50 Famous Photos That Changed Our World

Published September 5, 2021
Updated September 6, 2021

From Tank Man to the Burning Monk, see the famous photos that captured the attention of the world and changed history in ways we can still feel today.

Family members pass Kosovar refugee Agim Shala, 2, through a barbed wire fence into the hands of grandparents at an Albania camp, March 1999.

Influential Photographs Albania Baby

Crowds gather at the Berlin Wall, November 1989.

Famous Photos Berlin Wall

Family members embrace in the wake of a devastating Alabama tornado, March 2012.

Family Hug After Tornado Influential Photographs

Thích Quảng Đức lights himself on fire in protest of South Vietnam's Diem government, June 1963.

Famous Photos Buddhist Monk

President Bush receives word of the September 11th attacks while visiting a Florida classroom.

Bush Reacts To News Of September 11th Attacks

Gold medal winner Tommie Smith and bronze medal winner John Carlos raises a black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Iconic Photos Black Power

78-year-old Bill Iffrig lies on the ground following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Famous Photographs From The Boston Marathon Bombing

The Bolivian government poses with the corpse of revolutionary Che Guevara, 1967.

Influential Photographs Death Of Che

Christians and Muslims hold hands in solidarity during the Cairo uprisings, January 2011.

Christians Muslims Egypt

Elizabeth Eckford walks to Little Rock Central High School as Hazel Bryan stands behind her screaming on the first day of racial integration. September 4, 1957.Bettmann/Getty Images

Elizabeth Ekford Hazel Bryan

An Alabama man reunites with his pet following a devastating series of tornadoes, March 2012.

Man Reunited With Dog

Astronaut William Anders takes "Earthrise" during the Apollo 8 mission, 1968.

Earthrise 1968 Image

Timothy O'Sullivan's "Harvest of Death" features dead Union soldiers strewn about the Gettysburg battlefield, 1863.

Famous Photos Dead At Gettysburg

A man falls from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Jumping Man On September 11th

8-year-old Christian Golczynski weeps at the funeral of his father, who died during the War in Iraq, March 2007.

Child Attends Funeral Of His Dad

A young boy rescues a stroller after Tropical Storm Hannah ripped through Haiti, 2008.

Haiti After Tropical Storm Hannah

Influential Photographs: Helen Keller meets President Eisenhower, in 1955.

Helen Keller Meets Eisenhower

Retired police captain Ray Lewis is arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest, November 2011.

Famous Photos Of Occupy Wall Street

The Hindenburg zeppelin catches fire on May 6, 1937.

Famous Photos Hindenburg Disaster

A South Korean man sheds a tear when parting ways with his North Korean relative, October 2010.

North Korea South Korea Divide

Annette Kellerman promotes women’s right to wear fitted bathing suits in 1907. She was later arrested for indecency.

Annette Kellerman One Piece Bathing Suit

A Chinese man stands defiantly before tanks in Tiananmen Square, June 1989.

Famous Photos Tank Man

Akan Ito cries among the rubble of Natori, Japan. A 2011 tsunami tore the town apart.

Japan Tsunami

John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father at JFK's state funeral, November 1963.

JFK Jr. At His Father's Funeral

"How Life Begins" is one of the first pictures taken with the endoscope, 1965.

How Life Begins

14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio cries before recently deceased Jeffrey Miller moments after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard during the Kent State shootings, 1970.

Famous Photos Kent State

Apollo 11 crew members capture mankind's first physical brush with the moon, July 1969.

Influential Photographs Man On Moon

Robert Capa immortalizes the treatment of French women who were believed to have been Nazi collaborators during liberation "ugly carnivals" in France, 1944.

History's Most Famous Photos

A missionary holds hands with a starving boy in Karamoja district, Uganda, 1980.

Hand Of A Starving Boy

A Russian veteran weeps before a Soviet tank used during World War Two.

Russian Veteran Cries

Robert Capa captures a soldier emerging from the waters on D-Day.

Famous Photos Normandy Invasion

Obama, Clinton, Biden watch live footage of Navy Seals storming Osama Bin Laden's compound, May 2011.

White House During Osama Bin Laden Raid

Nightclub owner Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated JFK, November 1963.

Lee Harvey Oswald Shooting

Pearl Harbor survivor embraces a fellow veteran (from the War in Iraq), July 2004.

Famous Photos Of Iraq And Pearl Harbor Veterans

Bobby Moore embraces Pele at the 1970 World Cup finals.

Pele And Bobby Moore Embrace At The World Cup

The 19th century graves of a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband deny this Dutch cemetery the power of separating them.

Protestant Catholic Cemetery

A starving child in Sudan, 1993.

Kevin Carter Photograph Of A Starving Child Photograph

Teenager Juan Romero sits by Robert F. Kennedy’s side moments after Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, June 1968.

Robert Kennedy Shot

A Russian soldier playing an abandoned piano in Chechnya, 1994.

Russian Soldier Plays Piano In Chechnya

Connie Kopelov and Phyllis Siegel embrace after becoming the first gay couple married in Manhattan, 2011.

Same Sex Couple Marriage

A Sudan People's Liberation Army soldier during a rehearsal for the Independence Day ceremony, July 2011.

South Sudan Soldier Powerful Photographs

NASA's Mars Rover presents the world with a vision of Mars at dusk, May 2005.

Mars Sunset

An Afghan man offers a US soldier tea near Kabul, Afghanistan, 2009.

Photo From The Afghanistan War 2009

Robert Capa’s photo of a Republican militiaman meeting his death during the Spanish Civil War, 1936.

Iconic Photos Falling Soldier

Terri Gurrola reunites with her daughter after serving seven months in Iraq, 2007.

Terri Gurrola Reunited With Daughter

Terezka, a girl who grew up in a concentration camp, draws a picture of her Poland "home", December 1948.

Famous Photographs Tereska Home

A four-month-old Japanese baby brings light to the March 2011 tsunami, which claimed thousands of lives.

Japan Tsunami Survivor

Horace Greasely confronts Heinrich Himmler in a 1940s German prisoner of war camp. In love with a German woman, Greasely escaped from the camp 200 times.

Influential Famous Photos That Changed History

Influential Photographs: Robert Peraza weeps before the 9/11 memorial, 2011.

911 Memorial Influential Photographs

Many of history's most famous photos are burned into our brains whether we realize it or not — even if we don't know the stories behind them.

Take "Tank Man," the iconic image of a man standing in the middle of the road as an entire row of tanks heads toward him. We understand the power of this image even if we know little of its circumstances.

Then there's the "Burning Monk," which shows Thich Quang Duc burning to death stoically after lighting himself on fire in protest. And, again, even if we have no idea what he was protesting or don't recognize the name Thich Quang Duc, we know that image and we know its power.

Modern history is filled with famous photos like these, images that speak to all of us in ways we can sometimes barely articulate. They show us the very best that humanity is capable of as well as the very worst, and everything in between.

Thus, whether we know the stories behind these famous photos or not, they define our history itself. One could all but compile a survey of the 20th century itself, for example, using only photos like the ones included in the gallery above.

Click through the gallery to see these iconic photos and learn a little about the stories behind them. From Tank Man to Burning Monk to the moon landing, the Kennedy assassination, D-Day, the moon landing, and beyond, the influential images above provide a history lesson more powerful than any you've ever experienced before.


For more famous photos, be sure to visit our posts on life inside North Korea and the best photographs on All That Is Interesting. Then, see how photographer Kevin Carter took one iconic image that changed the world and ultimately helps explain why he took his own life.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.