Photography documentaries are my favorite way to dive deeper and become immersed in a particular photographer, subject, or genre of photography. In a world of bite-sized video clips, long-form documentaries are more inspiring and captivating.
My goal for this list of the best 20 photography documentaries is to offer a wide selection of documentaries from various genres, eras, and styles. I believe in learning widely and deeply. These photography documentaries are some of the best I’ve found for any photographer to learn and be inspired by.
Photography Documentaries on YouTube
BBC Master Photographers: Ansel Adams
- 33 minutes
- Nature photography, fine art photography
Most documentaries on Adams focus on the man and his life. However, this BBC interview filmed a year before his death focuses more on his work and philosophy of photography as an art form. I loved listening to one of the greatest American photographers explain how he approaches the photographic medium, both technically and artistically.
National Geographic: The Photographers
- 53 minutes
- Nature photography, documentary photography
This documentary follows several National Geographic photographers in the field and offers interviews and stories from some of the greats like Steve McCurry. It inspires me to be more adventurous and brave with photography.
Daido Moriyama: In Pictures
- 11 minutes
- Street photography, avant-garde photography
Daido Moriyama is one of Japan’s most accomplished street photographers. In this brief documentary, Moriyama reflects on street photography, identity, and his decades of work. This is a great introduction to one of the most celebrated Japanese street photographers.
Louisiana Channel: Photographer Paul Graham
- 27 minutes
- Fine art photography, documentary photography
This recent documentary from the Louisiana Channel is a well-produced look into renowned British photographer Paul Graham. I enjoyed the pacing of this documentary and Graham’s thoughtful reflections on photography.
Martin Parr: The World According to Martin Parr
- 44 minutes
- Documentary photography, street photography
Part of the BBC series “Imagine,” this episode follows Magnum photographer Martin Parr. It explores his career, his philosophy behind his work, and his relationship with Magnum. I enjoyed listening to Parr discuss his career and seeing how he works in the field.
Cindy Sherman: Nobody's Here But Me (1994)
- 55 minutes
- Fine art photography, portrait photography
Before the selfie became popular , Cindy Sherman took the concept and elevated it to fine art levels. Her most prolific work consists of self-portraits embodying various characters and contexts. There are many shorter videos on Sherman, but this one offers a deeper look into the work of the subversive and iconic artist.
Obsession: The Art of Bill Henson
- 26 minutes
- Fine art photography
Bill Henson is my favorite contemporary artist-photographer. Heavier on art and philosophy, this documentary was the first time he allowed cameras to film his creative process. I often revisit this for a glimpse into Henson’s unique view of photography as an art form.
The Colorful Mr. Eggleston
- 47 minutes
- Street photography, Americana photography
Once famously dismissed by Ansel Adams, Eggleston is one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Another from BBC’s “Imagine” Series, this documentary covers Eggleston’s life and work as a pioneer in the history of photography.
Bill Cunningham: New York
- 1 hour 30 minutes
- Fashion photography, celebrity photography, documentary photography
Bill Cunningham was an accomplished photographer, fashion historian, and beloved friend of New York celebrities. This documentary highlights Cunningham’s colorful personality, life, and impact on fashion and American cultural photography.
The Lomo Camera: Shoot from the Hip
- 1 hour
- Analog photography, film photography, history of photography
This documentary is on the history and influence of the Lomo LC-A, a lo-fi camera that led to its own massive cult following. I enjoyed learning about the history and influence of the iconic camera.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Pen, Brush and Camera
- 50 minutes
- Street photography, humanist photography
This documentary features discussions with the master himself. Cartier-Bresson shares the stories behind many of his iconic images, his philosophies on photography, and his more recent work with sketches and drawings.
Peter Lindbergh: The Supermodel Photographer
- 42 minutes
- Fashion photography, editorial photography
Lindbergh was a pioneer, bringing melancholy and avant-garde aesthetics into the world of fashion and editorial photography. Mostly through interviews with Lindbergh, this documentary covers his life and how his photographs changed the industry. It was a delight seeing such a well-made documentary on this talented artist before his death.
Photography Documentaries on Netflix
Abstract: The Art of Design (Season 1: “Platon: Photography”)
- 40 minutes
- Documentary photography, portrait photography
The Netflix series “Abstract” normally follows designers, their creative processes, and how they work in the industry. However, this episode features renowned documentary and portrait photographer Platon and his process for capturing the soul and personality of his subjects.
Tales By Light (2016)
- 30 minutes
- Nature photography, documentary photography
This visually-rich series follows National Geographic photographers. This is inspiring as a photographer, and a great series to watch with friends or family.
Our Planet: Behind the Scenes (2019)
- 1 hour
- Nature photography, documentary photography, drone photography
Join David Attenborough and documentary filmmakers behind the scenes of Netflix’s “Our Planet” series. I liked watching the team solve the challenges filming in time-sensitive and sometimes dangerous situations.
Night on Earth: Shot in the Dark (2020)
- 1 hour
- Nature photography, documentary photography, low-light photography
Another nature photography documentary, this time with the team behind “Night on Earth.” The series documents nature at night using a combination of low-light technologies. It’s inspiring to watch these filmmakers create stunning images for the ambitious series.
Photography Documentaries on Other Streaming Services
The Salt of the Earth (2015)
- https://archive.org/details/saltGado (also available on Hulu, Starz, Apple TV)
- 1 hour 50 minutes
- Social photography, humanitarian photography
This is one of my favorites on the list, about a man I deeply respect and admire. This moving documentary details Salgado’s life as a photographer and how important his photos have been. It also follows him on some of his more recent assignments and projects.
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
- Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, YouTube Movies
- 1 hour 15 minutes
- Portrait photography, analog photography
This documentary is a heartwarming look into Dorfman’s love of analog photography in a digital world. I found this to be inspiring as it made me slow down and question the urge to always push forward into modernity.
Gordon Parks: Half-Past Autumn (2000)
- 1 hour 30 minutes
- Documentary photography, celebrity photography
Gordon Parks was a prominent documentary photographer and award-winning filmmaker. This inspiring documentary covers Parks’ life and career, mostly from interviews with Parks himself.
I prefer photography documentaries over short-form videos on photography, as they offer richer narratives and insights into the history, industry, and world of photography. If you’re not sure which to choose, I recommend the documentaries on Ansel Adams, Henry Cartier-Bresson, and Peter Lindbergh. There’s enough in this list for both amateur and professional photographers to be inspired and educated.
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