Learn from the Masters: 57 Great Photography Quotes

February 04, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

When you read about developing yourself as a photographer there tends to be two schools of thought. The first school of thought says something like “be yourself,” “find your vision,” “don’t worry about what others are doing,” “just shoot,” “break the rules,” “equipment doesn’t matter,” etc. The second school of thought says something like “study the great photographers,” “learn from the portfolio of others,” “become a technical master,” “you can’t become creative until you know your equipment,” “these 5 tips will change your photography,” “master photoshop”, etc. It can be confusing on which school of thought to follow.

 

I have often found myself between both schools of thought, sometimes taking either approach, or sometimes taking a middle approach. Yes, I read the manual, but only in so much as it supports what I am trying to accomplish. Yes, before I travel I browse photos of those who have shot there before, but only to gather general ideas. Yes, I look through the work of the famous photographers, but only to find inspiration and not to imitate. Yes, I know many of the rules, but I don’t always follow them. Yes, I print the best photos, but there’s only so much wall space so I enjoy posting to my website just as much. Yes, I have a good camera, but no I don’t look to upgrade very often and my equipment is relatively minimal. And so on.

 

So that being said, here are some of my favorite impactful quotes from some of the greatest photographers of all time. Hopefully, for those new to photography, they can provide a level of comfort as you grow and develop, and, for those more experienced, they can provide a reminder of some of the best photography advice ever given. No matter your skill level or involvement in photography these quotes surely capture ideas that stand the test of time.

 

