In this article, we have put together a collection of the most inspirational photography quotes of all time from some of the most famous artists, photographers and writers in history. As photographers, we often lack the motivation to keep taking images, something all artists struggle with from time to time.
While looking at inspirational work of other photographers can sometimes give us the boost we need, it can also be detrimental in boosting our creativity. In such situations, the extra kick of energy and inspiration can come in the form of quotes from photographers who have gone through similar struggles in their lives. Let’s take a look at some of the most inspirational photography quotes, some of which we consider to be timeless.
We will start from one of my most favorite quotes from the photography legend, Ansel Adams:
1. There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.Ansel Adams
A good photograph is one that is able to grab the attention of the viewer and bring out their emotions – there is no secret recipe or a universal rule that can be applied to make a bad photograph look instantly better.
2. If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.Robert Capa
This famous quote by Robert Capa doesn’t just apply to portrait photography. If you want to make a photo look more interesting, sometimes all that’s needed is a change of perspective.
3. 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
4. To photograph: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart.Henri Cartier-Bresson
Another famous quote from Ansel Adams that summarizes what goes into making a photograph:
5. 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
So true – each photograph that we make is a reflection of who we are and the experiences we have had in our lives!
6. To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.Henri Cartier-Bresson
I love the next quote from one of my most favorite portrait photographers, Gregory Heisler:
7. All the planning, intuition, technical prowess, and knowledge, as well as the trust and rapport you have (or haven’t) established, will show up in the picture, frozen forever.Gregory Heisler
I highlighted this quote while reading his book “50 Portraits“, which is an excellent read that I highly recommend for our readers.
Another quote from my favorite portrait and landscape photographer and a dear friend, Jack Dykinga:
8. A photojournalist makes snap decisions; based on the ability to quickly assess situations and record one’s perceived truth.Jack Dykinga
If you haven’t had a chance to read his “A Photographer’s Life” book, I highly recommend checking it out. You will be fascinated by Jack’s life story and what it took to become who he is today.
9. What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.Karl Lagerfeld
10. 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
11. A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.Diane Arbus
12. All photographs are memento mori. 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 meltSusan Sontag
Whenever anyone tells you that you don’t have the right camera gear, always refer them to this particular quote from Ansel Adams:
13. The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!Ansel Adams
While camera gear is important, it is the photographer that makes a picture at the end of the day, not the camera.
An excellent quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson that refers to the “ten thousand rule”:
14. Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.Henri Cartier-Bresson
15. For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.Henri Cartier-Bresson
16. 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
The following is a quote from one of the pages of David duChemin’s excellent book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision“:
17. Without vision, the photographer perishes.David duChemin
A lot has been said about having photographic vision by many photographers, but this one is short and right to the point.
18. A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.Annie Leibovitz
19. Photography is all about secrets. The secrets we all have and will never tell.Kim Edwards
There is clear difference between taking a picture (which often results in nothing more than a snapshot), and making a picture – where you put all effort into it, from the moment you capture the image, all the way to post-processing. The following quote from Ansel Adams says it all:
20. You don’t take a photograph, you make it.Ansel Adams
21. There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.Robert Heinecken
As photographers, we want the latest and greatest gear in order to get the sharpest picture possible. The following quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson says that sharpness is not all that important:
22. Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.Henri Cartier-Bresson
Here is another quote by Ansel Adams on other factors being more important than just sharpness:
23. There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.Ansel Adams
24. The eye should learn to listen before it looks.Robert Frank
25. Art is what we call…the thing an artist does. It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human. Art is not in the …eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.Seth Godin
26. Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.Susan Sontag
27. A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is thereby a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.Ansel Adams
28. The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.Susan Sontag
29. What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.Roland Barthes
30. I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. In fact, my pictures show me how much I’ve lost.Nan Goldin
31. A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.Brigitte Bardot
32. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.Dorothea Lange
I love this quote by Elliott Erwitt:
33. The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.Elliott Erwitt
A picture is worth a thousand words!
34. Above all, life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.Robert Frank
35. For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture.Diane Arbus
36. Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.Joe McNally
37. To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.Elliott Erwitt
38. Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.David Alan Harvey
39. No, you don’t shoot things. You capture them. Photography means painting with light. And that’s what you do. You paint a picture only by adding light to the things you see.Katja Michael
40. My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.Richard Avedon
41. Sometimes one waits too long for the perfect moment before snapping the picture. You never realize that you needed was to change perspective.Miguel Syjuco
42. The world moves fast, changing everything around us with each new day. Photography is a gift that can keep us in a moment forever, blissfully eternal.Ali Novak
43. There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.Robert Frank
44. 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
45. A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.Irving Penn
Another personal favorite by the famous artist Joan Miró:
46. 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
This is so true. Some pictures look beautiful and you might enjoy looking at them for a period of time, but you forget them very quickly, while truly powerful images stick in your head for the rest of your life even if you have seen them only once.
