Top 30 Historical Photos – Part 1 of 3

Top 30 Historical Photos – Part 1 of 3

You’ve probably heard it said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

History impacts the way we look at the modern world and can bring a smile, a tear or new knowledge.

There are some photographs that are so poignant they can change our perspective on a single event in history. I’ve gathered the top 30 photographs that have changed the way we view the world forever.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

migrant mother
Source: Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange under Public Domain

This picture was snapped byDorothea Lange on March 6, 1936 while she worked for the Farm Security Administration. The photo shows a migrant mother with pure desperation on her face.

The migrant workers had arrived in the area of Nipomo, California to find that the crops were destroyed by freezing rains. They were without work and starving. It was one of six photos taken by Lange that day. Lange used a Graflex 4×5 camera to take this photograph.

The photograph uses the concept of odd-numbered subjects with the mother and her children completely filling the frame and little background showing. This puts the focus directly on the mother’s anguished face.

Learn more about the woman in the photos at Public Domain Images Online.

Little Rock Desegregation by Will Counts

little rock desegregation
Source: Little Rock Desegregation by Will Counts

This image was snapped in September of 1957 as Elizabeth Eckford enters a previously all-white high school.

She is apparently calm and determined while those surrounding her, adults and teens alike, all shout and stare. The snapshot of racism at work had a powerful impact on Americans and was the beginning of changes within the education Counts snapped the photograph at the perfect moment, capturing Elizabeth’s determination and her tormenters’ intensity.

To capture a moment of intense action in an outdoor setting, Counts likely used a fast shutter speed. The image of the kids around her taunting her and the determined look on Ms. Eckford’s face is haunting. The Associated Press has named this as one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal

raising the flag on iwo jima
Source: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal under Public Domain

This photo was taken in 1945 at Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima. The flag was raised during the height of battle and reflects the spirit of American heroism.

Three of the men in the shot later died during battle. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, won a Pulitzer Prize for this photograph. Rosenthal carried a bulky Speed Graphic camera with him on the day he shot this picture. The camera had a slow shutter, which meant Rosenthal had to get the timing and focus perfect to capture this moment.

The shot is taken from a distance, without any detail about the men in the picture. This puts the focus on the flag.


If You’d Like to Take Stunning Photos, I highly recommend this book. Knowing the right settings for DSLR cameras is half the battle. This book will give you a solid foundation that will help you take photos that are amazing, with a bit of practice, of course.

Who knows? In 100 years, someone might be sharing your photos about historical moments.

Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas E. Franklin

ground zero spirit
Source: Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas E. Franklin (used under fair use)

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, three firefighters stopped and raised the American flag. The moment was captured on film by photographer Thomas E. Franklin, released to the Associated Press and appeared in various news outlets around the world.

The photograph captured the perseverance of the American spirit and showed the rest of the world the determination the country had.

In various interviews, Franklin has indicated that he took this shot from about 150 yards away with a long lens. The use of the long lens helped Franklin capture the massive rubble behind the firefighters while still keeping the focus on the three men and their activity. The photo is eerily similar to the same snapshot taken in Iwo Jima decades before.

Take a Quick Poll

Do You Think These Pictures Captures World-Changing Moments?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

President Johnson Sworn In by Cecil W. Stoughton

Johnson Swearing In by Cecil Stoughton
Johnson Swearing In by Cecil Stoughton

The nation was in shock after the assassination of beloved President John F. Kennedy. It was during the tense hours following his death that Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in without fanfare aboard Air Force One with his wife on one side and Jacqueline Kennedy on the other.

White House photographer Cecil Stoughton snapped the photo. Stoughton used a Hasselblad camera. The film had been color, but just before boarding Air Force One, he changed the film to black and white because the wire services could not accept color.

Black and white film seems to accurately represent the somberness of the moment.

An Aside

There is a photograph by Lawrence Beitler of men hanging. It is pretty graphic and some might see it as offensive. I definitely wouldn’t want a child to stumble across it on this site. I would never condone such an action and find this a horrific occurrence in our country’s history.

However, the photograph is seen as an important historical photograph by many. In fact, Time Life named it one of the Top 100 photographs of the 20th Century. The history of the moment is brought to life through the picture, if you want to go view it.

If we are ever to learn from the past, we have to face the harder things of the past as well. All moments were not beautiful, after all.

Despair by David Turnley

Source: David Turnley

David Turnley is a Pullitzer prize winning photographer. His images have spanned many important historical moments throughout the last 30 years or so of world history.

This is the image of a soldier who looked into the body bag next to him and realized it was one of his closest friends. The intense despair on his face captures the moment and tugs at the heartstrings of anyone who can empathize with such a loss.

The image is taken with a wide view, but the focus is on the face of the grieving man. It is also a candid shot and not posed.

Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry

afghan girl
Source: Steve McCurry

This photo was taken for National Geographic by Steve McCurry in 1984. It depicts Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman.

The image was taken in a refugee camp during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Nikon World magazine indicated that McCurry used a Nikon FM2 camera to take this photograph. He also used a 105mm f/2.5 lens as well as Kodachrome slide film.

As in the Migrant Mother photo, the frame is filled with the subject. There is no background and the expression on the girl’s face speaks volumes. Kodachrome film is no longer produced.

Abbey Road by Iaian Macmillan

abbey road
Source: Iaian Macmillan

The Abbey Road photo of the Beatles was taken by photographer Iain Macmillan on August 8, 1969. The image graced the cover of their final album, which was also titled “Abbey Road”.

The lighting in this photograph is natural. The photo was taken at 11:35 a.m. Macmillan climbed onto a step ladder and snapped the photo from a distance. In the foreground are the band members and in the background are a tree-lined street and a white Volkswagen Beetle.

The parallel lines in the image give it symmetry, including the stride of each of the men in comparison to the crosswalk lines.

I Have a Dream by Bob Adelman

Source: Bob Adelman
Source: Bob Adelman

This is a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in August 1963.

The image captures King as he raises his arm while giving the impassioned “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech spurred a nation toward equality.

Adelman has stated that he was only seven or eight feet away from King when he took this historic photo. The shot was taken as King’s speech came to a climax and is one of a series of photographs taken that day.

V-J Day in Times Square

times square v-j day
Source: Alfred Eisenstaedt

On August 14, 1945, Victory Over Japan Day was celebrated all across the United States.

Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this legendary smooch between a sailor and a nurse.

The photo appeared on the cover of Life and reminded people across the nation about the joyous homecoming of a solider.

Eisenstaedt’s camera of choice was the 35-mm Leica.

This candid shot has an added bit of human interest with the image of the fellow sailor to the left of the frame, smiling over the antics of his fellow soldier.

This article is in three parts…

Stay tuned for more. You can get daily updates by joining any of our social media feeds or our newsletter (subscribe button to the right)

Crabby Housewife

AuthorCrabby Housewife

Lori is a full-time housewife and writer, living in the Midwest with her husband of 27 years - they have two daughters. They have a house full of pets and her house is never quite perfect.