25 Popular Photographers And Where They Started - The Ultimate Inspiration

25 Popular Photographers And Where They Started - The Ultimate Inspiration

 One thing we often forget - All successful photographers started somewhere. This knowledge is motivation that fuels my every action and every photoshoot. We all have the power to exceed our expectations, to set goals and reach them. We may look back at our work and feel embarrassed, asking ourselves, “What was I thinking?” But remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.  Here's a show case for 25 popular photographers with their first photos, next to their recent work. Proof that you can be successful, too.

Photography is like a downward escalator: if you don’t keep working, keep practicing and keep walking up…you’ll just go downAs we grow and push ourselves, we learn more, we change and develop. Instead of being ashamed of our past, be proud. You started at the bottom…now you’re here. If a photographer is not pushing their own boundaries, there is no room for success. We all must work our way up to the top, slowly but surely. But you have to be the one to work for it. The following photographers didn’t stop when a challenge arose – they kept pushing. Compare their then and now images. Their "before" images look like any other beginner photographer's…but look at how far they've come. Set your goals high and don’t stop believing in yourself.

(Photos are clickable and can be navigated via the keyboard arrow buttons)

^Dani Diamond^

^Braxton Wilhelmsen^

^Lauri Laukkanen^

^Simchy Zuckerman^

^Julia Kuzmenko McKim^

^Ace Noguera^

^James Oliver Connolly^

^Taylor Robinson^

^Lisa Holloway^

^Rich Johnson^

^Douglas Sonders^

^Kevin Cook^

^Clay Cook^

^Chris Lambeth^

^Linus Pettersson^

^Sean Archer^

^Emily Soto^

 ^ Karl-Filip Karlsson ^

^Michael Woloszynowicz^

^Gina Parry^

^Craig Lamere^

^David Olkarny^

^Daniel Hager^

^Santiago Elliott^

^Jon Lemon^

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90 Comments

Previous comments
Samten Norbù's picture

what I find very interesting is that we can clearly see a trend or a "zeitgeist" in most of the today's pictures ...
It's all about a gentle desaturation/vintage/low contrast in the black ...
in a way, trough this we can see what the customer want ... but more over, I think we can see the influence of the big community where we share all the same tutorials that are "best seller" ...

Honestly, event if the "before" of all those pictures are definitely less good than the afters, the afters are also more standardized ! In many case, I wouldn't be able to recognize a photographer from an other trough his "style" ... I have mixed feeling about this ...

Olafs Osh's picture

Wanted to write almost the same stuff. Completely agree with you. All "good" images are good indeed, but they are very similar as well.

David Vaughn's picture

I'd have to agree. A lot of the editing, subjects, and styling run in the same vein among many photographers.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I don't mean this in a negative way but I sort of have to agree to an extent. There is a certain normalization of styles that seems to be happening at the moment. I'm sure that if you handed some of these same photos to some folks in the 80s or 90s they be saying "oh this is all washed out looking...no good!!" :)

But you can definitely see a borrowing/sharing of styles across many of the popular photos on sites these days and I think that is because we're far less isolated now. In the past before websites like FStoppers and such photographers probably worked in a good amount of isolation from other photographers and before digital I'm sure it was even more so.

Samten Norbù's picture

I even can't blame them as myself I'm doing the same type of post processing now ... but it's been really good to face that on a so obvious example !
A good way to kick my ass trying to make my own way ! Explore and work to be as good and unique as possible !

Trends are dangerous because they don't stay ... major art pieces are out of trend.
All those pictures are definitely not done to stay in history, they are just consumables. Nice to watch but already forgotten the next second... as many things that are only disposable.
It's super important to be able to master the programs that help you built a photo, but what I see now is that's the program is also taking a too big part at the expense of the story-telling.
A nice "package" ( but normalized ) and a big lack of deepness and meaning ...
But that's also maybe over judging on the fact that maybe those photographers don't define themselves as artist but maybe just as commercials ...

I don't entirely agree. This isn't a list of photographers taken from the entire population of high profile photographers, it's a list constructed from a particular subset of photographers who have a style in line with the author's aesthetic ideals (and his work, lol). The fact that they all have a certain look is more just a result of the author's taste, rather than some global artistic movement.

If the list was written by a guy who likes nature photography, and you will get a stack of vibrant, contrasty scenes.
If it was written by Joel Tjintjelaar, you would have a bunch of black and white architecture.
If it was written by a momtographer who shoots photos of babies in pumpkins all day... well, it's not gonna feature Terry Richardson.

(Written by a guy who loves HDR? Well, it would be terrible. But you get the idea....)

(also, props for actually examining the images presented and isolating commonalities and describing them accurately and concisely. It's a welcome change from ZOMG HIPSTER that seems to be the catchall description used by boring middleaged internet commenters).

Vlad Moldovean's picture

here is mine, it's 2010 not 2011 because i've searched for 2 photos with the same model

Oliver Oettli's picture

Now, I am often disgusted by the everlasting negative comments that seem to be posted here on fstoppers, no matter what these fine people from the fstoppers team write. Having said that...

Well that's a rather disappointing article. What's your point with it? All I see is a bad or not so nice picture compared with the top shot of a photographer. And you tell us that people getting better in time. Well, I truly hope so! Would be kinda frustrating if not.

I was expecting a comparison of photography of world famous photographers from the last lets say.. 30 years. What picture did David LaChapelle take in the 80ies? Or Rankin? How did their style evolve?

