Learning from the behemoths of an industry is often wise for one just beginning in anything. This is true, too, when it comes to photography. Here are some of the most inspiring and wise things that some of the most famous and talented photographers have said. Included are also some famous quotes with no attribution. Please enjoy these, and comment below more of your favorites, and what they mean to you.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams
This quote by Ansel Adams is a bit of a double-edged sword. When it’s hard to understand things or the world becomes too loud, photography can be a great escape. Photography allows you to capture a moment and then make sense of it, stopping time for not just the photograph, but the photographer, as well.
“For me, documentary photography has always come with great responsibility. Not just to tell the story honestly and with empathy, but also to make sure the right people hear it. When you photograph somebody who is in pain or discomfort, they trust you to make sure the images will act as their advocate.”
– Giles Duley
Duley put it perfectly when it comes to the importance of photographing as a documentarian or photojournalist. It is our responsibility as a photographer to do more than just capture the moment. You want to capture the real, authentic, and raw feelings that are meant to come across in the photo. You want to capture the truth of a scene or subject, rather than just what is seen in a snapshot. Documentary photography can be intense, but it’s important to help tell the world stories that matter. As the photographer, it is your job to make sure the images are captured in such a way that these images you take advocate, not only for you, but your subject.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
– Henri Cartier-Bresson
Essentially, practice doesn’t make perfect. Take your time and take way more photos than you deem necessary. You will get better over time and might just look back on your first several photos and see how much you’ve improved. This quote isn’t saying that as you begin, you’re awful, rather, it is saying that with more practice, your images will get better. 10,000 is such a great number for this because it makes you think of how little or far you have gotten, and how many more photos you can take.
“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
– Joan Miro
Wow! This quote reminds me of important things that hold meaning, before we know that they hold meaning. Let’s say you take a picture of your family in front of your childhood home. While this photo obviously holds meaning, life tends to move on before we can really let it all sink it. Eventually some people in that photography may pass away or maybe your childhood home is sold. Some photos will become images that mean more over time, while some images are so raw and powerful that once you see them, they come up again and again in your mind.
“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
— Alfred Stieglitz
When you capture an image, it becomes a tesseract to that exact moment. The more we look at that image, the more we understand the details and reality of that image. The more time spent with a photograph, the better we perceive that photograph than we do in actual life. Photographs have this power to make us understand a moment better than we could have with our own eyes.
“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”
— Robert Frank
Speaking of moments, this quote is talking about the type of moment you’re capturing. Whether that’s a wedding, a world event, or just a group of friends on vacation, creating a photograph that contains feelings and captures a human moment is the beacon of importance. Without humanity, photographs are worth little.
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”
– Ted Grant
Black and white photography is something that goes in and out of style over time. Without proper understanding of color, many photographers tend to fall into a trap of being more interested in color than the actual humanity of a photograph. Black and white photographs force the viewer not to think about the color of the clothing, but rather, to think about the expressive nature of the photograph.
“Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.”
This quote reminds me of looking at a beautiful moment or even a melancholy one and being grateful that that moment was caught. It allows us to delve into every detail of a reality that we may have lost.
“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”
– Dorothea Lange
Holding life still is one of the best things about photography. It allows you to see events, people, places, and the like from the past that may not be around anymore. I also think this can be applied to major world moments such as 9/11. Photos can capture the seconds before, when, and after everything has changed.
“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
This reminds me of looking through childhood photos. You might see your favorite stuffed animal or a blanket that your grandma knitted for you. It helps you remember the little details of life that mean more over time. Analog photography is especially powerful, as you can hold onto an image forever, becoming emotionally attached to a point in time that no other can hold the same understanding of.
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
– Peter Adams
Many are lost in using the lowest aperture possible to blur out an image, making someone’s eyes the only subject matter we see. And, while there is still room for that photography, the most powerful photography captures expressively, pushing that idea and thought onto the viewer of the image, making them understand the depth of feeling that the photographer once saw.
“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures.”
