100 quotes about photography by famous photographers

(Image credit: Time Life Pictures, 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. Poignant, inspirational, and sometimes amusing, these quotes are great reading for photographers stuck at home - and looking for something to get them thinking about their own photography successes and failures.

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

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Best photography quotes: What is photography?

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

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

51. "The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”
Diane Arbus

52. “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Robert Capa

53. “By making a frame you’re being selective, then you edit the pictures you want published and you’re being selective again. You develop a point of view that you want to express. You try to go into a situation with an open mind, but then you form an opinion and you express it in your photographs.”
Mary Ellen Mark

54. “Limit your tools, focus on one thing, and just make it work… you become very inventive with the restrictions you give yourself.”
Anton Corbijn

55. “A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.”
Arnold Newman

Jay Maisel (Image credit: BILLY FARRELL/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

56. “You are responsible for every part of your image, even the parts you’re not interested in.”
Jay Maisel

57. “The most important piece of equipment after the camera is a good pair of shoes. A writer can work from a hotel room but a photographer has to be there, so he/she is in for a hell of a lot of hiking.”
David Hurn

58. “During the work, you have to be sure that you haven’t left any holes, that you’ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late”
Henry Cartier-Bresson

59. “No amount of toying with shades of print or with printing papers will transform a commonplace photograph into anything other than a commonplace photograph.” Bill Brandt

60. “I’m so worried that I’m going to perfect [my] technique someday. I have to say it’s unfortunate how many of my pictures do depend upon some technical error.” Sally Mann

Best quotes on how to improve your photography

Annie Leibovitz (Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns, Getty Images)

61. “Those who want to be serious photographers, you're really going to have to edit your work. You're going to have to understand what you're doing. You're going to have to not just shoot, shoot, shoot. To stop and look at your work is the most important thing you can do”
Annie Leibovitz

62. "If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff."
Jim Richardson

63. "Never stop looking, no matter where you are, everywhere there are good photographs."
Art Wolfe 

64. “You become technically proficient whether you want to or not, the more you take pictures.”
William Eggleston

65. “Look at lots of exhibitions and books, and don't get hung up on cameras and technical things. Photography is about images."
Fay Godwin

Robert Mapplethorpe (Image credit: Rose Hartman/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

66. “The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.”
Robert Mapplethorpe

67. "One of the biggest mistakes photographers make is not having work that defines their interests and strengths. No one is going to hire you for what you say you like to do. You have to show them that you are capable of it first."
Ami Vitale 

68. "Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn't look like somebody else's work."
William Klein

69. “Chance is always there. We all use it. The difference is, a poor photographer meets chance one out of a hundred times and a good photographer meets chance all the time.”

70. "A photographer is an acrobat treading the high wire of chance, trying to capture shooting stars."
Guy Le Querrec 

Yousuf Karsh (Image credit: Peter Miller/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

71. “There is a brief moment when all there is in a man’s mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record.” Yousuf Karsh

72. “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

Best quotes on how to shoot people

73. “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like; it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
Paul Caponigro

74. “A photographic close-up is perhaps the purest form of portraiture, creating a confrontation between the viewer and the subject that daily interaction makes impossible, or at least impolite.”
Martin Schoeller

Philippe Halsman (Image credit: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

75. “To me, the face – the eyes, the expression of the mouth – is the thing that reflects character. It is the only part of the body that permits us to see the inner person.”
Philippe Halsman

76. “We all have a sort of mask of expression. You say goodbye, you smile, you are scared. I try to take all these masks away and little by little subtract until you have something pure left. A kind of abandon, a kind of absence.”
Paolo Roversi

77. “I never think about a shoot before I do it. Because there's no formula for people. What I try to do is to strip everything away rather than go in with preconceived notions. If I do that, I might miss a gem or a jewel that the person is offering me."

78. “People are aware of the power of a camera, and this instinctively makes most subjects uncomfortable and stiff. But Bebeto taught me to linger in a place long enough, without photographing, so that people grew comfortable with me and the camera’s presence.”
Lynsey Addario

79. "A good portrait is the rapport that is established between two people, there has to be someone in front of the camera and someone behind it."
Jeanloup Sieff

Albert Watson (Image credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Pringle of Scotland)

80. "It doesn't matter if you're photographing a porter in a market in Marrakech or you're photographing the king of Morocco. You have the same sympathetic approach to everybody. You be nice to everybody, basically."
Albert Watson

81. "The majority of the people I've taken photographs of, I've had conversations with. 'What are your goals and aspirations?'. 'What are you about?' It's not just about me capturing the image; I want to know what you are about."
Jamel Shabazz 

82. “A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.”
Edward Steichen

83. “The photographer, even in fashion and portraiture, has to have a standpoint. It's important to know what you stand for, no? Most people just take pictures but they stand for nothing. They follow trends and don't know why."
Peter Lindbergh

84. "I don’t need to know anything about the people I photograph, but it’s important that I recognise something about myself in them."
Rineke Dijkstra

Best quotes on finding your passion

Richard Avedon (Image credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty Images)

85. “If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence.”
Richard Avedon

86. “Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
Imogen Cunningham

87. "There's no dividing line between adventure and photography."
Chris Noble 

88. “There’s a time when people say your work is revolutionary, but you have to keep being revolutionary. I can’t keep shooting pop stars all my life. You have to keep changing, keep pushing yourself, looking for the new, the unusual.”

89. “One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.”
Dorothy Lange 

Jacques-Henri Lartigue (Image credit: Drees/Getty Images)

90. "Photography is something you learn to love very quickly. I know that many, many things are going to ask me to have their pictures taken and I will take them all."
Jacques-Henri Lartigue

91. “I think if I ever get satisfied, I’ll have to stop. It’s the frustration that drives you.” Eve Arnold

To the point: Best short quotes on photography

92. "Only photograph what you love."
Tim Walker

93. “I didn’t write the rules. Why should I follow them?”
W Eugene Smith

94. "If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera."
Lewis Hine

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

95. "The first 10 000 shots are the worst." `
Helmut Newton 

96. "Photography: so many attempts - so few masterpieces."
James Elliott

97. "For every negative that is a disappointment, there is one that is a joy."
Edward S Curtis

98. “Photography’s 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent moving furniture.”
Gregory Heisler

99. “It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
Alfred Eisenstaedt

100. “Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
Peter Adams

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.