But just showing that some random photographer (sorry, I dont want to hurt anyone, just making a point) has taken average pictures 2 years ago and now got better in.. mainly photoshopping... that isn't.. mindblowing to me.
I guess you can find average pictures from all these photographers also from 2014. Its just not making sense to me.

Sorry for the rant.

Adam Bender's picture

I don't know why I feel compelled to defend this, but here I go anyway. If you need to apologize for your criticism don't criticize in the first place. The article you were hoping for sounds like a great one, but that's not the one Dani put together and his article, in my opinion, didn't overstate the content. These are all currently popular photographers, not random photographers.

The point of the article is to show some of the popular photographers of this time started where many of the readers here currently are. Many look up to these popular photographers and say, "Man, I wish my images could reach their standard." It's just a bit of inspiration. Not ever article is going to be mind-blowing. If you can't take away some inspiration from this article maybe it's not the article you should be criticizing.

Dani Diamond's picture

Adam you rock, I couldn't say it better myself. Can't always make everyone happy - This is something I learnt as soon as I started writing articles for Fstoppers this year. I don't write articles to sell you gear, workshops or anything of that nature, I do it purely to inspire others and if I'm not doing a good enough job for you then tough. Move on. Negative attitude never got anyone anywhere in life.

Franck Nederstigt's picture

Good to see David Olkarny in this list. I think this really likeable Belgian conceptual and portrait photographer is internationally very underrated/underexposed. He makes terrific images and incredible videos! Also good to see that even Julia K. messed up skin texture and smoothing back in her days ;-) Gives me hope for my own improvement ;-)

Dani Diamond's picture

Been a follower and friend of his for a while now. About time I feature him.

Franck Nederstigt's picture

Indeed about time Dani ;-)! I think he would be an excellent guest writer when it comes to strobist fashion and portrait photography and low budget conceptual photography.

Mike Macdonald's picture

Although it's cool I find it slightly depressing that most of these are over a span of 3 years. I definitely haven't improved that much in that short time :S

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

Amazing! thanks! its a honor to be with so many talented people.
This only boost me up to be more creative. :)

John Towner's picture

I'm a bit concerned about the editorial integrity of FStoppers lately, especially Dani. "Here are 25 popular photographers, and the first one is - ME!" Sadly, most of his articles are generally self-promoting. I don't begrudge a photographer trying to build up his audience, but I ask again, where is the editorial integrity?

Editorial integrity? It's just a list of bad to good images. He isn't selling anything.

Adam Bender's picture

John, ask anyone around here, "Who is a popular photographer" and you'll hear the name Dani Diamond. He's a popular photographer. His two images are certainly relevant to the article even if he put the article together. I think you're being a little sensitive.

Douglas Sonders's picture

are you kidding right now? this is a fun article. of course the author would start off with an example of their own work. They could hypothetically start or end an article with their own work. what does this have to do with integrity? this is more of an article formatting complaint

Dani Diamond's picture

John I'm sorry you feel this way and very sad that my articles aren't helping you in any way. I don't write articles to sell gear, workshops or anything of that nature. I write them purely to inspire others. There's a reason why every other article I've wrote for Fstoppers has gone viral. If I was self promoting or trying to sell you something I doubt the article would have gotten shared 2000 times in less than 12 hours.
Now, I won't deny I promote my work through my articles but I'd be an idiot not to use Fstoppers as a marketing tool for myself. Wouldn't you agree?

John Towner's picture

Dani, don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that this is not a great topic nor that I don't ever get anything useful from your articles - I actually really enjoy seeing something like this. One of the reasons I continue to check out this site is because it's doing a great job of keeping the conversation about photography flowing in fresh ways, everyday. However, I think at this point Fstoppers has become more than just a couple of guys writing some cool articles about photography and more of a legitimate source for the industry. As such, I think Fstoppers owes it to themselves and to us to consider adopting some higher editorial standards, which includes the way in which you insert yourselves into your writing. Again, I don't begrudge a photographer like yourself for building their audience. If I was in your shoes I would be doing everything I could to take advantage of the opportunity too. But I think if I compare any of your articles to someone like Michael Woloszynowicz, I'm going to see a much softer hand from Michael, yet I'm still learning something amazing, and becoming interested in who he is as a photographer and artist.

Also, just to clarify, I never argued that you were trying to sell me something - though I think others have made that point before.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I kind of looked at it as more of a humbling thing really. It's sort of like starting an email chain with dorky high school yearbook pictures and posting your own first.

John Towner's picture

You know what Jason, I hadn't thought of it like that, but I can get on board.

Adam Bender's picture

Very cool idea. If that's not motivation I don't know what is! Shows what some time and a lot of passion can do to your work in a relatively short period of time.

Perhaps some the techniques are the similar throughout the list of photographers, but I can still easily identify the unique nuances of each photographers style.

Michael Comeau's picture

I appreciate the sentiment behind this article, but it really could use a definition of "Popular". Popular in this community? On the Internet?

Also, you should think twice when using words like "ultimate". That's not a comment on the quality of the images -- it just has a strong whiff of clickbait to it.

Dani Diamond's picture

You read the article.. Guess my title worked. I'll be sure to do it again next time.

Aaron Brown's picture

That was the "ultimate" answer.

Michael Foyle's picture

Seriously, what's with all the moaning about such trivial things? A lot of these articles are here to be enjoyed casually, not picked to pieces by bored, over-analytical critics.

I'm new to this site, but with that being said we are all artists on here whether it's being a photographer or writing an article. We should not be Tearing eachother down. He put his Image first because he can and because it was an amazing difference! They are all amazing transformations and we should be using this article to inspire us to be the best we can and show us how much we can improve.

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