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100 best photography quotes from famous photographers

(Image credit: Henry Herrmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

As well as taking some of the most celebrated images in the world, many famous photographers have plenty of inspirational things to say about their craft.

We've rounded up 100 of the best photography quotes that might help how you approach thinking about, composing and taking your images.

Read more:  147 techniques, tips and tricks for taking photographs of anything

Best photography quotes: What is photography?

Don McCullin

Don McCullin (Image credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

01. “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” Don McCullin

02. Making a photograph is rather like writing a paragraph or a short piece, and putting together a whole string of photographs is like producing a piece of writing in many ways. There is the possibility of making coherent statements in an interesting, subtle, complex way." David Goldblatt

03. “Photography is a response that has to do with the momentary recognition of things. Suddenly you’re alive. A minute later there was nothing there. I just watched it evaporate. You look one moment and there’s everything, next moment it’s gone. Photography is very philosophical.” Joel Meyerowitz

04. “To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces.” Ansel Adams

05. “Photographing a cake can be art.” Irving Penn

Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton (Image credit: Hulton Archive/Stringer, Getty Images)

06. “You can’t teach people photography, they’ve got to learn how to do it the best way possible for them. They can learn from looking at pictures... but they don’t really get intimate with the medium until they’ve made a few bad shots.” Cecil Beaton

07. “It isn’t the alphabet that’s important. The important thing is what you are writing, what you are expressing. The same thing goes for photography.” Andre Kertesz

08. A lot of people seem to think that art or photography is about the way things look, or the surface of things. [...] They don't understand that it's not about a style or a look or a setup. It's about emotional obsession and empathy. Nan Goldin 

Best photography quotes: What makes a good picture?

09. “If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that’s a good picture." Eddie Adams

10. “Photography is truth. And cinema is truth twenty-four times a second.” Jean-Luc Godard

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks (Image credit: Rose Hartman/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

11. “If you don’t have anything to say, your photographs are not going to say much.” Gordon Parks

12. “The best pictures differentiate themselves by nuances…a tiny relationship – either a harmony or a disharmony – that creates a picture.” Ernst Haas

13. “Just because people use Instagram and take cellphone pictures, it doesn’t mean the pictures are meaningful, anymore than a text someone sends a friend is great literature. Is it something that’s going to remain? Is it going to inspire us?” Steve McCurry

14. “To me a photograph is a page from life, and that being the case, it must be real.” Weegee

15. "A good photograph is like a good hound dog, dumb, but eloquent." Eugène Atget

Anne Geddes

Anne Geddes (Image credit: Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)

16. "The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed." Anne Geddes

17. "A photograph is a collision between a person with a camera and reality. The photograph is typically as interesting as the collision is." Charles Harbutt 

18. "A good picture is born from a state of grace. Grace becomes manifest when one is freed from conventions, free as a child in his first discovery of reality. The game is then to organize the triangle." Sergio Larrain

Best quotes on the fundamental principles of photography

19. “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” Garry Winogrand

20. The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn't what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organised visual lying." Terence Donovan

David Bailey

David Bailey (Image credit: Roberto Ricciuti/WireImage, Getty Images)

21. “It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things, but in photography... it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.” David Bailey

22. “Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.” Man Ray

23. “Photography is a medium in which if you don’t do it then, very often you don’t do it at all, because it doesn’t happen twice. A rock will probably always be more or less there just the way you saw it yesterday. But other things change, they’re not always there the day after or the week after.” Paul Strand

24. “Ultimately, simplicity is the goal in every art, and achieving simplicity is one of the hardest things to do, yet it’s easily the most essential.” Pete Turner

25. “You must let the person looking at the photograph go some of the way to finishing it. You should offer them a seed that will grow and open up their minds.” Robert Doisneau

Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt (Image credit: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

26. “All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.” Elliott Erwitt

Best quotes on how to approach a shoot

27. “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”
David Alan Harvey

28. “There is no such thing as taking too much time, because your soul is in that picture.”
Ruth Bernhard 

29. “The key is to photograph your obsessions; whether that’s old people’s hands or skyscrapers. Think of a blank canvas, because that’s what you’ve got, and then think about what you want to see – not anyone else.”
David Lachapelle

