YouTube has become a destination where you can now watch others doing something you are interested to learn more about it. Specific to photography, many photographers, aspiring or well established, find them a source of inspiration.
In this list you will find some documentaries that are somewhat instructional, others ay highlight the art or work of a photographer, and some are there just because they’re fun to watch. Sit back and enjoy these 21 best photography documentaries currently on YouTube.
Top 21 Best Photography Documentaries You Can Watch Now!
1. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment
Henri Cartier-Bresson is the street photographer known for the concept of the decisive moment. That is the moment in time that a scene being watched becomes a work of art to be captured. This 17 minute video shows some of his iconic images along with a running commentary of sorts by the man himself. Lots of fun, very interesting, and quite informative.
2. Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light
The New York Times said of him in his obituary, “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”
Besides his wonderful fashion and glamour photography, Richard Avedon was also influential in the civil rights era by means of his portrait work. In this 85 minute film, you see all of that and more. It’s definitely worth a look.
3. Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
This link only goes to a trailer because the film is behind a pay wall. Annie Leibovitz is one of the most sought after modern portrait photographers of celebrities. Looking at her portraits and listening to her thoughts on photography, one comes to certain conclusions about portrait photography and what trends are worthy of copying.
4. Edward Weston: The Photographer 1948 US Information Agency
Edward Weston was one of the most influential photographers in American history. Not just American history, but in the international world of photography.
This 26 minute film was originally made in 1948 by the US Information Agency. One of the more interesting parts of the documentary is hearing him talk about the rules of photography and when to either break or bend them and when to use them. It shows how photography is as much an art form as it is a technical craft.
5. Dorothea Lange – An American Odyssey
Documenting the great American experience of the Great Depression was one of the best street and portrait photographers of all time, Dorothea Lange. This 37 minute video seems to pass by too fast, since the subject and the images she produced are so enthralling.
She did her work for the Farm Security Administration and helped shape the face of documentary photography today.
6. Georgia O’Keeffe a Life in Art
Georgia O’Keefe mixed the disciplines of painting and photography in a way few had done before. Current mixed media artists owe a lot to her early work with subjects as varied as flowers and skyscrapers.
This 14 minute video isn’t long enough to satisfy a desire to take in her art, but it sure is a good start!
7. Half Past Autumn: The Life and Work of Gordon Parks
Besides being an important civil rights era documentary photographer, Gordon Parks was also an influential artist in the field of Glamour photography. His work and ethics are nicely highlighted in this 90 minute film.
He was also a film maker of some note, creating a whole genre of film that others continued. His essays for Life magazine are some of the most intriguing views of life in America from a different perspective.
8. Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film
Most photographers know the big names of photographic history, but everyone knows who Ansel Adams is. This 82 minute video brings the man and his to work to life in an interesting way. After watching this fairly long documentary, you will probably end up searching for more videos and information about some of the things discussed.
Ansel Adams was a superb craftsman, even pioneering some methods that are still taught today. He was also a wonderful artist, which the extreme care he gave to his craft helped bring out. You will be delighted, entertained, and inspired by this video.
9. Arctic Swell – Surfing the Ends of the Earth
For a short 8 minutes, you get to join photographer Chris Burkard as he shoots professional surfers above the Arctic Circle. The technical challenges are daunting, but the results are outstanding. If your sports photography isn’t inspired by watching this, then you may have something missing! This is a fantastic view of the job of capturing extreme sports and making it seem accessible to the more average among us.
10. David Yarrow Reveals his Photography Secrets – Learn Photography
From wildlife to landscapes to environmental portraits, David Yarrow is a modern master of the art and craft of photography. In this 12 minute video, you can get behind the lens with him, just about getting into his creative thoughts. Photography can be as hard or as simple as you want, be inspired by a look at what it takes to be able to do both.
11. Join a Wildlife Photographer on the Hunt for the Perfect Shot
From National Geographic, you get to be a part of an award winning team for about the next 11 minutes. Belgian photographer Michel d’Oultremont shows us a modern view of capturing the decisive moment, as he waits with amazing patience for a perfect shot that highlights what a good photographer can create with skill and perseverance.
12. After the Avalanche: Life as an Adventure Photographer With PTSD
Photographer Cory Richard walks us through his images and his thoughts in a short lecture filmed by National Geographic. An inspiring short film takes us through his journey and gives a good reason to try to understand how passion for an avocation can bring about whatever change is necessary for continuing in working at what you love to do.
13. Imagine – The Colourful Mr Eggleston
William Eggleston helped make color photography a recognized art form. His 1976 exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has been seen as a watershed moment in the world of art, as it made color photography stand on equal footing with the classics of photographic art. This 48 minute film is a wonderful look at the man and his impact on the art world. We also gain inspiration by seeing his actual images.
14. Genius of Photography
From the BBC, this is a six part series that goes into the depths of the photographic process. It covers from the very beginnings of photography up to the modern digital imaging techniques and equipment. Each 50 minute episode goes deep into different aspects of the entire field of photography.
15. Best Documentary 2017 The Photographers – Documentary
This 54 minute film follows several National Geographic photographers as they go through their jobs and deliver images worthy of the iconic magazine’s name. Sometimes, the job is more about surviving the environment they are working in than the actual photography. But, they always bring home the images that enthrall us and inspire us.
16. Alfred Stieglitz
Another one of the old masters, or maybe you want to call them early pioneers, of photography, Stieglitz was known for his mix of documentary style and artful approach to street photography and environmental portraiture.
His lasting legacy also includes the mentoring and promoting of the next generation of photographers, such as Georgia O’Keefe and others.
His street photography was in many cities around the world, mostly in New York City and Europe. He also was an early proponent of color photography, having made good use of the Autochrome process.
17. 4 PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOOT THE SAME MODEL
Each 15 minute episode of this series shows a fascinating view of how many different artistic options exist in portrait photography. The same thoughts can apply to all genres of photography. By seeing what different artists do to capture outstanding images, you can incorporate those ideas and methods into your own work.
18. Interview with Tracie Maglosky – Olympus Visionary Photographer
One of a series of multiple 90 minute videos that showcase the talents of different pro photographers that work as brand ambassadors for major manufacturers. Also many other working photographers. What’s interesting in most episodes is not just what the photographers do, but why they do it that way or why they do it at all.
19. Landscape Photography – Shooting Fall in Yosemite National Park
It doesn’t need to be a world famous photographer that inspires us. Many very good contemporary photographers are sharing their work, their ideas, and their stories. This series of short videos showcase different genres and styles of photography and the photographers engaging in them. Sometimes, a more down to earth example is what a person needs to be truly inspired. These videos fill that niche in a fine way.
20. How to Get Started in Stock Photography
Inspiration can also come from practical advice. Videos like this helps get us past our doubts or ignorance and become more productive photographers. If you haven’t made the jump into photography for pay, this may be a good motivation. Don’t just watch this video, search for others like it that cover the type of photography you want to do.
21. Captured Light: The Invention of The Photograph
Finally, we go back to the very beginnings. How did photography start, how has it evolved, where is it going in the future? This 45 minute video is engaging, entertaining, and very informative. For some people, that’s what inspires.
If these video documentaries of photography and photographers has inspired you in any way, pay it forward by making your own inspirational video of the art and craft of photography.
Since it’s YouTube, there are so many documentaries to choose from it may be hard to narrow it down to only 21, but you can use this list as a starting point, too. Based on what you see in this list, you can search for more videos from that person or group. Or, you could also look for similar videos on the same subject from or about other photographers.
Watching the best photography documentaries is also marvelous entertainment.