Is there any art form more flexible, expressive, individualistic, or full of endless possibility than photography? From simple snapshots to elaborate commercial creations and stunning fine art portraiture, photography is everywhere, but for those looking to launch a career in photography (or simply enhance their skills) true inspiration can be hard to come by. To that end — and in celebration of National Photography Day — we’ve rounded up some of our favorite contemporary photographs from around the world, complete with a little background on each remarkable image.
Art and documentary photographer Adeline Lulo grew up in New York City’s Washington Heights but spent summers in her family’s native Domincan Republic. Lulo documents the people and culture of both places through her street — or in this case, beach — portraiture. This portrait uses the endless sea and sky of the islands as an ideal backdrop for the equally huge spirit of its subject.
Shot by fashion and lifestyle photographer (and Skillshare teacher) Justin Bridges for his #ourfaces portrait project, this gorgeous image moves beyond fashion for a highly personal portrayal of Swedish model Ella Wennstrom. Bridges’ use of light and shadow turns Wennstrom’s mane into a luminescent frame for her face.
Celebrated sports and advertising photographer Tim Tadder won a highly coveted Communication Arts Award of Excellence for his ad campaign to raise flu awareness. One of several fresh and striking images created for the campaign, this digitally-altered photograph instantly and humorously gets across that lost-in-the-clouds feeling everyone knows from being sick, and the crumpled tissues on the kitchen table gently drive the point home.
Young French photographer Louis Le Kim uses Google Earth to find ruined or abandoned industrial and military sites he later visits for photographic “urban explorations.” This stark yet somehow beautiful image was captured toward the end of the Battle of Mosul in Northern Iraq, and speaks volumes about the ravages of war.
Award-winning photographer Sasha Arutyunov shot this moody and unconventional portrait of Sen. Kamala Harris for a just-published profile in The Atlantic. Born in Moscow and now based in Brooklyn, Arutyunova brings a fresh eye to all her work, such as a 2017, shot-on-film project for The New York Times portraying the city at daybreak.
Photographer Tania Franco Klein shot this stunning image for Dior, which asked eight female photographers from Mexico to shoot photos that would capture the real-world inspiration for a new Mexico-themed line of clothing. Klein stages photos like these in a meticulous style, as if shooting a film — one can easily imagine a full-length story to accompany this atmospheric work.
This image of a brown pelican is by Kathrin Swoboda, a self-described wildlife photographer who explores “what otherwise might go unseen.” That nicely describes another photo by Swoboda, which captures a redwing blackbird blowing “smoke” rings — and just won the Grand Prize at the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards.
Guy Tal lives and works oGuy Taln the Colorado plateau and seeks to create art where others merely shoot landscape photography. The extraordinary image uses contrast between desert and sky to spotlight the wildness celebrated in all the artist’s work. Tal’s images speaks to the need for conservation and stewardship of the land by letting nature speak for itself.
Michael Shainblum is the rare photographer who’s equally adept at creating wholly original landscapes and cityscapes. This mind-blowing image of the Palm Jumeirah Island skyline in Dubai employs a time-lapse technique on a calm night to create a rainbow of vivid color reflected in water. For further inspiration see all the amazing images in Shainblum’s Dubai series on his website.
Sometimes a great idea can lead to years of original photographs. Japanese photographer (and architect) Hiroshi Sugimoto decided to screen individual films in a series of abandoned theaters, and photograph each event with a single, long exposure the exact length of each film. This results in photographs contrasting the still life of decaying theaters with the otherworldly glow of the screens, all of which speaks to the photographic nature of film and our shared attitudes toward art, culture, and architecture.
British abstractionist Andrew S. Gray began as a landscape photographer but as his shooting and digital manipulation techniques evolved, he developed his own form of photographic abstract art. The image above was printed on canvas (another new technique for Gray) for an exhibition currently at The Old School Gallery in his native Northumberland County.
Fine art and commercial photography (and video) duo Ransom & Mitchell consists of photographer Jason Mitchell and set designer Stacey Ransom. Together, they create self-described “digital art scenarios and portraits” with an “illustrative approach inspired by Italian and Dutch Master Painters.” Their process includes cinematic lighting, theatrical sets, hand-crafted props, photography, and computer graphics. This unforgettable image is part of Ransom & Mitchell’s fine art series “It Will Be Ours,” which celebrates the power and beauty of nature in a man-made world — but no explanation is necessary once you see the image.
Top documentary photographer Randy Olson is best known for the more than 30 photo essays he has published in National Geographic, including this photo from a piece on the National Park of American Samoa. This striking image illuminates dual worlds above and below the surface of the water. But like all good documentary photography, it also begins to tell a story, in this case one about spear fisherman who use their still-living quarry to attract a much bigger prize: sharks.