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31 Best Photography Quotes

best photography quotes

When seeking inspiration, we often turn to the work of great photographers to understand their vision and intent. Their images can teach us a lot about how to improve our own work, but it’s their words that can also inspire us, changing our perspective about how we approach the art of photography. Therefore, here are some of the best photography quotes from some of the most prominent and successful photographers and visual storytellers of the past hundred years.



Documentary Photographers

1. “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

Dorothea Lange, American documentary photographer and photojournalist best known for her work commissioned by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression


2. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” 

Henri Cartier-Bresson, French documentary photographer, founding member of Magnum Photos and the pioneer of street photography


3. “The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

— Susan Meiselas, American documentary photographer and member of Magnum Photos who is best known for her conflict work covering war in Nicaragua


4. “When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” 

Robert Frank, Swiss-American photographer best known for The Americans, one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century


5. “It’s more important for a photographer to have very good shoes, than to have a very good camera.”

— Sebastiao Salgado, Brazilian documentary photographer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, best known for his coverage of the conditions of the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil


6. “A camera can get you close without the burden of commitment. It’s a nifty device that way, a magical passport into people’s lives with no permanent strings attached.”

— Nina Berman, American documentary photographer and member of NOOR photo agency, whose work focuses on American society and the nation’s political landscape


7. “You need to have done your research about any story you immerse yourself into. I’ll find out who/what/where, etc., before embarking on any trip, but once there, you have to trust your instincts to ensure you find a powerful image.”

— Ashley Gilbertson, Australian photographer and member of VII Photo Agency, who’s known for his images documenting the American invasion of Iraq


8. “The great thing about still photos is that they have that permanency. They have that ability to cauterize themselves, like, burn themselves into our collective memory. That is what an iconic photo is. We bear the weight of our own life experience when we view a photo.”

— Danny Wilcox Frazier, American photographer and member of VII Photo Agency whose work in rural America is largely inspired by projects funded by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression


9. “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”

— David Alan Harvey,American photographer and member of Magnum Photos, also the publisher and editor of Burn Magazine, which works to spotlight emerging photographers


Photojournalists

10. “Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.” 

Eddie Adams, American photojournalist and war photographer who covered 13 wars over the course of his career and won the Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the execution of the Viet Cong soldier, Nguyễn Văn Lém



11. “If you want to be a photographer, particularly a photojournalist, you want to learn about the world. You want to learn about yourself. And you want to find things that you genuinely care about, because that will be the source of your greatest work.”

— Ed Kashi, American photojournalist, National Geographic photographer, and member of VII Photo Agency whose work covers a variety of sociopolitical issues


12. “It’s a lot more than clicking the shutter…it’s the ideas, it’s the visual voice, it’s the telling the story, it’s kind of going beyond that initial thing that just means you happened to be there at the right time.”

Ron Haviv, American photojournalist and war photographer, co-founder of VII Photo Agency


13. “For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war.”

— James Nachtwey, American photojournalist and war photographer, member of Magnum Photos and VII Photo Agency, and contract photographer with Time since 1984


14. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

— Robert Capa, Hungarian war photographer famous for his coverage of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and the only civilian photographer to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day


15. “Photography is a weapon against what’s wrong out there. It’s bearing witness to the truth.”

— Brent Stirton, American photographer with Getty Images and National Geographic, known for his work covering conflict, health, and environmental issues


16. “People think photography is about photographing. To me, it’s about relationships.”

— Lynsey Addario, American photojournalist whose work focuses on conflicts and human rights issue, especially the role of women in societies which exhibit fundamentalist ideologies


17. “Photograph the world as it is. Nothing’s more interesting than reality.”

— Mary Ellen Mark, American photographer and member of Magnum Photos, best known for her work appearing in Life, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times


18. “Photography has the power to undo your assumptions about the world.”

— Aaron Huey, American photojournalist and National Geographic photographer who came to prominence when he documented a walk across the continental United States in 2002


Nature and Landscapes

19. “I don’t come taking millions of pictures. I spend time with them and simply observe. If you wait long enough those amazing images will come.”

— Ami Vitale, American photojournalist and photographer with National Geographic, who is known for her wildlife photography, and is also a Nikon Ambassador and has won the World Press Photo award five times


20. “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

— Ansel Adams, American landscape photographer and conservationist, best known for his work in the American West


21. “Gear is the least important part of the equation. Having a vision and being able to articulate an idea visually are much more important.”

— Paul Nicklen, Canadian photographer and marine biologist, and co-founder of SeaLegacy


22. “The more you photograph, the more you realize what can and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it.”

— Eliot Porter, American photographer best known for his early color images of wildlife


23. “What my eyes seek in these encounters is not just the beauty traditionally revered by wildlife photographers. The perfection I seek in my photographic composition is a means to show the strength and dignity of animals in nature.”

— Frans Lanting, Dutch wildlife photographer who has worked extensively in the Amazon basin, Africa, and Antarctica


24. “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, wilderness and adventure photographer and climber


25. “Never stop looking, no matter where you are, everywhere there are good photographs”

— Art Wolfe, American wildlife photographer and conservationist, known for his landscapes and nature work


26. “The most memorable photos are layered, in good light, and have something really interesting going on in them. If you can get all three elements into a single frame, now you’re talking.”

— Joel Sartore, American photojournalist and National Geographic photographer, he is the head of the project, Photo Ark, a 25-year effort that has recorded over 12,000 species living all over the world


Artists

27. “Often people ask what I’m photographing, which is a hard question to answer. And the best what I’ve come up with is I just say: Life today.”

— William Eggleston, American photographer credited with raising the profile of photography as fine art, and early adopter of color images


28. “I would photograph an idea rather than an object, a dream rather than an idea.”

— Man Ray, American photographer who mostly worked in Paris, known for his contributions to Dada and Surrealism, as well as fashion work and portraiture 


29. “I like to make people a little uncomfortable. It encourages them to examine who they are and why they think the way they do.”

— Sally Mann, American photographer who came to prominence documenting her family with a large format camera


30. “Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”

— Diane Arbus, American photographer best known for her portraits documenting people considered “outsiders” by society at large during the 20th century 


31. “Everyone has a point of view. Some people call it style, but what we’re really talking about is the guts of a photograph. When you trust your point of view, that’s when you start taking pictures.”

— Annie Leibovitz, American portrait photographer who has worked with numerous celebrities and prominent figures over the course of her career 


It’s interesting to see trends and differing points of view amongst legendary photographers doing different kinds of work — how photojournalists exhibit different attitudes than nature photographers, for example, or how different generations of photographers talk about their gear. While these may be some of the best photography quotes, this list only scratches the surface.



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