The World's Most Inspiring Travel Portrait Photographers

Photo of Courtney Stanley
28 December 2016

A portrait can be so much more than a face in a photo – portraits can tell stories, reveal histories, and capture emotions. Travel portrait photography poses the distinct challenge of capturing that depth in an image all while traveling through places where the photographer might not speak the language or be familiar with the customs. Here are the photographers that work through those challenges to show us the common threads in our humanity.

Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry is most famous for his iconic 1984 National Geographic cover photo, ‘Afghan Girl,’ taken of Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman living in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. The photo has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in its brilliance and composition. McCurry, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, has been a photographer for more than 30 years and over this time has made numerous magazine and book covers, over a dozen books, and exhibitions around the world.

Mario Marino

Mario Marino shows a clear emotional connection to the subjects of his many travel portraits. Marino is Austrian-born and currently based in Germany, and he started his taking photographs in 2000. Marino works to depict the life experiences and cultural backgrounds of people by photographing them in their native lands. To find his subjects, Marino simply walks around for eight to ten hours every day he is working, photographing the people he finds along the way.

Suman, Portrait of a Gypsie Girl, India, 2014 | © Mario Marino
Portrait of a Man, Thar Dessert, India, 2014 | © Mario Marino

Catherine Karnow

Catherine Karnow‘s portraits range from Australian Aborigines to Bombay film stars to victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Karnow is based in San Francisco and has been in the business for more than 25 years after a brief career in filmmaking. Karnow’s work has appeared in National Geographic and other publications, and since 1995, she has taught photography.

Lisa Kristine

Lisa Kristine is a widely acclaimed humanitarian photographer who has documented indigenous cultures in more than 100 countries. Recently, Kristine has turned her sharp eye toward exposing modern-day slavery, working with the non-governmental organization Free the Slaves. Kristine’s work on slavery has been featured in three films released in 2014, and she has published five books and been the subject of four documentaries on slavery. Based in San Francisco, Kristine inspires change with her photos in a unique way.

Achuar Warrior | © Lisa Kristine
Pink Sari | © Lisa Kristine

Eric Lafforgue

Eric Lafforgue famously photographs areas of the world that are less commonly visited, with populations or regions that are in danger. He has taken astounding portraits in North Korea, Namibia, Kurdistan, and more. Lafforgue started his journey into photography in 2006, and he was quickly published by numerous travel magazines for his work in Africa and Asia. Lafforgue gets to know his subjects, and he has a story about each person he’s photographed.


Réhahn, a photographer born in Normandy, France, and based in Hoi An, central Vietnam, specializes in taking photographs of ethnic cultures in Vietnam, India, and Cuba. In 2014, he published a book called Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts, consisting of 150 photographs showing hugely differing aspects of the country. Réhahn collaborates with National Geographic, and he has also been published by the BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, Esquire, Marie-Claire, and more. He also frequently updates on Instagram.

Elder Lady Red Dao | © Réhahn
Eyes of Jaipur, Portraits of Rajasthan | © Réhahn

Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson is best known for his photographs of tribal and indigenous people taken in many countries around the world. Currently, he is completing part two of his series ‘Before They Pass Away,’ which was started in 2010 to document indigenous communities that will stand the test of time for present and future generations. Nelson was born and raised in the UK, and he began his photographic journey after a 1985 trek on foot across the length of Tibet. After traveling for a year, Nelson released his visual diary documenting previously inaccessible areas of Tibet, and he received international acclaim. He has been producing incredible portraits ever since.

Chukchi, Second Brigade, Chukotka, Russia, 2012 | © Jimmy Nelson
Maori,Rauwhiri Winitana Paki, Taupo Village, North Island, New Zealand, 2011 | © Jimmy Nelson

Joel Santos

Despite a having studied economics for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Joel Santos has spent the last decade focusing on photography. Born in 1978 in Lisbon, Portugal, Santos’ work has graced the cover of more than 30 magazines and plenty of articles. Santos has also written five books, and for three years, he was the editor-in-chief of Portugal’s best-selling photo magazine. Santos’ stunning portraits show a clear mastery of photography. He leads trips and photography workshops in Portugal and around the world.

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