– Gilles Peress
It can be hard to tell if someone is telling the truth. Whether that’s a loved one, a news anchor, or a headline in the newspaper. Seeing photos helps to better see the reality of what is being spoken about. It’s easier to trust what is seen in photographic evidence. Additionally, while editing and visual trickery can make photographs lie, it is much easier to trust an image than it is something written.
“Today, I am going to shoot someone… and they will love me for it!”
I think photographers secretly chuckle anytime they say they’re going to shoot someone. To a stranger this sounds horrific. To a photographer, it’s just their job. I like to think of this as a play on words and inside-joke for photographers.
“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”
— Ralph Hattersley
There is little that matters to all people in this world. While some artists spend their time with one image, working it for hours, days, weeks, months, or years, photographers spend time looking at the world and making a representational understanding of it for their audience. Photography makes the photographer attempt to understand a scene before they can truly capture it. In some ways, photographers aren’t creating photography as much as they are experiencing it.
“There’s something strange and powerful about black-and-white imagery.”
– Stefan Kanfer
Black and white photography can get just about everyone’s attention. With just about everyone having a camera built into their phone, we can become numb to seeing photos. Black and white photos cause us to stop and actually look at what the photo is showing us.
“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.”
— Annie Leibovitz
When photographing people, it is crucial to make a connection. Obviously, you don’t have to fall in love with your clients, even though that would make a great romantic comedy movie. If you photograph an engagement session with a couple that you haven’t spent time getting to know, you will get very different photos as a result than if you had gotten to know who they are and what their relationship is like.
“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
– Alfred Eisenstaedt
This quote is somewhat similar to the one above. A connection between photographer and subject is much more vital than the connection between photographer and camera. Some photographers fall in love with their tools, forgetting the art that the tools are meant to create.
“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”
– Diane Arbus
Being able to take photographs of all moments, no matter how devious it may seem, is a great power bestowed upon photographers. As you improve, the ability to take images becomes more and more refreshing, allowing you to instantly feel as though something has been accomplished in each successful image you take.
“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.”
— Andy Warhol
Change is inevitable in all things, and a photograph allows us to reflect or even remember what life was like before that change. As people grow up, grow old, get in fights, fall in love, photographs will capture the moments across one’s life, and allow them to remember a moment when all was one way.
“Everything always looked better in black and white. Everything always looked as if it were the first time; there’s always more people in a black and white photograph. It just makes it seem that there were more people at a gig, more people at a football match, than with colour photography. Everything looks more exciting.”
– Jack Lowden
When people think of black and white photos, they will most likely think of old photos that were captured when color wasn’t an option. Because of the contrast of the photos, it can appear like there were more people at an event. It can make it look like whatever was captured was busier than it actually was.
“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
Many budding photographers become too attached to technique or the gear they use, rather than understanding the inspiration and creative genius behind a fellow artist. Take the time to understand not how someone took an image, but why they took and presented that image to the world.
“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.”
– Destin Sparks
You’ve likely heard that photographs are worth 1,000 words. Sometimes we can’t quite say what we want or how we feel. Photographers have found another way to do that.
“You don’t take a photograph. You ask quietly to borrow it.”
Taking a photo holds a moment in time forever. Rather than pulling a moment away, you are borrowing it while it is fleeting.
“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
– Karl Lagerfeld
Being able to capture a moment in time that will be gone forever is a gift. This doesn’t have to be a dramatic event such as a wedding or the birth of your first child. It can be a simple photograph that represents anything that is no longer.
“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
– William Thackeray
Photographers, over time, begin to learn the importance of a shift in their perspective. As perspective changes, our familiarity with everything does too. Something boring to a photographer can become the opposite with a change in perspective, while something new and exciting can quickly become understood.
“How do we start taking pictures of people, and stop taking pictures of poses?”
– Justin and Mary Marantz
Portraiture in all genres of photography is clearly something that photographers are drawn to. However, as you learn about the importance of posing and capturing someone, you forget about the importance of capturing the person that was there all along. Please, when taking images of someone, after thinking of posing and how to make the subject look best, photograph the subject, rather than the pose you forced them into.