Yousuf Karsh

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Yousuf Karsh was one of the most influential and important portrait photographers of the last century.

Through my life as a professional photographer, he was the single portrait photographer I held in most esteem.

His philosophy to work, his subjects and most of all his understanding of light, using it to emphasise the particular elements he wanted to show. 

Yousuf Karsh courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Yousuf Karsh courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Karsh photographed so many of the important leaders of the 20th century that his photographs are everywhere.

Iconic images of Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, Humphrey Bogart, Brigitte Bardot, Einstein, Fidel Castro, the Kennedy’s, Salvador Dali, Mother Teresa, the Beatles … the list goes on and on. The photographs have appeared on book covers, museums, art galleries, photographic books and more.

He was a pioneer of the lighting techniques he used. His preparation was meticulous so he knew the personality of his subjects before the photoshoot.

During the photo shoot, he would be confident with the sitter and able to keep the conversation rolling around subjects they knew. Of course, this was to help them relax so he could capture the expression he wanted.

The iconic portrait of Churchill by Karsh, courtesy of Wikipedia
The iconic portrait of Churchill by Karsh, courtesy of Wikipedia

Importantly, the lighting was already set. It could be a simple window light shot or he would use lighting of mind-blowing complexity. Of course, this was all set to bring the subject to life in the way he wanted to show his viewers.

For me, he is still the king of portrait photography with a complete understanding of lighting techniques, his camera and prepared to put in the extra miles to prepare properly and fully understand his subjects.

If you are interested in portrait photography please have a look at his work. There is no better way to learn just how a portrait photograph should be taken and how it should look.


Karsh at the National Portrait Gallery

Karsh biography on Encyclopaedia Britannica

The man, the work, the legacy on

‘The greatest portraits ever taken by Yousuf Karsh’ 

Yousuf Karsh on Pintrest


Find a book about Yousuf Karsh on Amazon:

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