If you’ve ever wondered, “what is World Photography Day?” here’s the scoop: Celebrated annually on August 19, the worldwide holiday was created to inspire photographers to share their work with the world. Each year, photographers are asked to post or showcase one themed photo to represent their work and are invited to connect with other photographers and the photography community as a whole.
For many, it’s a day to reflect and to appreciate the gifts that photography brings both individually and to the world around us. Though we often take it for granted, the ability to share visual imagery all over the world is a privilege afforded to us by the art of photography.
Why Do We Celebrate World Photography Day?
Simply put, we celebrate World Photography Day (formerly known as National Photography Day) in acknowledgement of the art, craft, science, and history of photography. Each year, on August 19, photographers and fans gather in the digital space and artists share their best photos on social media and tag using #WorldPhotographyDay.
From there, photographers and photography appreciannados spend the day connecting over the images displayed across social media and other platforms, and they share in their love and gratitude for photography.
Origins and History
The history of World Photography Day dates all the way back to the birth of modern photography. In 1826, French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce captured the earliest known permanent photograph known as “View from the Window at Le Gras” using a process called heliography. On August 19, 1837, Niepce and his fellow Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, registered a patent for the Daguerreotype, a photographic process heralded by the French government, who later purchased the technology, as a gift “free to the world.” In gratitude for Niépce and Daguerre’s work, we celebrate World Photography Day on August 19!
In the centuries following, photography evolved into the comprehensive art that we know and love today. On August 19, 2010, World Photography Day hosted its first global online gallery. Almost 270 photographers shared their pictures and people from over 100 countries visited the website. This marked the first official, globally reaching World Photography Day.
Past Themes and Celebrations
Each year, to help photographers and fans wish each other a “Happy World Photography Day,” the organization assigns a theme for the photos and works shared. In 2020, the theme was left open-ended to give everyone celebrating an opportunity to express themselves freely out of respect for the confines of the Covid-19 pandemic. The assigned theme for 2019 was “history,” and it was “Be Nice” in 2018.
12 Photographers to Keep on Your Radar
One of the most fun parts about celebrating World Photography Day is the opportunity to appreciate the work of other photographers. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most creative, inspiring photographers throughout the world and showcased their work—which just might get you inspired for next year’s holiday!
- Adeline Lulo
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.
2. Justin Bridges
Shot by fashion and lifestyle photographer 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.
3. Tim Tadder
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.
4. Louis Le Kim
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.
5. Sasha Arutynov
Award-winning photographer Sasha Arutyunov shot this moody and unconventional portrait of Kamala Harris for a 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.
6. Tania Franco Klein
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.
7. Kathrin Swoboda
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 won the Grand Prize at the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards.
8. Guy Tal
Guy Tal lives and works on 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.
9. Michael Shainblum
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.
10. Andrew S. Gray
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.
11. Ransom & Mitchell
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.
12. Randy Olson
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.
No matter how you choose to celebrate this holiday—whether you simply observe and enjoy other photographers’ work or if you participate with your own photo share—we’re wishing you a very happy World Photography Day!
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