Masters of Photography - Yousuf Karsh Portrait Photographer

Masters of Photography – Yousuf Karsh Portrait Photographer


Self portrait of Yousuf Karsh from his official website

This is the next instalment of my series on the masters of photography, last time we looked at The Decisive Moment with Henri Cartier-Bresson. Something that my photography instructors gave me was an appreciation and love for the history of photography. If you are not familiar with some of the masters I will be featuring one now and then to help you become acquainted with some of the best in history.

Today we’re going to look at a man that was considered to be the world’s premiere portrait photographer in his time, perhaps of all time, and his images still stand among the best today. The word “iconic” is often used when speaking of his images of people like:

  • Winston Churchill
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Princess Elizabeth (later Queen)
  • Elizabeth Tailor
  • Albert Einstein
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Mother Teresa

Just to name a few! If you haven’t already guessed, or read the title, yes I’m talking about the legend, Yousuf Karsh.

Yousuf Karsh 1908-2002

I’m not going to give you his bio or list his accomplishments here. I want you to do your own research. Google his name and find his famous portraits. Study them. Watch the interview below (ignore the age and quality of this video, instead really focus and listen to what he says). What can you learn from him?

As I ultimately found myself doing portraits and weddings early in my photography career Karsh was highly influential on my style. I wanted to created the dramatic lighting he used on his subjects, but more than that I wanted to strive to connect with the person in front of my lens the way he did. He was not only a master of lighting, he was a master of getting the expression and making his subject feel at ease.

Watch and learn from Mr. Karsh!

Keep in mind this is Part One of this interview. Make sure to view Part Two and Part Three as well.

Want to take better portraits? Well you are in luck! Starting tomorrow, over the next two weeks we will be doing a Portrait Photography Deep Dive. What that means is we’ll be publishing articles on all things portrait related by both regular and guest authors. Make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything!

If you want to read some past articles on portrait photography you can try these:

Want to read more about Karsh and see his stunning portraits?

Here are a few books. I personally have the middle three in my library!


Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • Great post…Karsh is one of the best portrait photographers…his lighting was superb…

  • Rick Grant

    I thought I knew a lot about Karsh but I learned a great deal from this article.

    I knew Karsh as an acquaintance for many years in Ottawa. If you are interested I have an article on one of my web pages about the day I took his portrait. I don’t know whether links are allowed in comments so if anyone is interested they can go to thedisastertourist DOT com and see it there.

    Thanks again for the memories of a fine man

  • JvW

    When I was just a kid, it was the Churchill portraits that really grabbed me, showed me how powerful photography could be. Like what Ansel Adams did for landscape photography. Genius with light.

  • Kelly M

    My Grandparent’s wedding portraits were taken by Yousef Karsh! Have them hanging in our dining room.

  • Kelly M


  • DuLaurence Duke Miller

    This is a magnificent addition to this already invaluable site. Both the Bresson feature and this one have pushed me to explore more about both. I look forward to more. Duke Miller

  • Mac

    Karsh was an amazing photogrpher and business man. I have a very clear memory of opening a picture book of his in the lower floor or the downtown Edmonton public library for the first time and being completely blown away by his work. Having never heard of him before I wanted to learn how he made such amazing portraits. Over the years I learned his lighting techniques but only Karsh could know when to push the shutter button at the exact moment. I got very good at this but never reached the point of Karsh.I also have a number of his books and my favorite portrait of which I have a print of is the Hemmingway Portriat. I was recently looking through a book by my friend Lazlo and he photographed Karsh for his book, probably about 10 to 12 years ago. That must have been a great moment two master portratist working with each other to create history.

  • wow I’m jealous!

  • Awesome! I love “pushing” you in new directions!

  • Oh boy that’s my bad! Sorry about that

  • Jancyk M.

    I love his works. Check this out:
    I kinda find similarities, I love this artist.

  • Gregory L. Donoghue

    The pictures he tool of Winston Churchill and Hemingway are among the best to date!

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