Taro Yamasaki was born in Detroit, and graduated from Cranbrook School. During his senior year at the University of Michigan, he decided to concentrate on photography, and moved from Ann Arbor to New York City. His working at a variety of jobs, including driving a cab and working as a carpenter, was, for him, "a wonderful education for a documentary photographer."
In 1977 he was hired as a full-time photographer for the Detroit Free Press. In 1981 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Feature Photography for a series that documented the living conditions in the State prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson. In addition to a second nomination for the Pulitzer Prize he has won numerous photojournalism and design awards.
Yamasaki turned to free-lance photography in 1983, and has worked for such magazines as Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Forbes, Money and Men's Journal. Now, as a contributing photographer for People magazine, he travels worldwide. During the 1999-2000 academic year, Yamasaki served as the Distinguished Visiting Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design.