Breaking the Rules: Photography Pioneers

Giraffe, 1964 © Pete Turner 

      Photography has been a quickly evolving art form for the better part of 200 years. During that time few photographers could really jump ahead of the crowd and pioneer something remarkable with their cameras. Photographs are more than just an image on paper, they are a statement. Everything about them from the composition, subjects, style, timing, colors or lack thereof has defined the industry into what we know it as today.

     Part of my research in becoming a better photographer myself, is being appreciative of photography from the past and present. Most influential photographers have one very important attribute; they broke the rules of the norm. When society thought they were too bold, they turned their cheeks and went on to do their art.  When other photographers followed the crowd, they blazed their own trails. To share my support, I have compiled a list of my 5 favorite rule breakers.


1.)  Pete Turner

Pete Tuner Holding up "Push" from 1970

     This isn’t the first name that often comes up when thinking about pioneers in photography to the newer digital age photogs, however it is a well-deserved position. When Pete started using color in his everyday film photography people started to pay attention, some skeptic, some reinforcing.

     It wasn’t that he was the first to use color, he was the pioneer to use saturated colors to represent his images that wasn’t specifically for “commercial “or “artsy” type audience, but appealed to his own form of what reality could be. He went on to have his photographs appear in the permanent collections of many major museums including the International Center of Photography in New York.

     His images do not follow typical color parameters that social media critics harp so viciously on today and that is perfectly fine. His work has earned him tons of accolades and a top spot on this list. 

“What have I done wrong?" -he said later." Nothing, I think. I am steadily surprised that there are so many photographers that reject manipulating reality, as if that was wrong. Change reality! If you don't find it, invent it!" Pete Turner

©Pete Turner

©Pete Turner

2.) Dorothea Lange

     Modern photography is typically taken to be shared and then thrown away. Although disposable cameras have become antiquated, society as a whole practices disposable photography often from their cellphones and such. I characterize disposable photography as images that have little to no meaning ten minutes after they are taken, whether it is because they are surrounded by the other 2,000 images on a  camera gallery, or that there is so little effort required for a snapshot, "keeper" photos have become harder and harder to find. To that point, I introduce a master of taking photos that leave an impression in stories that show raw emotion. 

Dorothea Lange, 1936

     Dorothea Lange is one of the great American photographers that captured the emotions tied with the great depression during some of the darkest days of the country. Dorothea was working with the Farm Security Administration to document the effects of the great depression on the United States. This influenced the creation of documentary photography and photo stories as we now call them. 

"Migrant Mother" - Dorothea Lange 1936

    As seen in the powerful image above, Dorothea wasn't apprehensive about capturing the moments that show true feeling. The mother has a story in her facial expression alone. A look of worry for the future of the dependent children that are her responsibility. This image has withstood the test of time and a lot of parents can certainly relate to this image today. 

     Capturing powerful images is the goal in photography. Capturing complete stories and trekking through the most desperate of times, when others may have turned away, is what landed Dorothea Lange on the list. 

3.) Trey Ratcliff

©Trey Ratcliff

     Trey Ratcliff is a neat exception to be added on this list. You may think you have to be the first to do something to be a "pioneer", Trey proved that that isn't always the case. In his scenario, he was just the first to do it exceptionally well and never back down.

    Trey is now the voice of authority in HDR photography, or High Dynamic Range. This means that he stacks mutiple images that are exposed to show the details in the shadows, midranges, and highlights. When stacked properly, HDR creates a wickedly realistic and beautifully contrasted image. It sounds easy right? Well, it can be, but mastering it is a whole other story. Getting the correct exposures to work together takes practice and patience. 

     Trey is also unique in that he wasn't always a photographer, but actually used to be in the technology industry. He recently spoke on a podcast (RAWTALK) with well known concert and event photographer, Jared Polin. He stated that he just happen to get a Nikon D70 camera and started trying out different things. When he got to the HDR type images, he just liked it and stuck with it. After creating a platform on Flickr to show his work, people were just attracted to his work and it just gradually took off from there. Trey's work is proof that everyone starts somewhere and following what you love can turn into great things. He has made our list of breaking the rules for not backing down when it seemed many people were opposed to his style of photography, until he showed how to master it. 

4.) Helmut Newton

Note**Searching his images will return NSFW results.

     One of the most popular fashion photographers to have ever shot. What makes Helmut a rule breaker is the era in which he shot, and his subjects. He was widely known for his work in fashion and erotically driven images while working for the famous Vogue of London in the 1950's.

     During this time, provocative fashion photographs were just making their way onto the scene. Helmut's work is a large part of how the fashion industry evolved into their style. He often shot images that were beyond risqué for publication and entered into a realm of fine art and nudity. His work is highly imitated even by photographers today, more than 40 years after some of his most iconic shots. 

©Helmut Newton

      A list could not be complete without this pioneer of a photojournalist. She is best know for some of her amazing photos during the Soviet Industry, being the first female wartime photographer, and the first female photographer for Life Magazine

     Living in a world where the photography profession was almost purely male, it is nice to see that Margareth broke the rules of stereotypes and went on to become one of the best photographers of the WWII Era. 

     Capturing images of the most influential people of the time, she helped capture history as we know it. From iconic images of Ghandi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to her stories captured in single images such as "Kentucky Flood"(Pictured below), Bourke-White's images are a great reminder that not doing something because it hasn't been done, is not a good reason to not try. 

"Kentucky Flood" ©Margareth Bourke-White 1937

     There you have it, the top 5 rule breaker pioneer photographers. This list is in no way all inclusive. There are hundreds of photographers that deserve a spot on the list. There are photographers that show bravery and courage along with uniqueness and creativity. There are photographers that are just looking for a few people to find their work and really discover what it is all about. 

     With photography you should always focus on the mindset that you are shooting for you and simply allowing others to see your work. There is not a right way or a wrong way to do photography. Some ways are better accepted, some are ahead of their time. The goal is to realize you have a passion and just stick with it through goods time, tough critiques, and terrible trolls. 

Leave a comment below with your favorite photographer and you may see them featured in a list in the future. Thanks for reading and feel free to share. 

Have a good one, 




Name *