Some of these photographers are well known in the industry, and others are climbing the ladder of recognition, but all of them have something incredible to offer the genre of fantasy photography.
Not long ago I put out a request: I wanted people to tell me who their favorite fantasy photographers were. I received so many names that I had to write them all down and search through them just to narrow the list down. Originally, I had planned on sharing what I thought were the top ten, but so many of the recommended photographers blew me away with their skill and vision that I had to rethink my approach to this article. Instead of the top ten, you’re going to get a genre breakdown with some of the most incredible photographers from each group.
For the purpose of this article, I define fantasy photography as photography that includes fantastical or surreal elements with the goal of transporting viewers out of the “regular world.” Just like any genre, fantasy photography has sub-genres within it. Not all of these sub-genres have a proper name, since the whole concept is rather nebulous and blurs several boundaries, but they can be pretty easily described.
These first photographers fall within what may be the most common subgenre in fantasy photography, at least the one that comprised the most recommendations, which I will call “ethereal women.” While each photographer has their own voice, their main body of work consists of ethereally beautiful women in extravagant costumes and extraordinary locations. The resulting images often look like they’ve been taken from the pages of a fairy tale storybook.
Kotak is a photographer at the epitome of this part of the genre, with work that is meticulously styled and often sits solidly in the realm of fine art.
Liu’s work is fulled with fantastical drama and otherworldly beauty, often looking almost as much like an illustration as a photograph.
Famous for the Wonderland series honoring her late mother, Mitchell’s work is a tour de force that is highly personal, with each photo crafted by her from the concept to the elaborate costumes and props.
Walsh has the world of underwater fantasy on lock, with dreamlike photographs that are a feast for the eyes.
Hannah Dare Walker
Walker isn’t just a photographer, but also a designer who creates mind bending costumes by hand, often requiring months of intensive work for pieces that are works of art in their own right.
Millen’s work mixes portrait photography with digital art and falls somewhere between conceptual/surreal and ethereal. Her work in distinct, striking, and highly artistic.
These photographers all have work that hints at a broader story or concept, but still contain fantastical or surreal elements, often including digital manipulation to assist in telling the story.
Master conceptual photographer, Shaden needs no introduction from me.
Known for fantastical, imaginative composites, this list wouldn't be complete without Robyn.
Elaborate sets, unexpected elements, complex concepts, Jerzyk’s work is a tour de force.
In a word: otherworldly.
Benjamin Von Wong
Von Wong specializes in larger than life projects aimed at making a positive impact in the world.
Work that is imaginative and narrative in nature with a commercial appeal.
Known for her Whimsy Waifs, Robitaille’s signature is highly illustrative and original.
Almost understated compared to some of the other entries, but enthralling. Like a dream that could have been real.
From 3D to photography, Bjorke has her hand in imagery that ranges from one end of the genre to the other but always feels highly narrative.
I don’t want to say these photographers are out to scare you, although some of them definitely are, but on the whole these images are much darker in tone if not always in subject matter. Some of them deal with difficult emotional issues, such as loneliness or abandonment, and others simply showcase the macabre in compelling way.
Emotive and masterfully edited, these are works of art. Even when they give you the creeps.
Sometimes stark, sometimes disturbing, Limmen’s work is always compelling.
Clever, often painful to look at, McKenney’s work rides the line between nightmarish and though provoking.
Chad Michael Ward
These photographers are well known in the fashion industry, but they always include an unexpected element of whimsy or surrealism that gives their work a decided fantasy edge.
There may be no commercial photographer as well known for flights of imaginative fancy as Erik Almas. Granted, his work doesn't always stray into the fanciful, but when it does, it's epic.
These Cosplay photographers refuse to settle for boring backgrounds or flat lighting. They go the extra mile to create fantastical worlds for their subjects to inhabit.
Fantasy photography is my favorite flavor of photography because the only boundaries are the photographers imagination and skill. Looking at a fantasy photograph is a reminder that each of us live within the realm of our imaginations, and in that land anything is possible.
Who are your favorite fantasy photographers?
"You Need to Follow"
What a list. These are fantastic.
Grace! Been following her work for a while and she definitely is worth a follow. =)
I've followed CMW's work for nearly two decades now. Back when he shot Lithium Picnic (another good choice). But Stefan Gesell is a great one to add for dark work. https://www.instagram.com/fotosym/
Oh wow, thanks for the link! Definitely gnarly work!
I follow most of them and Stefan too...
I started portrait photography because I was doing a little body painting, now I do make-up and props for a style that is halfway horror and fantasy (So most of them are in my list).
