Street photography is an art form that thrives on the spontaneity and unpredictability of urban environments. It captures the essence of life in public spaces, revealing candid moments and hidden stories within the everyday hustle and bustle.

Several photographers have made significant contributions to this genre throughout history, each bringing their unique vision and style. In this post, we explore the lives and works of some of the most famous street photographers, whose images continue to inspire and influence the world of candid photography.

Famous Street Photographer - Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Pioneer in Street Photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson is often regarded as the father of modern photojournalism and a pioneer in street photography. His concept of the “decisive moment” has become a cornerstone of the genre. Cartier-Bresson believed that capturing a fleeting moment when all elements within the frame align perfectly creates a powerful image. This philosophy is evident in his famous photograph “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” where a man leaps over a puddle, his reflection frozen mid-air, creating a surreal and timeless scene.

Cartier-Bresson co-founded Magnum Photos in 1947, a cooperative agency that allowed photographers to retain control over their work. His candid street photos of everyday life, often taken with a Leica camera, showcased his ability to blend into the background and capture genuine moments without intruding. For aspiring street photographers, Cartier-Bresson’s work emphasizes the importance of patience, timing, and being ready to capture the perfect moment.

To learn basic photography techniques, studying Cartier-Bresson’s compositions and timing can be incredibly beneficial. His method, often likened to fishing techniques, requires waiting patiently for the right moment to present itself. For those looking to dive deeper into his work, one of the best street photography books to explore is Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, which is a must-read for understanding his philosophy and approach.

Vivian Maier: The Nanny with a Camera

Vivian Maier’s story is as fascinating as her photographs. Working as a nanny in Chicago and New York, Maier was an avid street photographer who documented urban life extensively. Her work remained largely unknown until it was discovered posthumously in 2007, when boxes of her negatives were auctioned off and her incredible talent was revealed to the world.

Maier’s self-portraits and candid street photos offer an intimate look into mid-20th-century urban America. Her ability to capture the essence of her subjects with empathy and authenticity has made her a celebrated figure among the famous street photographers in the street photography community. Maier’s story highlights the value of constantly documenting life around you, even if the work remains private. For many, she serves as a reminder that passion and dedication to one’s craft can lead to extraordinary discoveries.

Maier’s compositions often showcase the importance of framing and perspective, essential skills when you learn basic photography techniques. Her ability to find unique angles and moments in everyday settings is a testament to her keen observational skills. For enthusiasts wanting to delve into her work, “Vivian Maier: Street Photographer” is one of the best street photography books that offer a comprehensive look at her extensive body of work.

Garry Winogrand: Capturing the American Experience

Garry Winogrand was a master at capturing the social landscape of America in the mid-20th century. His work, characterized by unorthodox framing and the use of wide-angle lenses, brought a new dynamic to street photography. Winogrand’s approach was to take as many photographs as possible, capturing the raw energy of his subjects and their environments.

His book “Women Are Beautiful” is a collection of candid photographs of women in public spaces, celebrating their beauty and individuality. Winogrand’s ability to capture spontaneous moments with a sense of immediacy and authenticity has made his work a vital part of photographic history. For those looking to emulate his style, shooting with wide-angle lenses and embracing unconventional framing can add depth and context to candid photography.

Winogrand’s street photography compositions often break traditional rules, making his work an excellent study for those wanting to explore creative framing techniques. For a deeper understanding of his impact on the genre, “The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand” is among the best street photography books, offering insights into his thought process and iconic images.

Robert Frank: The American Outsider

Robert Frank’s book “The Americans” is a landmark in street photography and photojournalism. Born in Switzerland, Frank traveled across the United States in the 1950s, capturing a raw and unfiltered view of American society. His images, often stark and somber, challenged the prevailing idealized notions of American life.

Frank’s work in “The Americans” provided a powerful social commentary, highlighting issues such as racial segregation, poverty, and the struggles of everyday people. His use of black-and-white imagery added a timeless quality to his photographs, emphasizing mood and emotion over technical perfection. For aspiring street photographers, Frank’s work underscores the importance of thematic projects and the power of storytelling through candid street photos.

