The Ten Most Iconic Photographs of All Time!


I am being absolutely arbitrary and subjective here.  These are my thoughts on the history of photography.  Some of these photos were even taken before I was born.  Nevertheless, in my own studies, and in always looking for inspiration, I’ve either seen or stumbled across some of the most iconic photographs of all time.  Some of these are pretty shocking.  Others are just amazing for the serendipitous moment in time that they captured.  Yet all of them as photographs make a statement.  They tell a story, capture a moment in time, and most importantly, grab your attention!

This is just my opinion – others may have different ones (and you are welcome to them).  I’ve tried to make selections that touch on all facets of life, including sports, journalism, and exploration.  After all, photography is about sharing a vision you have with the world.  Here, in no particular order, are ten of the most powerful visions I’ve ever seen.

Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima

1.  Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima (as displayed from the Wikipedia page)

Why I think this image deserves to be in the Top Ten:  First off, I am biased.  The patriotic nature of this image at suggesting the indomitable nature of American spirit and pride is definitely present.  Second, I believe this image shows that soldiers in the face of almost insurmountable odds were able to accomplish their goal.  Third, the photograph is both topical for the time, and really amazes you when you think about what the photographer also must have gone through to capture the image.  Finally, the composition is also one that really draws your eye to one and only one thing in the image – the flag.


2.  Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (from the Wikipedia Page)

I lived through this.  I remember the sickening feeling, and the absolute horror I felt when this happened.  At what was probably the peak of space exploration, the Challenger Explosion shocked not only the U.S.A., but the entire world.  In the aftermath of the ordeal, it seems like every country on the planet reached out to us in our time of sorrow.  That being said, the story it told was pretty compelling.  It was clear there were no survivors.  It was pretty clear what had happened.  Yet look at this photograph again.  Will you ever see anything like this again in your lifetime?  I hope not.  The plumage of smoke and debris is definitely iconic.  No one will ever forget, and space exploration has changed forever as a result of this.  That is iconic.

Marilyn Monroe

3. Marilyn Monroe – Pose from “The Seven Year Itch” 

Marilyn Monroe defined an era.  Her role in “The Seven year Itch” really was an incredible one in how photography and video changed the roles of women.  The idea of sex was now out in the open, and (I think) it is largely thankful to this photograph.  Men wanted her, and women wanted to be her.  Heck, I’ve seen photographers re-create this scene in tribute to her and the era.  It brought the idea out that women can be sexy and beautiful, and still maintain the admiration of the country, if not the world.  The pose is now known as the Marilyn Pose, and the dress is equally imitated.  I don’t know how else to define iconic, but this works for me.

I Have a Dream

4. Martin Luther King – “I Have a Dream” from Wikipedia

Martin Luther King represents so much to so many people.  He was a visionary, a man who spoke of principles and whose actions followed his guiding principles.  At a time of serious change in society, his vision captured the essence of changes in society, which was no better exemplified than in this image showing the millions who turned out on the Washington Mall to hear him speak.  The photograph speaks volumes, speaks to so many, and really sparked a major change in societal views in the United States.  That’s iconic!

Omayra Sanchez

5. Omayra Sanchez, captured mere minutes before her death – from Wikipedia

This image personified the notion of photographers as journalists, and while many more have come before and even after, the human condition here was so powerful, for a photographer to have the fortitude to document the story really amazes me.  The backstory here is that a volcano erupted in Colombia, and international criticism resulted from the lack of a response from the government, as well as backlash at the photographer for even daring to take the photo (this happened in 1985).  The girls bravery, courage, and dignity speaks to the truest sense of what we all should aspire to be even in the face of the grimmest fears imaginable.  I am not sure I could do that.  Definitely iconic.

6.  Kennedy Salute – from his Wikipedia page entry

JFK Jr. was a mere baby when his father was shot in 1963 – he was 3 years old!  While the assassination of JFK is probably one of the most sobering moments in recent U.S. history, the image, captured by Stan Stearns, showing a child’s symbolic gesture truly touched the hearts of everyone worldwide.  His own untimely passing some 36 years later was also met with the sadness of a nation.  The photograph itself though, remains as a symbol of both those who have gone before us, and of potential for future promise.  Now granted, my own bias toward U.S. history is evident, I’ve not seen image from other countries that span generations as powerful as this.  Iconic, for sure!

7. The Earth from Times Square (source: Wikipedia)

Possibly one of my ow favorites, because it really proves the whole idea of changing perspectives.  Before this shot, taken from Apollo 17, the whole idea of capturing our entire world in a single photograph was one of science fiction, not science.  It also changed the perception we as humans have of our planet.  We are no longer bound by its gravity!  It speaks to the whole idea of exploration, and changing your vision.  How more visionary can one get than this?  To me, this is nothing but iconic!


8.  Tank Man – Tianamen Square: (source: Wikipedia)

Staring down the barrel of a canon’s gun in Tianamen Square in China, a still unknown protestor literally stood alone against the oppressive forces of the government.  And it wasn’t just one tank,not even two, or three,  it was four tanks!  Yeah, if this were me, I would have yielded!  Heck, I yield in my car to an 18-wheeler… And to think of what was going through the mind of the photographer who captured this image, both when he took it, and how he was still able to get out of China to share the image with the AP to share with the world.  Pretty darn amazing!  It told the story of what was going on inside the border of China better than anything else.  The truest juxtaposition of all – human spirit standing up in a non-violent protest against the tyranny of its government.  Reports after this are inconclusive both to the identity of the man, his whereabouts or what happened, but the photographer defintely captured an iconic moment in world history!