Come on, I've come to add a Frenchman to your list. https://www.leturk.com/
I follow a few cosplay photographers. Big problem I have is a lot of the stuff showcased feels more like digital art than photography even though it has originated in photos. One of the accounts I follow, https://www.instagram.com/knightmare6, plays with effects, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but tends to keep people looking like they're still people and not drawings
That's the great thing about photography! There is a flavor out there for everyone ;)
True enough, everyone has a different take and perspective
Brooke Shaden is one of my favorites. Saw her presentation at Photoshop World many years ago and have been a fan ever since.
needs to be here. Her work is amazing!
She's got some great stuff! That's the hard part about articles like this, I want to share and help boost the signal for these great artists, but there are ALWAYS more out there than any one of us can keep up with. SO much talent out there!
Suggestion for new genre: fantastic food
This is basically a list of people who (for the most part) are already IG famous. It would be nice to see more variety than just the folks in this genre that are already the celebrities of their genre.
Don't get me wrong, these folks are incredible photographers, but when the title is "you need to follow" and almost everyone on the list has already amassed a huge following, it feels a bit disingenuous.
To be honest, that doesn't matter to me. I'm not asking people to follow these photographers because they need more followers, but because I think their work is worthy of holding up. There wasn't anything in the title to suggest all of these photographers are only "up and comers" just that anyone who appreciates this genre would benefit from following some of these people.
And there are photographers on this list with less than 10,000 to as little as 2,000 followers, so I would hardly say they're all Instagram famous.
I understand and respect that this is not based on followers and each of these folks surely deserves their mention as someone able to inspire others. My point is that there are a lot of folks doing work that is worthy of being held up (using your own words) who aren't already at the top.
Oh there are absolutely folks out there who deserve a lot more attention than they get, for sure. I just wasn't focusing on that for this article. But it's certainly something worthy of doing.
I do mostly dark work , only like 800 followers. There's a lot of us out there and farrrr too many to list! I like the variety. ^_^
Evan Kane, I think it would be interesting if someone wrote a similar article of "People you should follow you've never heard of" consisting entirely of sub 5k (or something) follower accounts. And since you lay down the charge to Nicole...
Evan, be the change you want to see? Writing an article yourself with less known photographers to follow would be a perfect response to this article. Like Nicole, I don't care if someone has 100 or 100,000 followers. If they're less known it could be indicative of them not posting often which isn't what I'd want to follow anyway.
Great article Nicole! Super excited to see Hannah Dare Walker on your list. I always stood in awe when I got to see her work or her creations!
One that I followed since her early days on Flickr is Danielle Tunstall: https://www.instagram.com/danielle_tunstall/
Great selection, thank you. I'd recommend Stefan Gessel to add to you list. (https://www.instagram.com/fotosym/)
Ok..... so all of these "photographers" are very creative and imaginative, no doubt, very talented. A couple make me cringe. Regardless.... I tip my hat to their creative abilities. My question..... Is there a large market where people buy these type of images for their home or office or place of work? Or is this simply time spent on what they personally enjoy doing?
went to see Kirsty Mitchells "wonderland" exhibition, mindblowing really, such an effort put into every little detail in the pictures. Fantastic!
Yeah, that's nice, but where's https://www.facebook.com/KatherineAnnePhotography/?
Renee Robyn is beast!!!!!
Aaaah thank you for featuring me among these really cool people! And I love to see a bit of dark weirdness being shared here :)
You're absolutely welcome, it was my pleasure! Your work is incredible.
I don't at all mean this as an insult - how do these types of photographers get paid? It's a lot of work put in to each shot. Do they get advertising work? Do the models pay them?
By marketing and networking with like-minded clients that are within these specific genres. Yes, we can. Yes, they do. It's the same as a photographer in the wedding sector or one that solely shoots commercial product work.
Hi Aury! to answer your question, I am a full time photographer : I am an art director as well and I often work for the music industry to create brandings and artworks for musicians I also shoot portraits (because I love it and darkness can be exhausting :D !), I do commercials jobs, and I even sell prints from time to time! :)
you guys need to add @alterimago he is a Mexican artist who is specialized in dark beauty .
I would be thrilled for you to take a look at my work. <3
Also, as far as dark photographers go Blind 7 Photography is seriously top-notch. He's been around forever and I was surprised to not see him on this list.
Thanks for sharing, your portraits are super cool!
I love the light being shed on these not only photographers, but digital artists as well. Im a self portrait artist, and was wondering, how does one get discovered in order to land on articles such as these? There is certainly a niche for photography that bring awareness, reflection and art all in one...thank you for spreading the love of for these talented photographers.
I'm confused. Just a few days before this article, another was posted on the site regarding embedding copyrighted photos in tweets. The individual sued and the courts ruled that by posting to his content, it was copyright infringement. The article was essentially praising this individual for going after publications for using his photos and then there's this list. Isn't this essentially the same thing seeing as how it's also used to drive site traffic? The article in question: https://fstoppers.com/legal/photographer-who-won-copyright-case-over-emb...
So awesome to see many familiar names and some new names I haven't heard about yet! Always awesome to discover new talent.