The need to find inspiration is a constant struggle for every artist and designer. You have to adjust your vision as a photographer to open the doors to higher creativity. Documentaries are a great source of inspiration because they mark the struggles, hardships and experiences of the great artists that have come before you.

We put together this list in an effort to inspire you; inspire you to see and to create. Learning about the craft of photography and the rich history behind some of the most notable figures is central to your own growth as a photographer.

We’ve previously also covered 10 inspiring movies for photographers. Here’s a continuation to the great list and new documentaries about photography for inspiration.

1. Human (2015)

At the essence of the film is a very philosophical and heartfelt story of humans, with sincere and raw emotions. It includes a series of stunning birds eye view shots of some remote places of the world. The film also focuses on individuals telling their stories on camera.

It’s a beautiful documentary that inspires change, the positive kind we’d like to see in the world. It covers the topics of war, poverty, religion, love, family and most importantly hope. The stories are so honest that the film is bound to leave you touched and submerged in the lives of these strangers.

2. The Salt of the Earth (2015)

Photographer Sebastião Salgado has traveled continents, documenting the changing faces of humanity. He has been a witness to several major events in recent history and he has a heart felt story to tell.

This documentary is focused on one of his journeys to the wilderness, with grandiose landscapes and exotic humans. His work is a tribute to nature, photographed in a way that will leave you speechless.

3. Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

This story is interesting for many odd and bizarre reasons. It begins with a man who finds the secret works of Vivian Maier. He bought a trunk of 100,000 negatives and he discovered that he stumbled on some of the best street photography of all time. These works have been hidden for an unknown period of time and sadly, Vivian wasn’t alive to see the success of them.

Vivian was a woman obsessed with photography. She had a unique gift of getting people to open up to her for just the single frame she was shooting and then she was gone. Over the years, she has taken hundreds of pictures of people on the streets. The story is so odd that it is almost like a thriller documentary. Who was this woman and why did she have so many secrets?

4. 5 Broken Cameras (2011)

Emad Burnat lives in a Palestinian village. He is also a self taught cameraman who has devoted a lot of his time to documenting the events that have unfolded around him. Turmoil, trouble with the officials, fights and many shoot outs are subject to his filming. Burnat films the troubles in his village but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

In the process of filming, Burnat has lost 5 cameras, each one was used to document significant events. The loss of these cameras also marked 5 separate stories. Together with Guy Davidi, the two men create a film about them and the events they’re tied to.

5. Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Bill Cunningham has earned his spot in the fashion industry as one of the most notable street fashion photographers. This documentary explores his life, his work and dedication to his profession. For decades, he has been documenting the vibrant and eccentric fashion scene in New York in a way no other artist has. His work is his life and this documentary is a window into his world.  

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary that looks in detail at the diverse body of works from the artist. It is also an illustration of the life of a man whose infatuation with fashion and photography has taken him very far in life. This documentary will inspire you to see more works from the artist and he might just become your new hero.

6. Guests of Cindy Sherman (2008)

On a less serious note, filmmaker Paul H-O sets out in search of his identity and delivers a witty and humorous documentary. Armed with his video camera, he films art gallery openings and charms people with his witty assessments. One of the people intrigued by his work was cindy Sherman.

Cindy invites Paul to her studio where he films their interview sessions. In the process, he gains insights into her artistic methods and a more intimate look at her works and style of photography when he becomes personally involved with the artist.

7. Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008)

Architects are the masterminds behind their structures, but it is a photographer’s job to glorify them in the eyes of the public. Julius Shulman is a very talented photographer that has a style unlike any other professional. He was considered one of the greatest architectural photographers of his time and his work will surprise any untrained eye.

You get to see buildings and structures through the eyes of Julius and witness his approach to life and work. Hearing him speak about his work makes you feel like you’re in his shoes. Absorb the wisdom that comes with the film, for the photographer has been blessed with a very unique gift that he shares with the world.

8. Manufactured landscapes (2006)

Canadian photographer Edward Burtnsky travels the globe, photographing landscapes that have been transformed by humans. He documents landscapes transformed by commercial recycling, industrial production and manufacturing. Some of the most shocking images are from the manufacturing plants in China.

The film isn’t just about the earth’s transformed landscapes, it is also about the consequences and implications of the human impact on our surroundings. Man has been capable of the impossible, but is the impossible worth it?

9. Search for the Afghan Girl (2002)

Photographer Steve McCurry sets out to Afghanistan to document the struggles of the refugee situation in 1984. In his search for that something special, he finds a beautiful girl, with a haunting look and dazzling green eyes. He took a few images and one particular shot made it to the cover of National Geographic.

Soon enough, the girl became famous and internationally recognized. Almost 2 decades later, Steve goes back in search of the girl he photographed years ago. After many false leads, they find her. This is a story of the search of Sharbat Gula, the girl that became the symbol of hope and struggle.

10. War Photographer (2001)

Putting himself in grave danger, photojournalist James Nachtwey goes on assignments to some of the most dangerous cities to document the brutality and cruelty of war. World conflicts have left us blind to the reality some people are living. Nachtwey is on the lookout for the images that could be published to broaden our understanding of the troubled times.

The photographer has earned many honors and awards for his accomplishments in his profession and this film captures him in the pursuit of winning images. Find out more about his philosophy, his personal works and his coverage on some heavy topics.

Subscribe to our blog

Stay up to date with trends, get valuable tips and insights as well as bonus materials.