47. The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.Andy Warhol
48. When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph.Annie Leibovitz
49. It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.Alfred Eisenstaedt
50. Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.Peter Adams
51. Only photograph what you love.Tim Walker
52. Work very hard, until you don’t have to introduce yourself anymore.Roberto Vazquez
53. If Photoshop is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.Dean Farrell
54. Yes, it took me just a moment to draw this line with the brush. But it took me months, perhaps even years, of reflection to form the idea.Joan Miró
55. When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.Ansel Adams
56. Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.Imogen Cunningham
57. Photography helps people to see.Berenice Abbott
58. I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.Annie Leibovitz
59. Wherever there is light, one can photograph.Alfred Stieglitz
60. If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.Jim Richardson
61. My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.Steve McCurry
62. Photography has no rules, it is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved.Bill Brandt
63. Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.Marc Riboud
64. The pictures are there, and you just take them.Robert Capa
65. The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?Edward Weston
66. In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.August Sander
67. 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
68. 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
69. I think good dreaming is what leads to good photographs.Wayne Miller
70. Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.Sally Mann
71. A camera is a SAVE button for the mind’s eye.Roger Kingston
72. We don’t learn from our good images; we learn from the ones that can be improved on.Jen Rozenbaum
73. The best camera is the one you have with you.Chase Jarvis
74. A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.Ansel Adams
75. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus, it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world.Orson Welles
76. Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.William Klein
77. A photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity.George Bernard Shaw
78. You cannot possibly hit the shutter without leaving a piece of you in the image.Joe Buissink
79. Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.Henri Cartier-Bresson
80. Fear is the thing that prohibits a lot of photographers from reaching their full potential.Collin Pierson
81. Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.Ansel Adams
82. I like to photograph anyone before they know what their best angles are.Ellen von Unwerth
83. The art of photography is all about directing the attention of the viewer.Steven Pinker
84. To me, a photograph means the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the meaning of an event on the one hand and the exact arrangement of the visually perceived forms expressing that event on the other.Henri Cartier-Bresson
85. Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.Paul Strand
86. We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.Ralph Hattersley
87. In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.Alfred Stieglitz
88. You don’t take pictures, they take you.Jay Maisel
89. In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.Andy Warhol
90. My ultimate goal is to try to make the ordinary look extraordinary.Martin Parr
91. If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no shortcuts in photography.Edward Weston
92. What I have learnt and what I teach now is all about experimentation and learning to pick yourself up and try again when you fall down.Lara Jade
93. If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.Bruce Gilden
94. I don’t trust words. I trust pictures.Gilles Peress
95. Photography is the story I fail to put into words.Destin Sparks
96. I think of photography like therapy.Harry Gruyaert
97. A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.Eudora Welty
98. A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.Edward Steichen
99. John White, another Pulitzer Prize winning photographer at the Sun-Times once told me he photographed every sunrise. In disbelief, I inquired why? He simply said he didn’t want to miss the really great one.Jack Dykinga
100. Whatever happens in front of the lens stays. What’s captured during the encounter is all that exists.Gregory Heisler
Which quotes are your favorites from the above list and why? If you have any other quotes related to photography that you would like to share with other readers, please post them in the comments section below.
Note: Some images used for illustrations in this article belong to Public Domain. Others have been approved by their respective owners to be used only in this article at Photography Life.
Photography is the easiest art to get started with and the most difficult to master.
Jay “Maysel” is actually “Maisel”.
Neil, not sure how I let that one slip through! Thanks for letting me know, it has been corrected.
A great photographic quote…..
Light makes photography.
But above all, know light.
Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
I have no idea who said this, but it is one of my favorite quotes: ” I try to put myself in the way of a good photograph”
What about Roland Barthes, “The photograph, for all its promised immortality, always hinted at death.”
Commendable photographs. Photographers give their heart, soul & mind to capture rare moments of life.
“A beautiful photograph, like a beautiful poem, always contains a mystery, an elusive and haunting nucleus that makes us return again to probe its depths, hoping to winnow yet another insight. The mystery is often in plain sight but its meaning may be obscured with the passage of time.”
– Martin Elkort, martinelkort.com/
There”s lots of tech articles in the world, but this addresses the heart and soul if photography. That’s where the important stuff lies.
Photography is like love, can’t be too close for infinity
It’s good to know the rules, so you know the rules you’re breaking. Gravity and women have both tried to teach me this.
Your Photography Life articles make me very angry. They also make me feel impatient. Also I notice they soothe me in some seductive way I don’t understand. Occasionally too I really don’t agree with what is said. Other times, I find myself remembering situations from very long ago. And once in awhile I fall in love with an idea, a person,. or a kiss that shows up here. All of that isn’t bad at all, considering it’s still morning and I’m barely through my first half-cup of coffee. I’m trying to say “thanks” in my own clumsy way.
Carson, if we can provoke all those feelings in you, I guess you are enjoying the content :) Thank you for feedback, and thank you for being a reader!