To learn basic photography techniques, examining Frank’s use of light and shadow can provide insights into creating mood and atmosphere in street photography compositions. “The Americans” is undeniably one of the best street photography books, offering a profound exploration of American society through Frank’s discerning lens.

Bruce Gilden: The In-Your-Face Approach

When it comes to famous street photographers, Bruce Gilden stands out for his bold and confrontational style. Known for capturing striking close-up portraits of strangers on the streets, Gilden’s approach involves getting extremely close to his subjects, often using a flash to create dramatic and intense images. His work focuses on the character and personality of his subjects, revealing the humanity behind their faces.

Gilden’s projects in New York City and Japan showcase his ability to capture the essence of urban life with a unique and unapologetic perspective. His confrontational style has sparked debate in the photography community, but it has also led to some of the most memorable and impactful candid street photos. For those interested in Gilden’s approach, engaging with subjects and experimenting with close-up photography can yield powerful results.

Gilden’s technique of getting close to his subjects can be seen as a direct application of fishing techniques in street photography, where the “catch” is the candid expression and detail of the human face. For a thorough understanding of his style and methods, “Bruce Gilden: Street Photography” is one of the best street photography books that delves into his provocative and compelling work.

Diane Arbus: Celebrating the Unconventional

Diane Arbus is renowned for her portraits of marginalized individuals and unique characters. Her work often features people who live on the fringes of society, capturing their dignity and humanity with a compassionate eye. Arbus’s famous photograph “Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” is a testament to her ability to find extraordinary moments in ordinary settings.

Arbus’s work challenged societal norms and brought attention to the beauty of imperfection. Her portraits, often taken with a medium-format camera, have a striking intimacy and detail that draw viewers into the world of her subjects. For street photographers, Arbus’s work encourages exploring different societal layers and finding beauty in the unconventional.

Studying Arbus’s street photography compositions can help in understanding how to frame subjects to highlight their unique stories and characteristics. For those wanting to explore her profound impact on photography, “Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph” is among the best street photography books, offering an in-depth look at her iconic images.

Daido Moriyama: The Gritty Urban Landscape

Daido Moriyama is a leading figure in Japanese street photography, known for his gritty, high-contrast images that capture the chaotic energy of urban life. His work often features grainy textures, stark contrasts, and unconventional perspectives, creating a visceral and immersive experience. Moriyama’s book “Shinjuku” documents the vibrant and bustling district of Tokyo, offering a raw and unfiltered look at the city’s nightlife and street culture.

His use of grain, contrast, and motion blur gives his photographs a dynamic and edgy quality. For photographers, Moriyama’s work highlights the creative potential of experimenting with different techniques and perspectives to convey the atmosphere of urban environments.

Moriyama’s street photos emphasize the power of texture and contrast in creating compelling images, a technique that can be explored when you learn basic photography techniques. For a comprehensive exploration of his distinctive style, “Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs” is one of the best street photography books that offers practical insights and inspiration from the master himself.


The work of these iconic street photographers has left an indelible mark on the world of photography, each bringing their unique vision and style to the genre. From Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moments to Moriyama’s gritty urban landscapes, their images capture the essence of life in public spaces, revealing the beauty, complexity, and humanity of everyday moments.

Studying the work of these masters can provide invaluable insights and inspiration for aspiring street photographers. Emulating their techniques, exploring their themes, and understanding their perspectives can help develop one’s style and approach to capturing the streets. Whether it’s through timing, framing, or engaging with subjects, the lessons learned from these pioneers can enhance the artistry and storytelling in candid photography.

As you venture into the streets with your camera, remember that street photography is about more than just taking pictures—it’s about observing, connecting, and capturing the fleeting moments that define the human experience. The streets are a rich canvas of stories waiting to be told, and with inspiration from these famous and popular street photographers, you can create images that resonate and inspire for generations to come.

For further reading and a deeper understanding, exploring the best street photography books by these photographers can offer profound insights and enhance your photographic journey.

Featured Image: By Sebastian Mayer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link