V J Day in Times Square

9.  VJ Day in Time Square (source: Wikipedia)

Photographs, more than anything else, tell stories of the human condition.  This spontaneous kiss in NYC, came shortly after WWII was over, when the announcement was made by then-President Truman. I think this stands as one of the most iconic photographs ever, and also typifies the spontanaity that is the essence of photo-journalism.  Many kisses and photographs since have been done in homage to this scene.  It also expresses the virtue of “love” over “war”.  Talk about iconic…

Phantom Punch

10. Phantom Punch: Clay vs. Liston (source: PTLDME)

As a sports fan, I had to include a photograph from the Sports World, but with so many to choose from, this was probably one of the most difficut for me to choose.  Buckner’s error? Willie Mays over-the-shoulder catch? I could go on and on.  Many are iconic.  I chose this one because of the story.

Normally in a boxing match, when an opponent is knocked to the ground, the standing person retreats to their corner.  Clay did no such thing, as shown in the photo.  He stood over Liston shouting at him to “Get Up and Fight”.  There were accusations of a phantom punch, Liston taking a fall because he was in debt to the Mob, and many other rumors.  Nevertheless, the image is pretty incredible.  A thundering man, apparently having knocked another down, and still showing the fury, and challenging him to continue was an incredible moment in Sports History. To me, this is iconic!

My opinions are just that – mine.  This is not authoritative. In fact, the comments are there for you to share your own thoughts on the most iconic images of all time.

Think about it…find the images yourselves, and if they are open to share (think Wikipedia or other GNU applicable sources), feel free to share them.  Ultimately the goal is to find photographs that are compelling, inspiring, and define the human condition.  As someone once said (I think it was Joe McNally), emotion trumps everything.  If you find images that bring out an emotional response, it has accomplished its goal.  The most emotional images are likely the most inspiring…and the most iconic.  The above photos I believe are all emotional and iconic!


New Podcast – Camera Question

CameraQuestion Podcast

I am happy to announce that I have started a new podcast – Camera Question (look for it over at!  You can ask anything camera/photography related over on this new podcast – it’s all part of a New Year’s Resolution I have to start giving more back to the photography community, but I need your help! You can help out in several ways:

  1. Submit a question!  I’ve got a Speakpipe app built into the new website that is ready to take your audio questions at the click of a mouse!
  2. Tell your friends!  Nothing helps a new endeavor gain traction more than sharing that news with others, so share this post, the new website, via social media or however you prefer!
  3. Got design skills?  I could use a logo that is better produced than my own lame-o skill set! 🙂  I have a temporary one set up on the site right now, but would love to see what others might be able to come up with for me that’s eye-catching, grabs the viewers attention, and quickly and easily speaks to the nature of the website/podcast. If you’re interested email me at: jason <AT> cameraquestion <DOT> com!

In the meantime, stop on over to the website and take a look – I already have a few questions up from some emails I’d received here and ready for listening, but it’s ready to go to the next level, with your help.  If you don’t have time to stop over there, here’s my one time shameless plug on Canon Blogger to promote the podcast:

Think Negative (space) not Positive

Negative Space

Negative space in a photograph can have a huge impact! Sounds odd doesn’t it?  Yet believe it or not, the use of something called negative space can be very powerful in photography.  But what is it?  The term is kind of hard to describe in words, but the best way I can think of to describe it is to say that the space that has nothing to compositionally define it relative to the rest of your image.  Alternatively, you could say that it has a lack of a subject or point of focus.  Things like skies are good examples of negative space.  It can bring a sense of scale in ways that are otherwise very difficult to attain.  I’ve shared a few shots of this here that serve as good examples of negative space, but using them to specifically address this concept of negative space directly is helpful.  Take a look at these shots again and think of them in terms of the negative space, and how it enhances composition.


Beach chairs with an Ocean View
Beach chairs with an Ocean View

In looking at this image of the beach chairs positioned to look out at the ocean. A couple questions regarding negative space come to mind.  First, what’s the subject of this image?  My answer when I took this was the chairs!  I liked how they were all positioned the one way, but I thought it was equally important to show what they were looking at – in this case, the negative space of the ocean beyond.  Giving some sense of space and scope here really helped define the image much better than just a row of chairs with no sense of why they are positioned like that.

What are your thoughts on this image?  What is the subject – the chairs or the ocean?  Does the image work better with the ocean there?

The Orange Frame
The Orange Frame

Portrait style images with negative space are of value not only for their inherent visual command, but also as marketable images.  Magazines love images with negative space in them that are compelling – primarily because there is a lot of real estate available to place text copy (look at magazine cover photos – they almost always have a substantial amount of negative space!).

Beach Umbrellas dotting an empty beach
Beach Umbrellas dotting an empty beach

In this final image, there is negative space both above and below the subject (the beach umbrellas).  Both the skies (and ocean) above, and the sandy beach beneath really make your eyes gravitate toward the umbrellas and the leading lines into the horizon!  What do you think of the use of negative space here?  Does it work for you or do you wish there was more substance to the photograph?

See how using this technique can actually work to your advantage?  Like the examples show, skies work well in this regard, but you could use this approach to better accent a photo or design.

Anyway, that’s the photo tip and post for today.  Anyone have any thoughts?  Got examples you can share?  Feel free to sound off with your thoughts, tips, ideas, suggestions in the comments.

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