  1. “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” Ansel Adams
  2. “If your pictures are not good enough then you’re not close enough.” Robert Capa
  3. “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange
  4. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Henri Cartier-Bresson
  5. “Twelve significant photographs in one year is a good crop.” Ansel Adams
  6. “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” Jim Richardson
  7. “If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.” Jay Maisel
  8. “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” Ralph Hattersley
  9. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Arthur Brisbane
  10. “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Ansel Adams
  11. “There are not bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” Abraham Lincoln
  12. “Photography is a love affair with life.” Burk Uzzle
  13. What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” Karl Lagerfeld
  14. “Photography has no rules, it is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved.” Bill Brandt
  15. “Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.” Paul Strand
  16. “F/8 and be there.” Arthur “Weegee” Fellig
  17. “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” Ansel Adams
  18. “Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion . . . the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.” Dorothea Lange
  19. “Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” Percy W. Harris
  20. “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.” Galen Rowell
  21. “At the heart of all photography is an urge to express our deepest personal feelings – to reveal our inner, hidden selves, to unlock the artist. Those of us who become photographers are never satisfied with just looking at someone else’s expression of something that is dear to us. We must produce our own images, instead of buying postcards and photo books. We seek to make our statements of individuality.” Galen Rowell
  22. “The only thing that makes a good photo is if you like the photo.” Andrew Maclean
  23. “Let me here call attention to one of the most universally popular mistakes that have to do with photography – that of classing supposedly excellent work as professional, and using the term amateur to convey the idea of immature productions and to excuse atrociously poor photographs. As a matter of fact nearly all the greatest work is being, and has always been done, by those who are following photography for the love of it, and not merely for financial reasons. As the name implies, an amateur is one who works for love; and viewed in this light the incorrectness of the popular classification is readily apparent.” Alfred Stieglitz
  24. “Today photographers are much more interested in setting up strobe lights and doing technical things. To me, both then and now, technique is not that important.” Alfred Eisenstaedt
  25. “I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before.” Robert Mapplethorpe
  26. “If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” Robert Mapplethorpe
  27. “Always carry a camera, it’s tough to shoot a picture without one.” Jay Maisel
  28. “If the light is great in front of you, you should turn around and see what it is doing behind you.” Jay Maisel
  29. “Why would anyone want to photograph an indisputably colourful world in monochrome? If colour film had been invented first, would anybody even contemplate photographing in black and white.” Russell Miller
  30. “I am not impressed by the number of mediocre images your new camera shoots in one second.” Astor Morgan
  31.  “There are two distinct roads in photography – the utilitarian and the aesthetic, the goal of one being a record of facts, and the other an expression of beauty.” Charles H. Caffin
  32. “Photography is like fishing. You go out in the morning with no idea of what the trip will bring. Sometimes luck is on your side and all your crab pots are full of prime lobsters. Other times you get nothing.” Bob Croxford
  33. “The truth is you have too many cameras and you don’t take enough photographs.” Kyle Cassidy
  34. “Observing and photographing nature makes me realize who is truly in control, and believe me, it’s not us humans.” Michael Garth
  35. “Making pictures is a very simple act. There is no great secret in photography. . . schools are a bunch of crap. You just need practice and application of what you’ve learned. My absolute conviction is that if you are working reasonably well the only important thing is to keep shooting…it doesn’t matter whether you are making money or not. Keep working, because as you go through the process of working things begin to happen.” Elliott Erwitt
  36. “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photography them.” Diane Arbus
  37. “If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” Jay Maisel
  38. “One does not think during creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years – learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this – then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment. So I can make ‘without thought,’ fifteen carefully considered negatives, one every fifteen minutes, given material with as many possibilities. But there is all the eyes have seen in this life to influence me.” Edward Weston
  39. “The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.” Edward Weston
  40. “No matter what lens you use, no matter what speed the film, no matter how you develop it, no matter how you print it, you cannot say more than you can see.” Paul Strand
  41. “I don’t think it’s necessary to put your feeling about photography in words. I’ve read things that photographers have written for exhibitions and so forth about their subjective feelings about photography and mostly I think it’s disturbing. I think they’re fooling themselves very often. They’re just talking, they’re not saying anything.” Eliot Porter
  42. “Life is about turning up. The more you get yourself out there, whether you wake up at 5:00 a.m. to pouring rain or not, the more you’re likely to experience the wonderful happenings that are going on all around you. Sometimes the most interesting visual phenomena occur when you least expect it. Other times, you think you’re getting something amazing and the photographs turn out to be boring and predictable. So I think that’s why, a long time ago, I consciously tried to let go of artist’s angst, and instead just hope for the best and enjoy it. I love the journey as much as the destination. If I wasn’t a photographer, I’d still be a traveler.” Michael Kenna
  43. “I was going around the world searching for an interesting place, when I realized that the place that I was in was already interesting.” Emmet Gowin
  44. “The more thoroughly a photographer explores his subject with the camera (i.e. the more pictures he makes), the more he sees and the better his chance of getting good results.” Andreas Feininger
  45. “Good photography is not about “Zone Printing” or any other Ansel Adams nonsense. It’s just about seeing. You either see or you don’t. The rest is academic. Photography is simply a function of noticing things. Nothing more.” Elliott Erwitt
  46. “Be sure to take the lens cap off before photographing.” Elliott Erwitt
  47. “With photography, everything is in the eye and these days I feel young photographers are missing the point a bit. People always ask about the cameras but it doesn’t matter what camera you have. You can have the most modern camera in the world but if you don’t have an eye, the camera is worthless.” Alfred Eisenstaedt
  48. “My style hasn’t changed much in all these sixty years. I still use, most of the time, existing light and try not to push people around. I have to be as much a diplomat as a photographer. People don’t often take me seriously because I carry so little equipment and make so little fuss . . . I never carried a lot of equipment. My motto has always been, “Keep it simple.” Alfred Eisenstaedt
  49. “Photography just gets us out of the house.” William Eggleston
  50. “I don’t really look at other people’s photographs. It takes enough time to look at my own.” William Eggleston
  51. “I don’t work with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.” Chuck Close
  52. “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” Chuck Close
  53. “At a fundamental level photography is much like pointing, and all of us occasionally point at things: look at that, look at the sailboat, look at that tree, etc. etc.” Keith Carter
  54. “To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures.” Harry Callahan
  55. Henry James proposed of art three modest and appropriate questions: What is the artist trying to do? Does he do it? Was it worth doing?” Robert Adams
  56. “. . . the only things that distinguish the photographer from everybody else are his pictures: they alone are the basis for our special interest in him. If pictures cannot be understood without knowing details of the artist’s private life, then that is a reason for faulting them; major art, by definition, can stand independent of its maker.” Robert Adams
  57. “Never stop looking, no matter where you are, everywhere there are good photographs.” Art Wolfe

 

 


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