Araki was born in Tokyo, studied photography during his college years and then went to work at the advertising agency Dentsu, where he met his future wife, the essayist Yōko Araki (荒木陽子). After they were married, Araki published a book of pictures of his wife taken during their honeymoon titled Sentimental Journey. She died in 1990. Pictures taken during her last days were published in a book titled Winter Journey.
Having published over 350 books by 2005, and still more every year, Araki is considered one of the most prolific artists alive or dead in Japan and around the world. Many of his photographs are erotic; some have been called pornographic. Among his photography books are Sentimental Journey (1971, but later reissued), Tokyo Lucky Hole (1985), and Shino.