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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

Avrohom Perl's picture

Oh man I'm so happy to see you here Simchy!

Chris Nigul's picture

If you just put the posing aside. My question is, what and where should I start learning photoshop skills. What would be the keywords or maybe a hint what should I be looking for online.

Avrohom Perl's picture

I would start with LR, not PS.

First things on your list should be the basic exposure, highlights, shadows, WB etc.
Try searching things like 'introduction to Lightroom', 'Lightroom for beginners', 'basic' etc.

Chris Nigul's picture

Well yeah, LR is kind of basic stuff and I feel like I'm OK in that field. I just would like to step it up a notch. Thanks for your reply though

Bo Bickley's picture

Chris - you're in the best place to find out how to step it up a couple of notches. Honestly and sincerely seaking, with nothing in your portfolio to see where you are in terms of camera or lighting understanding it's hard to point you in a certain direction. If you take posing out of the equation then it's either camera or lighting.

This is a community. We all have a current base line as of today. Post a couple of pics in your porfolio and post again. I won't speak for every member but we are here to help others become better, as long as they want to of course.

Avrohom Perl's picture

Oh, my bad.
If you're past the basics you're going to need to know the name of a technique and use that to search.
If you're doing portraits I would say dodge and burn, curves, and toning.
And ya, Fstoppers and its facebook group are the best place to do that.

Avrohom Perl's picture

Personally I think when someone is starting to learn editing (the basics) PS can be overwhelming. Take a nebie and stick him in PS he will start playing with liquify when he should be learning exposure...

PS is def the superior editor. PS all the way!

Sven Uckermann's picture

I for myself have an completly differnent way. I started around 2002 with Photoshop doing Webdesign stuff etc .. a really good paid job for an guy in school. But now I'm a total LR junkie. Because every image now is often so over photoshoped that I like the more "raw" look of Lightroom. Because so I can create a look not everybody has. My hometown has like 40 good photographers with perfect photoshop skills I found my place as the guy doing stuff in camera and having done nothing in photoshop.

Anonymous's picture

Just learn to work first in Camera Raw (PS) and then the rest..
I do 85% retouch on Camera Raw. Cause I basicly work only on colors..
When you can work with that, learn the rest.
I think colors are the most important in a picture.
As for the rest I'm as well still learning.

Jason Ranalli's picture

My first try with Photoshop that's exactly what I did. It was terrible and I was terrible. I didn't get it, didn't have the motivation to learn it properly nor had the resources to teach me.

When I finally got serious about making good images I started with Capture NX then quickly found some limitations I couldn't live with then moved to LR/PS(back into PS rather) where all of my heavy editing is in PS now. I only use LR for some global adjustments, catalogs, and quick mock-ups.

The two things that were different on my second time around with PS were that A) I was dedicated to learning it and really put in the time and B) I dove into all the free online tutorials that were simply not around years back. I started on Phlearn with some of the free daily tutorials, bought a number of Aaron's paid tutorials and at least now I'm familiar and more importantly comfortable with a number of the tools. There's a TON of free stuff on YouTube and there's no excuse that the material isn't there to learn with.

I'm far from some of the folks here as far as PS skills but it'm far from where I started too which is good.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Phlearn....that's where I learned my Photoshop nuts and bolts. Go through EVERY free thing he has on that site because he has A LOT of great stuff and if you can apply all those techniques yourself comfortably you're in a good spot to start making some spectacular images IMO.

I pickup PS info from a lot of places now but I have to say that Phlearn was where it all started for me and Aaron explained it in a way where it finally *clicked* for me. Layers, masks, brushes, custom brushes, opacity, blend-if(huge feature), etc, etc

Yet despite all that I'm nearly always finding a new technique using any combination of things that I've never thought to put together!

Chris Nigul's picture

Thank you Jason

Ryan MacKenzie's picture

Hello Chris,

Check out this link and subscribe to them. http://youtu.be/ryOgl4EDgn8

Granville James Collie's picture

If you want to start photoshop Aaron Nace just made a great intro to PS video. Its on the front page on Fstoppers as of today and he has alot of other stuff to help on his website. www.phlearn.com

Clay Cook's picture

Honored to be among such talented people. Thank you for that Dani. What an inspiring article!

Daniel Flanagan's picture

If this isn't motivation to keep pursing photography, I don't know what is...

Andrew Z.'s picture

And the first photo is...by the author. You should have really put yourself last or not at all

Chris Lambeth's picture

party pooper.

Linus Pettersson's picture

Wow, thanks for the feature here, Clay said it, an honor to be around such talented people! Thank you! =)
Crazy inspirational!!!! =)

Lisa Holloway's picture

Thank you so much for the wonderful article, Dani, and for the honor of being included amongst such talented artists. :)

Kristjan Järv's picture

Very cool post!

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

That's mind blowing! I went back to my own photos of 2011 and now... There is a drastic difference as well, which makes me very happy :)

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

Thank you Dani :)

Darren Nana's picture

Wow, big difference - Excellent work.

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

Thanks Darren !

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 ...

Alex None's picture

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.

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 ;-)

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?

Lee Morris's picture

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

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