.
Her photography places women center stage and her work exudes playful eroticism without vulgarity. Von Unwerth’s photographs also helped launch the career of supermodel Claudie Shiffer — first with a photo for ELLE and later with a campaign for Guess, according to Opera Gallery. Von Unwerth’s work has helped elevate the careers of numerous models, undoubtedly helped by von Unwerth’s own experience on both sides of the camera.
Today, von Unwerth’s photography continues to be featured in magazines and publications and is exhibited across galleries and museums worldwide. She also produces short films, directs music videos, and creates ad campaigns for major brands like Dior, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren.
Environmental and Wildlife Photography: Ami Vitale
Ami Vitale is an American photographer and filmmaker who captures impactful wildlife and environmental stories to highlight conservation issues. Vitale has traveled the world to cover all aspects of humanity — from violence and conflicts to the endurance and strength of the human spirit — and has shifted her focus to wildlife and the environment in recent years. This change of direction was marked by photographing the transport and release of the world’s last white rhinos in 2009.
Vitale shoots for National Geographic, is a Nikon Ambassador, has been named as one of 50 Badass Women by Instyle Magazine, and has numerous other professional accolades, awards, titles, and other types of international recognition. However, it is Vitale’s enthusiasm and dedication to powerful storytelling that shines through.
Besides her educational work, Vitale is also a writer and has published a best-selling book, titled “Panda Love.” The book contains Vitale’s photographs taken in China, and documents the efforts to breed pandas and release them back into the wild.
Editorial Photography: Sonia Szóstak
Sonia Szóstak, who was named by the British Fashion Council as one of the 100 most innovative and inspiring young creative talents from around the world, specializes in editorial and fashion photography. Born in Poland but based in Paris, France, she achieved early success with clients like Porter Magazine, Vogue, Numéro, Harper’s Bazaar, and many others, according to Ignant.
She has photographed celebrities such as Monica Belucci, Cara Delevingne, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and has also displayed her work in group and solo exhibitions, such as in Warsaw’s Leica 6×7 Gallery.
Szóstak’s work carries themes of minimalism, intimacy, beauty, female form, and at times includes the natural world. Szóstak graduated from the Cinematography Department at the Leon Schiller Film and Theatre School and the film-like influences are evident in her portraiture.
Childen and Newborn Photography: Anne Geddes
Anne Geddes built a successful career photographing newborns and sharing elaborately-staged children’s images in books, calendars, and greeting cards that have been sold all around the world. Her career was at its peak in the 1990s, and hasn’t been in the studio since 2015 when she finished her final series of calendar images — “The Signs of the Zodiac,” but her work is no less important.
Her resilience to continue with the medium she is passionate about and the ability to adapt her career to meet the demands of the modern world signals courage and determination. In interviews with Artnet and My Modern Met, Geddes reveals how the advent of the Internet altered the course of her career and she had to make changes in order to continue with her craft.
Today, Geddes uses Patreon as one source of income and invites fans into her world by sharing various behind-the-scenes content and more, in addition to any private commissions, print sales, and speaking engagements. Geddes has also released an Anne Geddes app which has been designed to provide a safe place to upload, store, and share images with friends and family.
Self-Portraiture: Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman, born in New Jersey, is a conceptual artist whose name is widely recognized in the art world. Using herself as the model in front of the camera, Sherman has created numerous series of self-portraits, notably “Untitled Film Stills” which put her on the international stage.
In one body of work, Sherman took on different personas and posed in various settings as she explored the topic of identity and gender. Sherman doesn’t shy away from drastically altering her appearance as she takes on new roles in her self-portraits, from “screen siren to clown to aging socialite,” writes the Museum of Modern Art.
— QAGOMA (@QAGOMA) July 12, 2016
— LA Downtowner (@LADowntowner) July 7, 2016
Sherman’s work continues to be widely exhibited, regularly sells for seven figures, and her contribution to the art and photography world was recognized through a MacArthur Fellowship award, an organization that selects Fellows who show exceptional creativity, originality, and dedication in their creative pursuits.
Since her enrollment in the visual arts department at Buffalo State College in 1972, Sherman has been creating work and continues to do so today, including other types of art, such as tapestries based on images posted on her Instagram.
Photojournalism: Lynsey Addario
Lynsey Addario’s work highlights conflicts, human rights issues, and places a focus on the role of women in traditional societies. Her courage to report events as they unfold has allowed her to document stories from the frontlines of war, conflicts, and other humanitarian crises, including the changing political and cultural situation in Afghanistan.
Although Addario has been kidnapped twice while covering the war in Iraq for the New York Times and once in Libya, during Qaddafi’s reign, she didn’t let that stop her from continuing to report on different crises around the globe, she tells The Standard.
“We had AK-47s put to our head.”
— VICE News (@VICENews) December 31, 2021
Addario regularly works for The New York Times, National Geographic, TIME Magazine, while in the past she freelanced for the Associated Press, The Boston Globe, and others. American Photo Magazine named Addario one of the five most influential photographers of the past 25 years, while in 2009, she received a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
— lynsey addario (@lynseyaddario) March 24, 2021
— lynsey addario (@lynseyaddario) March 24, 2021
— lynsey addario (@lynseyaddario) February 21, 2021
Although born in Connecticut, Addario has lived in the United Kingdom for ten years. As the pandemic began, Addario began to document the crisis across the English National Health Service hospitals and funeral homes, with her report now published in National Geographic. Addario has also documented her experiences in a memoir titled “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.”
NFT Photographer: Elise Swopes
If there is one artist that has truly embraced the multidimensional world of the Internet and its opportunities, it is Swopes. Based in New York, Swopes first joined Instagram in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. From simply sharing her smartphone photos on the app, Swopes’s work is now featured in numerous commercials and publications.
As both a photographer and a graphic designer, Swopes’s imagery covers urban themes, often incorporating creative design elements for a surreal finish. In her body of work, Swopes contrasts the highly-modern city sky scrappers with elements of nature, such as flowing water or wildlife.
Her entrepreneurial spirit has led to a successful career that showcases Swopes’s multifaceted skills — from developing apps to starting a podcast, creating content as a resource for other creatives, to collaborations with major brands like Adobe and Apple, reports Kulture Hub.
Unsurprisingly, Swopes has also been successful in selling her digital artwork as non-fungible tokens (NFT). Swopes made her first NFT sale in March 2021 and earned over $17,600, according to CNBC Make It. From there, Swopes started selling her art on NFT marketplaces like SuperRare and Nifty Gateway, with the generated sales opening up a world of new opportunities and directions for the artist.
Image credits: Ami Vitale’s and Elise Swopes’s images are shared with the photographers’ permission. Featured image (from the left) by Ami Vitale, Elise Swopes, and Ellen von Unwerth via Wikimedia Commons.