30. “My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. If you are curious, you create opportunities, and if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”
Mario Testino

David Burnett

David Burnett (Image credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

31. "The satisfaction comes from working next to 500 photographers and coming away with something different."
David Burnett

32. “I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping away at what’s in front of you.”
Frans Lanting

33. “I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve missed, ignored, trampled or otherwise lost, just ’cause I’ve been so hell-bent on getting the shot I think I want.”
Joe McNally

34. “Try to understand not just that we are living in a certain building or in a certain location, but to become aware that we are living on a planet that is going at enormous speed through the universe. For me it’s more a synonym. I read a picture not for what’s really going on there, I read it more for what is going on in our world generally.”
Andreas Gursky

35. "The pitfall of photography is that you can end up looking at everything through a camera, instead of seeing it for itself. The viewfinder isolates you. When you look through one, you're cutting everything else out of your vision. The camera can open many doors, but sometimes you need to put it down and live."
Maggie Steber 

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman (Image credit: Monica Schipper/FilmMagic)

36. “If I knew what the picture was going to be like, I wouldn’t make it. It was almost like it was made already... the challenge is more about trying to make what you can’t think of.”
Cindy Sherman

The importance of instinct

37. "If you want to make good photographs, a camera has to be second nature to you. Devoting too much attention to technical decisions can interfere with your creative processes."
Robert Farber 

38. “It would be mistaken to suppose that any of the best photography is come at by intellection; it is like all art, essentially the result of an intuitive process, drawing on all that the artist is rather than on anything he thinks, far less theorizes about -
Helen Levitt

39. "It seems to me that women have a bigger chance at success in photography than men… Women are quicker and more adaptable than men. And I think they have an intuition that helps them understand personalities more quickly than men."
Lee Miller

40. “It is very hard to say where you’re going until you get there. That kind of thing is based very much on instinct. As a photographer, one of the most important lessons I have learnt is that you have to learn to listen to and trust your own instinct. It has helped to guide me – this far at least.”
James Nachtwey

Ellen von Unwerth

Ellen von Unwerth (Image credit: Thomas Niedermueller/Life Ball 2015/Getty Images)

41. "Technique undoubtedly helps make photography magical, but I prefer to work with atmosphere. I think that the obsession with technique is a male thing. Boy's toys. They love playing... but once you've perfected something you have to start searching for a new toy. I would rather search for a new model or location."
Ellen von Unwerth 

42. “Photography concentrates one’s eye on the superficial. For that reason it obscures the hidden life which glimmers through the outlines of things like a play of light and shade. One can’t catch that even with the sharpest lens. One has to grope for it by feeling.”
Franz Kafka

43. “To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.”
Edward Weston

44. “The better images occur when you’re moving to the fringes of your own understanding. That's where self-doubt and risk taking are likely to occur. It’s when you trust what’s happening at a non-intellectual non-conscious level that you can produce work that later resonates, often in a way that you can’t articulate a response to."
Jerry Uelsmann 

45. “The secret of photography is the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler.”
Walker Evans

Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White (Image credit: Time Life Pictures, Getty Images )

46. “The camera is a remarkable instrument. Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand.”
Margaret Bourke-White

47. "Witness is borne and puzzles come together at the photographic moment, which is very simple and complete. The mind-finger presses the release on the silly machine and it stops time and holds what its jaws can encompass and what the light will stain."
Lee Freidlander

Thoughts on technique

48. “Self-conscious artiness is fatal, but it certainly would not hurt to study composition in general. Having a basic understanding of composition would help construct a better organized image.”
Berenice Abbott

49. “I go straight in very close to people, and I do that because it’s the only way you can get the picture. You go right up to them. Even now, I don’t find it easy. I don’t announce it. I pretend to be focusing elsewhere. If you take someone’s photo, it is very difficult not to look at them just after. But it’s the one thing that gives the game away. I don’t try and hide what I’m doing – that would be folly.”  
Martin Parr

50. “Black and white are the colours of photography. To me they symbolise the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”
Robert Frank

Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus (Image credit: Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)