Lindbergh was born on 23 November 1944 in Leszno, Poland. He spent his childhood in Duisburg.
As a teenager, he worked as window dresser for the Karstadt and Horten department stores in Duisburg. Coming from a part of Germany close to the Dutch border, North Rhine-Westphalia, he spent summer holidays with his family in the Netherlands on the coast near Noordwijk. The vast beaches and the industrial settings of his hometown Duisburg, have influenced his work strongly over the years. In the early 1960s, he moved to Lucerne and months later to Berlin where he enrolled in the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. He hitchhiked to Arles in the footsteps of his idol, Vincent van Gogh. Lindbergh remembers these years: "I preferred actively seeking out van Gogh’s inspirations, my idol, rather than painting the mandatory portraits and landscapes taught in art schools". After several months in Arles, he continued through to Spain and Morocco, a journey that took him two years.
Returning to Germany, he studied Abstract Art at the College of Art in Krefeld (North Rhine-Westphalia). Influenced by Joseph Kosuth and the Conceptual art movement, he was invited in 1969, before graduating, to present his work at the avant-garde Galerie Denise René. These works were exhibited in the Objets ludiques exhibition at the Tinguely Museum in Basel in 2014. After moving to Düsseldorf in 1971, he turned his attention to photography and worked for two years assisting German photographer Hans Lux, before opening his own studio in 1973. Becoming well known in his native country, he joined the Stern magazine family along with photographers Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Hans Feurer.
Lindbergh introduced a form of new realism by redefining the standards of beauty, influenced by documentary photographers, street photographers and photojournalists like Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand. He has a humanist approach. He changed the standards of fashion photography in times of excessive retouching, in considering there to be something else that makes a person interesting, beyond their age. In 2014 he said that "This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection." In 2016, Lindbergh declared that "A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?"
He photographs his subjects in their natural state, with hardly any make-up. The journalist Suzy Menkes wrote that "Refusing to bow to glossy perfection is Peter Lindbergh's trademark – the essence of the images that look into each person's unvarnished soul, however familiar or famous the sitter".