Quotes by photographers such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Imogen Cunningham might seem old and dated, but in my view, they’re more relevant – and necessary – than ever before.
So in this article, I share my absolute favorite photography quotes, including plenty of classics covering creativity, improving your photos, working as a photographer, and even photo editing.
In this age of social media, it’s easy to get so focused on likes, shares, and followers that we forget about what really matters. Read through the following quotes. Learn from the masters. And let them explain what this beautiful craft called photography is all about.
1. You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams
This quote is an Ansel Adams classic, and for good reason. If you want to take great photos, it’s important to be fully aware of what you’re doing.
Thanks to the power of memory cards and modern digital cameras, it’s easy to shoot hundreds, even thousands, of images over the course of a few minutes. But as Ansel points out, good photography isn’t about randomly firing a camera. Instead, it’s a conscious creative process.
So don’t shoot without thinking. Instead, work consciously to include key elements, exclude the extraneous, and create a worthwhile image. As you photograph, ask yourself: What is it that’s special about this scene? What do I want to record? What do I care about?
2. Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. – Henri Cartier-Bresson
How many photos have you taken up until now? One thousand? Five thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?
In Cartier-Bresson’s view, you have to shoot for months or even years before you can start capturing outstanding images. He puts the benchmark at ten thousand photos, though in the digital age, it might be more like fifty thousand or even a hundred thousand files (depending on your personal shooting habits).
Regardless, Cartier-Bresson’s quote is all about the value of growth. See your first few years with a camera as a learning experience. Enjoy yourself, but don’t take your photos too seriously. Over time, your images will start to improve. If you put in the effort and continue to work hard, you’ll eventually become a great photographer.
3. Beauty can be seen in all things. Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. – Matt Hardy
This photography quote is from a more contemporary shooter, Matt Hardy, whose commercial and nature photos are breathtaking.
We often don’t see beauty in the world until someone points it out. But the task of a photographer is to identify the beauty that exists right under our noses, compose it into an artistic photo, and then show it to the world.
So take a look around you just now, whether you’re at your computer, out with your smartphone, or lying in bed. Can you see something in a new way? Can you see the beauty in your surroundings? If not, then keep looking. Eventually, you will!
4. Nothing happens when you sit at home. I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment. – Elliott Erwitt
Do you carry a camera wherever you go? You should! And it doesn’t need to be a heavy DSLR, either; an APS-C mirrorless camera, a point-and-shoot camera, even a smartphone – any of them will let you capture images on the fly.
After all, when the world is your canvas, you should always have your tools on hand. Who knows what you might see when you’re out for a casual stroll, a countryside drive, or a shopping trip?
5. Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow. – Imogen Cunningham
Some photographers – especially beginners – reach a point where they think they’ve made it. They believe they’re the best of the best, and they’re totally and completely satisfied with the images they’ve taken.
Odds are, however, that they still have a long ways to go.
So never be fully satisfied with what you’ve done. Never stop photographing. It’s likely that your best photograph has not yet been captured. Always strive to improve!
6. 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
We’re always looking for reasons why our photos aren’t good enough. Maybe we don’t have the latest camera. Maybe we don’t have the longest or sharpest lenses. Maybe we can’t travel to far-flung locations.
But this kind of thinking is self-defeating. If you believe that you can’t be great, then you never will be. Instead, make an effort to be optimistic. Believe that you can take great photos – if you work hard enough.
After all, Henri Cartier-Bresson used a film camera with the same lens and the same shutter speed. He didn’t need the newest digital equipment to take stunning photos.
Plus, we all have access to certain subjects not accessible by anyone else. Ask yourself: What can I photograph that nobody else can? Consider your house, your friends’ houses, your workplace, and any other place that only you might photograph. Then bring out your camera and see what you can capture!
7. If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up. – Garry Winogrand
Once you’ve taken a few good photos, it’s easy to get caught in that trap of capturing the same shot over and over again.
But Garry Winogrand wasn’t satisfied with such an approach, and you shouldn’t be, either.
Instead, act like Winogrand. If you find yourself taking the same type of shot repeatedly, do what you can to shake things up. Take a few steps in. Take a few steps back. Move to the side. Switch to a wider lens. Go telephoto. Figure out what you can do to make the photo different!
Sure, the result might not turn out great, but at least you tried. And with enough experimentation, you’ll start creating images that are consistently original.
8. I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good. – Anonymous
Sometimes, it’s interesting to hear the story behind a photo. After all, a story can provide valuable context and help you see the photo in a new light.
But in most cases, a photo shouldn’t need a story to back it up. It has to speak for itself!
It’s useful to keep this in mind as you shoot and edit. If you come upon a composition that requires significant explanation, then maybe it’s better to move on – or, if you have the option, to change something about the photo.
9. Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop. – Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams, a full-time photographer and an absolute genius with the camera, didn’t expect to get more than 12 great photographs each year. So how could anyone expect more?
Still, you can use Ansel Adams’s expectations to set your own. Look back at your photos from the previous year. See how many good shots you took. Expect to find 12 at the most – and if you have more, consider it a victory!
10. It can be a trap of the photographer to think that the best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get. – Timothy Allen
This is a problem faced by many photographers, beginners and professionals alike. It’s easy to confuse the images that took the most work with the images that are actually best. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way; sometimes, the best photos will be hard to capture, but other times, they’ll take very little effort.
So how do you deal with this issue? One approach is to wait before looking at your photos. Let yourself forget about all the work that went into specific images, then come at the files with a neutral eye.
Another option is to take a quick look at all your photos, then go away for a while before looking again. When you come back to the computer, you may see elements you didn’t notice previously, and you’ll hopefully have an unbiased mindset for photo viewing.
Essential photography quotes: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know 10 key photography quotes – and you’re hopefully feeling inspired.
So memorize the quotes I’ve shared. Read them carefully. Think about the deeper meanings.
And see what you can produce!
Now over to you:
Which of these quotes are your favorites? Do you have any additional quotes that you think everyone should know? Share your thoughts in the comments below!