Select Photography Quotes

Here are photographers (mostly) talking about photography. I hope this list helps you take better photographs.

If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things. – Sebastiao Salgado

A mad, keen photographer needs to get out into the world and work and make mistakes. – Sam Abell

In a portrait, I’m looking for the silence in somebody. – Henri Cartier-Bresson

It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter. – Alfred Eisenstaedt

If a subject has a delicate surface to it, you do not want to go charging in there. You need to establish some kind of presence and understanding. I will say, ‘Try to forget I’m here. I won’t ask you to pose, I won’t ask you to do anything.’ It’s important that I just be allowed to be around, to be present. Photographing people requires a willingness to be rejected. So, I think the best approach is to be honest and direct. Very often, I tell them, “You don’t know me. There’s no reason why you should trust me…the only thing I can promise is that I’ll try to do the most honest work I can”. Ultimately, it comes down to somehow being able to instill confidence. I don’t think you can bull**** your way into that, because a lot of these people can see through walls. If you want to photograph people, you’d better know something about them. I like to explore, to be sensitive to the rhythms of the moment. Exploration means seeking out what I think is there, and yet often finding something finer, something closer to the center, that no amount of research could have led me to. I tend to react more than direct. You have to be receptive. You have to care. You can’t do good work if you don’t care. That’s not necessarily a strength, but it gives you strength. – William Albert Allard, “Photographic Essay (American Photographer Master Series)”

Twenty-five years have passed since I started to look through my view-finder. I regard myself still as an amateur, though I am no longer a dilettante. – Henri Cartier-Bresson

from the book Nothing Personal, by James Baldwin and Richard Avedon:
For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. – James Baldwin

… And that is why photographers go there, to show them, to reach out and grab them and make them stop wht they’re doing and pay attention to what is going on. To create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference. To protest, and by the strength of that protest, to make others protest. – James Nachtwey, from War Photographer

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed. – Ansel Adams

The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize you are not photographing a subject but are photographing light is when you have control over the medium. – Daryl Benson – Alberta (2004)

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman, Founder of the Eastman-Kodak Company

Contrast is what makes photography interesting. – Conrad Hall

“…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. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that, there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters…” – Harry Callihan

“A painter works with color as the medium, a photographer works with light.” – Carlotta M. Corpron

“Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.” – Minor White

“Here are faces that I have found memorable. If they are not all as happy as kings, it is because in this imperfect world and these hazardous times, the camera’s eye, like the eye of a child, often sees true.” – Toni Frissell

Writing is not about words. Painting is not about pigment. Music is not about tones. As long as photographers insist that photography is about photographs, the art is limited and self-containing! – Brook Jensen, LWQ, no.18, p.56

“I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself….” – Edward Steichen

“I take photographs with love, so I try to make them art objects. But I make them for myself first and foremost — that is important.” – Jacques-Henri Lartigue

“There are three things to leave behind: your photographs, your library and your personal journals. These things are certainly going to be more valuable to future generations than your furniture!” – Jim Rohn

“Photography is not just a pleasure, it is a need. Like breathing air or drinking water…I need it.” – Julia Bailey (Grigrigirl)

“I like to make people look as good as they’d like to look, and with luck, a shade better.” – Norman Parkinson

“I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.” – Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre

We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

“It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.” – Paul Strand

“Photography is not my hobby, it’s not my profession: it’s my Mistress and my passion!” – David Timms

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in your photographs,’ there are always two people. The photographer and the viewer.” – St. Ansel

“I’ve never made any picture, good or bad, without paying for it in emotional turmoil.” – W. Eugene Smith

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s(or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.- Susan Sontag, On Photography

“The function of the photographer is to help people understand the world around them.” – Sid Grossman

“The ability to make a truly artistic photograph is not acquired off-hand, but is the result of an artistic instinct coupled with years of labor.” – Alfred Steiglitz

“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 everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.” – David Bailey

“Photographs are the most reliable, the most correct recording means, and therefore they become the most important aid in educating and obtaining instruction.” – Sir Benjamin Stone

“Photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true.” – Jacques-Henri Lartigue

“Edward and I both agreed with the view of a Greek friend of ours, Jean Varda, who was fond of saying there were three perfect shapes in the world …. the hull of a boat, a violin and a woman’s body.” -Charis Wilson, Edward Weston Nudes

“The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth.” – Edward Jean Steichen

“There are many teachers who could ruin you. Before you know it you could be a pale copy of this teacher or that teacher. You have to evolve on your own.” – Berenice Abbott

“Think about the photo before and after, never during. The secret is to take your time. You mustn’t go too fast. The subject must forget about you. Then, however, you must be very quick.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

“When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty to them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has almost the embodiment of a prayer.” – Julia Margaret Cameron

“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” – Annie Leibowitz

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” – Hans Margolius

“Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?” – St. Ansel (Adams)

“I see no reason for recording the obvious.” – Daybook II, p.252 Edward Weston

Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. – Henri Cartier Bresson

Very often people looking at my pictures say, ‘You must have had to wait a long time to get that cloud just right (or that shadow, or the light).’ As a matter of fact, I almost never wait, that is, unless I can see that the thing will be right in a few minutes. But if I must wait an hour for the shadow to move, or the light to change, or the cow to graze in the other direction, then I put up my camera and go on, knowing that I am likely to find three subjects just as good in the same hour. – Edward Weston

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. – Edward J. Steichen

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. – Dorothea Lange

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion…the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate. – Dorothea Lange

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

It is light that reveals, light that obscures, light that communicates. It is light I “listen” to. The light late in the day has a distinct quality, as it fades toward the darkness of evening. After sunset there is a gentle leaving of the light, the air begins to still, and a quiet descends. I see magic in the quiet light of dusk. I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat.  A sense of magic prevails.  A sense of mystery. It is a time for contemplation, for listening – a time for making photographs. – John Sexton

A mad, keen photographer needs to get out into the world and work and make mistakes. – Sam Abell

I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don’t find photo- graphing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges. – William Albert Allard

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. – Dorothea Lange

The difficulty with color is to go beyond the fact that it’s color – to have it be not just a colorful picture but really be a picture about something. It’s difficult. So often color gets caught up in color, and it becomes merly decorative. Some photographers use [ it ] brilliantly to make visual statements combining color and content; otherwise it is empty. – Mary Ellen Mark

A good picture is equivalent to a good deed. – Vincent Van Gogh

The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking. – Brooks Anderson

You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy. – Elliott Erwitt

Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection . . . – Edward Weston

Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject. – Eliot Porter

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to. . . . The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures. – Vincent Van Gogh

“Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?” – Ansel Adams

I almost never set out to photograph a landscape, nor do I think of my camera as a means of recording a mountain or an animal unless I absolutely need a ‘record shot’. My first thought is always of light. – Galen Rowell

[Photography] is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever . . . it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything. – Aaron Siskind

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. – Ansel Adams

A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it? – Ernst Haas

Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts. – Gary Winogrand

You learn to see by practice. It’s just like playing tennis, you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it. – Eliot Porter

You’ve got to push yourself harder. You’ve got to start looking for pictures nobody else could take. You’ve got to take the tools you have and probe deeper. – William Albert Allard

One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. – Dorothea Lange

So successful has been the camera’s role in beautifying the world that photographs, rather than the world, have become the standard of the beautiful. – Susan Sontag

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt. – Susan Sontag

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