Before I dive into this list of famous music photographers, I feel the need to caveat a few things. First, 9 times out of 10, a list like this is entirely subjective and open to opinion. Second, plenty of people will argue “greatest” and “famous” not being the same thing (you’re right, they’re not, refer to previous sentence). Third, a group of concert photographers on Facebook unknowingly helped me curate this list (thank you guys!). And fourth, there will be more lists to come. Don’t be disappointed if you’re one of the people that sent a name my way and the name isn’t listed. Chances are the name will be mentioned in a future list.
Without further ado…
1. Ross Halfin
The British rock and roll photographer easily came in as the number one most suggested well-known name. His career began in the punk scene (think The Clash, The Sex Pistols…) in the 1970s before helping establish Kerrang! magazine in 1981. One of his most iconic photos is that of AC/DC’s Angus Young, which appeared on the first ever issue of Kerrang!. Halfin has since toured with innumerable bands including: Metallica, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, and Soundgarden.
2. Danny Clinch
Clinch ranked in as the second most mentioned named, though he didn’t get his big break in music photography until the late 1990s after receiving calls from Bob Dylan’s manager AND Bruce Springsteen’s manager to book him for shoots. He went on to photograph Johnny Cash, Tupac Shakur, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and countless other iconic names. Also on Clinch’s list of notable accomplishments, he directed a tour documentary Immagine in Cornice for Pearl Jam and the DVD portion of Springsteen’s Devils & Dust box-set.
He started out the same way as many of today’s music photographers would: by taking a camera to local concerts. By 1978, he photographed The Grateful Dead for his first time and by the late 1980s he was traveling around with a group of Deadheads that resulted in a collection of photographic work later published as a book in 2002. Blakesberg had his first photo published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1987 and went on to shoot over 300 assignments for them, among other print magazines and record labels. In more recent years, he has directed and produced live concert video for festivals such as Lollapallooza, Summer Camp Festival and Mountain Jam.
4. Ken Settle
Settle began his pursuit of concert photography as a teenager. He was a a big Bob Seger fan, and even went through lengths to try and get Seger’s approval to start a fan club at age 12. Though Seger turned him down, the two remained in contact and Settle photographed every Seger concert he went to since 1971. Naturally, he branched out to photograph other artists such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Yngwie Malmsteen. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, People, Playboy, Kerrang! and also on VH1, among others.
In business since 1968, Knight was one of the first professional photographers to shoot Jimi Hendrix and the last to shoot Stevie Ray Vaughan. The artists in his archive include: Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai and Santana. Knight is part of Guitar Center’s Hollywood Rock Walk team and his professional life was chronicled in a documentary entitled Rock Prophecies.
6. Jim Marshall
“I’ve always liked cars, guns and cameras. Cars and guns got me in trouble. Cameras haven’t.” – Jim Marshall
Marshall would likely rank in as one of the first known music photographers ever, with album cover assignments for Atlantic, Columbia and ABC Paramount dating back to 1962. His career highlights range from shooting The Beatles’ final concert to iconic images of Woodstock festival all the way up to shooting Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1996 for Warner Brothers. Sadly, Marshall passed away in 2010. Posthumously, he was given a Trustee Award at the 2014 Grammy Awards – the first, and only photographer to receive one to date.
With an impressive collection of over 800+ magazine covers, it’s no wonder Zlozower is a recognized name. His most iconic photos include those of Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Guns n’ Roses, The Rolling Stones, U2, and Michael Jackson. His photos appear on countless album covers, ads and other media, and he has published five books so far.
8. Mick Rock
Otherwise known as “The Man Who Shot The Seventies,” Rock has shot legends such as The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Queen. In fact, some of the most memorable images of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust were shot by Rock during his stint as Bowie’s official photographer. In recent years, Rock has published a series of over 10 books and has a documentary of his career, entitled SHOT!, that launched on April 7th, this year.
9. Mark Weiss
Weiss is an American rock photographer with widely recognized photos of celebrities from the 1980s. He has photographed everyone from The Rolling Stones to KISS to Madonna and The Wu-Tang Clan… but his start wasn’t so smooth (and should be a lesson to all music photographers). Weiss was infamously arrested for selling printed photos of KISS at one of their shows at Madison Square Garden in New York after previously photographing them without permission. Though the incident ended his peddling days, it did not deter him from reaching his goals. Shortly thereafter, he was welcomed as a staff photographer for Circus magazine, shooting their covers and features.
10. Annie Leibovitz
Last, but certainly not least, celebrated and admired photographer Annie Leibovitz. She began her career shooting assignments for Rolling Stone – her first assignment: a cover photo of John Lennon. Two short years later, she was promoted to chief photographer. Perhaps her most iconic photo is that of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, taken just hours before he was shot dead. The photo was the cover of Rolling Stone’s Lennon Commemorative issue and was named The Best Magazine Cover from the Past 40 Years by the American Society of Magazine Editors. She went on to join the staff of Vanity Fair in 1983 and also provided an internship to #2, Danny Clinch.