UPDATE: This is post is no longer current. Check out our Library for a much better look at awesome documentaries, and books to inspire!
How much fun is it to watch a movie, and actually learn at the same time?? Super fun! Extra points when the movie is about photography!!
Here is the ultimate list of documentaries for photographers! We’ll only post movies we’ve actually watched, and update the list as we watch new ones.
Note: This list is in constant development, so check back often! And if you have recommendations of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments!
These movies are full length films directly related to photography. Definitely the place to start!
IMDB Rating: 7.2
Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky travels the world documenting the effect industry has on landscape. Burtynsky not only documents the physical changes but also shows how people interact with the new landscapes that industry creates. Burtynsky’s work is fascinating, informative, and hauntingly beautiful. Photographers will be certainly be inspired by the skill of composition. Our favorite part of the documentary was actually in the special features where Burtynsky speaks a bit about many of his photographs. An incredible learning experience.
IMDB Rating: 7.8
James Nachtwey works to document war and human suffering around the world. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to pursue such a career, and even harder to think of the strength of character that person must possess. Photographers will no doubt find his work painful to view, but there is so much to learn from his commitment to documenting the difficult subjects of life.
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens
A look at the life and career of one of modern photography’s most famous shooters. From her beginning at Rolling Stone, to her latest work with Vogue, this documentary gives some insight into Annie’s process. The extra features are definitely worth watching, with some fascinating perspectives given by the subjects of her work.
Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids
IMDB Rating: 7.7
When a group of kids are given the opportunity to create photographs with simple point and shoot film cameras, the results are incredible! Despite living and growing up under wildly difficult circumstances each child has such a beautiful personality, and all have a story to tell.
IMDB Rating: 7.4
If you’ve looked at architectural photography you’ve likely seen the work of Julius Schulman (or seen the work of photographers inspired by Julius Schulman). Visual Acoustics is an incredible look at this legendary photographer, and his profound impact on the art. Another documentary to inspire photographers in thinking about composition.
IMDB Rating: 8.3
I imagine that this documentary did much to inspire the BBC series’ like Planet Earth. This is a film that is so visually impactful, it’s hard to imagine it ever being topped. A must-watch.
William Eggleston In The Real World
IMDB Rating: 6.5
An interesting look at the American photographer, William Eggleston. The ability to hear his thought process as he scouts a location, and how he finds interest in everyday scenes is fantastic.
These are short documentaries that you can watch online, directly related to photography!
Dark Side of the Lens
5 minutes of jaw dropping imagery and intense inspiration. Dark Side of the Lens is a quick peek into the life of surf photographer, Mickey Smith, as he endures freezing cold waters and terrifying waves to do what he loves—photograph.
The Sartorialist is a prolific fashion street photographer based in New York. His photographs of well dressed, real people are inspiration for both fashion, photography, and the power of consistent blogging.
The President’s Photographer
One of the best, free, online photography documentaries that we’ve seen! Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it follows the story of Pete Souza, the staff photographer of the Obama administration. You can see Pete’s work in the White House Flickr stream.
A fascinating look into the experience of a group of students on picture day. The interviewer does a great job of talking to the kids, and bringing out a lot of emotion with something as simple as a school picture.
David Alan Harvey in Rio De Janeiro
A short dialog with Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey. Great words on what being a photographer is all about—passion for what you shoot.
These movies aren’t about photography itself, but you can take away a lot from them! It’s always great to draw inspiration and knowledge from artforms outside of photography.
IMDB Rating: 6.6
Follows the lives of four babies from different parts of the world during their first year of life! There’s no dialog in this film, which instead relies on great cinematography. Photographers will certainly appreciate how the film captures the beautiful unscripted moments of babies. Being patient and observant can lead to incredible results.
Art & Copy
IMDB Rating: 6.8
An interesting look at how art, copywriting and creativity intersect with the advertising world. This film will help provide photographers with greater perspective when it comes to marketing. Often photographers are familiar with what’s visually appealing, but understanding persuasive language can compliment art and impact people in unimaginable ways.
IMDB Rating: 6.8
A fascinating look at modern industrial design. We often don’t think about things like chairs, or spoons, or even computers (before Apple!) as being purposefully designed. This documentary will get you thinking about photography in terms of the outputs you create—like shooting for the products that you design (think albums!).
IMDB Rating: 7.2
Helvetica is an awesome documentary about typography! As visual artists, photographers will identify with the importance of typography and graphic design. Helvetica and Objectified were made by the same director.
The September Issue
IMDB Rating: 6.7
The documentary equivalent of “The Devil Wears Prada”. This film follows the Vogue Editor Anna Wintour as she prepares for the 2007 fall-fashion issue. Photographers interested in fashion or editorial photography should definitely check this film out!
IMDB Rating: 7.1
Tells the story about a group of do-it-yourself artists who created with passion, and changed the art world because of it. A fascinating look at the life of an artist—the struggles, and successes, the financial strain and creative freedom.
The Story of the Weeping Camel
IMDB Rating: 7.3
Filmed in Mongolia, this documentary tells the story of a nomadic family and their newest camel colt. Absolutely breathtaking cinematography and story telling.
The Art of the Steal
IMDB Rating: 7.6
A look at the struggle for control of a modern art collection worth 25 billion dollars. A fascinating peek at the art world, this movie brings up a lot of interesting subjects. For instance, the role of creative works in society, and the question of money and power and how they relate to art.
These series were created by the BBC, and offer absolutely stunning cinematography. The behind-the-scenes vignettes at the end of each episode show the dedication of the camera crews, and are some of the most interesting segments!
IMDB Rating: 9.7
An absolute positive must-see. The earth as never seen before. It took 40 camera teams shooting at over 200 locations all over the world more than five years to complete. Inspiring and then some.