ArtStories

TOP 50 legendary LIFE magazine photographs

7 Mins read

The LIFE magazine archive counts millions of excellent pictures. Oldpics attempted to select the best 50 of them.

LIFE magazine always managed to onboard the best photographers. Starting from the first issue that hit the shelves on November 23, 1936, the continuously surprised the public with their sharp and unforgettable photographs. No surprise, the LIFE magazine was the top illustrated US publication for decades.

LIFE magazine was published weekly from 1936 to 1972. Nonetheless, competitors (TV, mostly) took their readers’ share and forced the glorious publication to switch to a monthly basis. The magazine stood tall from 1978 to 2000. 

But we still remember the LIFE magazine! We continue to dig through its archives and find new and new amazing photographs that deserve the fresh publication. This publication covers the LIFE magazine photographs that became an integral part of the photo history. Many of these pictures starred the 100 most important pictures in history.

Here you can check our selection of the Best LIFE magazine’s covers.

The Marlboro Man

The Marlboro Man. 

Photo by Leonard McCombe, 1949.

39-year-old Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey. This image became the best-known cigarette advertisement.

The Beatles in Miami

The Beatles in Miami

Photo by John Loengard, 1964.

The Beatles on their famous American Tour. The pool water was quite cold that day, as Ringo’s grimace tells.

Sea of Hats

Sea of Hats

Photo by: Margaret Bourke-White, 1930.

A crowd wearing hats on the streets of New York. Interestingly, Margaret Bourke-White captured this image before the LIFE publication started. It looks like magazine editors took this picture and published it later just for its artistic value.

Peek-A-Boo

Peek-A-Boo

Photo by Ed Clark, 1958.

John F. Kennedy plays hide-n-seek with his daughter Caroline.

Read more: Rosemary Kennedy: the tragedy of JFK’s sister lobotomy in pictures.

Lion in Winter

Lion in Winter

Photo by: John Bryson, 1959.

Hemingway near his home in Ketchum, Idaho. This picture was featured in our Hemingway and Alcohol selection.

In 20 months, Ernest Hemingway will pass away.

Liz and Monty

Liz and Monty

Photo by Peter Stackpole, 1950.

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift take a break during filming “A Place in the Sun” at Paramount Studios.

Pied Piper of Ann Arbor

Pied Piper of Ann Arbor

Photo by: Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1950.

A drummer from the University of Michigan marches with children. See more beautiful photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Parting the Sea in Salt Lake City

Parting the Sea in Salt Lake City

Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1958.

The auto movie theater in the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City. Moses, in front of the parting Red Sea in the film “The Ten Commandments.”

Sand of Iwo Jima

The sand of Iwo Jima

Photo by: W. Eugene Smith, 1945.

American Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the spring of 1945. See more amazing WW2 photography by Eugene Smith.

Picasso and Centaur

Picasso and Centaur

Author of the photo: Gjon Mili, 1949.

Ephemeral drawing in the air.

Reaching Out

Reaching Out

Photo by Larry Burrows, 1966.

Marines during the Vietnam War. The black soldier reaches out to his wounded, white comrade.

Meeting peace With fire hoses

Meeting peace With fire hoses.

Photo by: Charles Moore, 1963.

Fire hoses were used to disperse a peaceful anti-segregation rally in Birmingham, Alabama.

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

Photo by: Milton Greene, 1952.

Littlest Survivor

Littlest Survivor

Photo by W. Eugene Smith, 1943.

Another WW2 masterpiece of Eugene Smith. During World War II, hundreds of Japanese were besieged on Saipan’s island and committed mass suicide to avoid Americans’ surrender. When American Marines examined the island,  they found a barely alive child in one of the caves. Here’s a story behind this stunning photograph.

Liberation of Buchenwald

Liberation of Buchenwald

Photo by: Margaret Bourke-White, 1945.

Jumping Royals

Jumping Royals

Photo by Philippe Halsman, 1959.
Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Jet Age Man

Jet Age Man

Photo by Ralph Morse, 1954.

Measurement of the pilot’s anthropological data with special lighting from alternating bands of light and shadow of various thicknesses. That was the key ingredient for the new flight helmet design by the US Air Force.

Jack and Bobby

Jack and Bobby

Photo by Hank Walker, 1960.

John F. Kennedy (still a Senator) with his brother Robert at a hotel during the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

Into the Light

Into the Light

Photo by: William Eugene Smith, 1946.

Ingenue Audrey

Ingenue Audrey

Photo by: Mark Shaw, 1954.

25-year-old  star Audrey Hepburn while filming Roman Holiday.

Gunhild Larking

Gunhild Larking

Photo by George Silk, 1956.

Swedish high jumper Gunhild Larking at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Goin’ Home

Goin’ Home

Officer Graham Jackson plays the song “Goin ‘Home” at President Roosevelt’s April 12, 1945 funeral.

Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders

Photo by Paul Schutzer, 1961.
“Riders of Freedom” called the joint bus trips of black and white activists who protested against the violation of black people’s rights in the southern states of the United States. In 1961, activists rented buses and traveled around the southern states. No surprise, they were repeatedly attacked and arrested by southern whites. During a trip from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, National Guard soldiers were assigned to protect the riders.

Face of Death

Face of Death

Photo by: Ralph Morse, 1943.
The head of a Japanese soldier on a tank.

Eyes of Hate

Eyes of Hate

Photo by: Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1933.

The moment when Goebbels (sitting) found that his photographer was a Jew and he stopped smiling. The full story behind Eyes of hate pictures.

Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock

Photo by Andreas Feininger, 1951.
Portrait of the photographer Dennis Stock.

Dali Atomicus

Dali Atomicus

Photo by Philippe Halsman, 1948.
Six hours and 28 throws (water, chair, and three cats). According to the photographer, he and his assistants were wet, dirty, and completely exhausted when the shot was successful. The Dali Atomicus is among the 100 most important pictures in history.

Read more: All Pulitzer Prize photos (1942-1967)

Country Doctor

Country Doctor

Photo by W. Eugene Smith, 1948.
Rural doctor Ernest Ceriani, the only doctor in the 1200 square miles area. In this photo, Eugene Smith captured a moment after a botched cesarean section that killed a mother and child due to complications. See more pictures and a full story behind the Country Doctor photo.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

Photo by W. Eugene Smith, 1952.
Charlie Chaplin, 63.

Center of Attention

Center of Attention

Photo by: Leonard McCombe, 1956.

Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

Photo by: John Shearer, 1971.
Muhammad Ali before his fight with Joe Fraser in March 1971. Ali loved to tease opponents. Before the fight with Fraser, he questioned the latter’s masculinity, intellectual abilities, and even his “black skin”.

Before the Wedding

Before the Wedding

Photo by: Michael Rougier, 1962.

Before Camelot, a Visit to West Virginia

Before Camelot, a Visit to West Virginia

Photo by Hank Walker, 1960.
John F. Kennedy speaks during the election campaign in an American town.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Breathes Free

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Breathes Free

Photo by Harry Benson.
Free-breathing. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Vermont.

Airplane Over Manhattan

Airplane Over Manhattan.

Photo by: Margaret Bourke-White, 1939.

Agony

Agony

Photo by: Ralph Morse, 1944.
Army medic George Lott, badly wounded in both arms.

A Wolf's Lonely Leap

A Wolf’s Lonely Leap

Photo by Jim Brandenburg, 1986.
The polar wolf fights for survival in northern Canada.

A Leopard’s Kill

A Leopard’s Kill

Photo by: John Dominis, 1966.
Leopard with a victim.

A Child Is Born

A Child Is Born

Photo by: Lennart Nilsson, 1965.
The first-ever picture of a baby in the womb.

A Boy’s Escape

A Boy’s Escape

Photo by: Ralph Crane, 1947.
This staged photo depicts a boy escaping from an orphanage.

3D Movie Audience

3D Movie Audience

Photo by: J.R. Eyerman, 1952.
The first full-length stereo film Bwana Devil.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Author photo: Yousuf Karsh, 1941.
Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940-1945 and 1951-1955. Politician, military man, journalist, writer, laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

See more: Winston Churchill as an artist and his other leisure pictures.

Three Americans

Three Americans

Photo by: George Strock, 1943.
American soldiers were killed in battle with the Japanese on a beach in New Guinea. The first shot of dead American soldiers on the battlefield during World War II.

The Puppet Show

The Puppet Show

Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1963.
At a puppet show in a Parisian park. The moment of the killing of the serpent by Saint George.

The Longest Day

The Longest Day

Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.
The landing of the American army on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944. It was also depicted in the film “Saving Private Ryan” by Steven Spielberg.

The Kiss

The Kiss

Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945.
One of the most famous photographs. Kiss of a sailor and a nurse after the end of the war.

The story ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ by Alfred Eisenstaedt

The Great Soul

The Great Soul

Photo by: Margaret Bourke-White, 1946.
Mahatma Gandhi, next to his spinning wheel, symbolizes the non-violent movement for Indian independence from Britain.

The American Way

The American Way

Photo by: Margaret Bourke-White, 1937.
Food queue during the Great Depression with a poster reading, “There is way like the American way.”

The story of the American way photo by Margarett Bourke-White

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen

Photo by: John Dominis, 1963.
Actor Steve McQueen, who starred in The Magnificent Seven.

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1966.
Sophia Loren, in the movie “Italian Marriage.” When this candid snapshot took the cover of LIFE, many criticized the magazine for “going into pornography.” One reader wrote, “Thank God the postman comes at noon when my kids are at school.”

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Billy
Billy
16 days ago

Nice set. Of course, another 10-20 pictures could be added. But if you’re willing to limit yourself to 50 then it’s ok

fred
fred
16 days ago

amazing

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