My 15 Favorite Photography Quotes from Master Photographers

Photography Quotes, Photography Inspiration

best photography quotes
Written by Karin van Mierlo
Karin is a pro photographer with a bachelor's degree in photography bringing 25+ years of experience to your table. She is the driving force behind Photography Playground and loves to write and teach about all things photography related. She is the developer of the Fearless FrameWork, a holistic method of learning photography.

Best Photography Quotes

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes we need words to give expression to what we think and feel around a single photograph or photography in its entirety. 

So I actually feel that pictures and words go hand in hand most of the time. When we see a photo there’s an infinite number of reactions to that single image. We need words to articulate our reaction. What do we see, how does it make us feel, what are we thinking?

Context Gives Meaning

And that’s the words we need on the viewer’s end. How about verbalizing our intentions with a specific image as the photographer. A little bit of context can go a long way. 

For instance, a picture of an empty street gets a completely different meaning if it was taken today, during the lockdown and social distancing or a year ago. Knowing the context of a photo gives meaning.

In other words, words matter. Also in photography.

And some photographers are that good with words they can explain or articulate the core meaning and significance of the entire medium. How great is that! 

The photo quotes in this post are all meaningful to me. They say stuff about the emotional side of photography or what it means to be a photographer. But they also encapsulate what is at the center of the act of taking pictures. Which is us. You and me. The humans handling the camera. 

The Spirit of the Words

So sit back and enjoy my favorite and best photography quotes by people that really know what they are talking about.

But before you move on I want to give you a little nudge. 

Read the quote and then ask yourself: “What does this mean to me and how can I apply that to my photography practice?”

Because just reading it and then moving on to the next one will not give you the time to really comprehend the words.

Only when you let the spirit of the words sink in will you come out a changed photographer. 

And that is why I’m starting with a photo quote by Edward Weston:

“If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no shortcuts in photography.”

-Edward Weston

And another one for you budding photographers out there:

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

-Henri Cartier-Bresson

For me, this is one the best photography quotes of all time. No one achieves mastery without stumbling at least 10.000 times! So, please, don’t get discouraged if it takes time. As long as you’re photographing you’re developing and that’s all you can ask. 

ansel adams quote, photography quotes, photo quote | Photo: Florence, Italy © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

“A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel”

-Peter Adams

Read the post I wrote about this photo quote here: The most powerful tool in a travel photographer’s toolbox. Guess what? It’s not your camera!

In that same line of thought is this quote by Elliot Erwitt:

“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.”

ansel adams quote, photography quotes, photo quote | Photo: Florence, Italy © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

“Photography is the story I fail to put into words.”

-Destin Sparks

Funny right? I start this article by saying that words matter and then this quote is stating the opposite. But yes, there’s a mountain of ‘things’ I cannot put into words. That’s why I photograph. Check out the full article here Are lost for words? Photograph!

 

Photography and life itself are so intertwined for me it’s impossible to see them as separate. My life has been immensely enriched by photography. I can’t think of another medium that’s so intricate and detailed in showing us the wonder of being human and alive on this planet. 

Marc Riboud and Burk Uzzle needed fewer words to say the same:

“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely every hundredth of a second.”

ansel adams quote, photography quotes, photo quote | Photo: Florence, Italy © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

“Photography is a love affair with life.”

-Burk Uzzle

Click here to read the full article about the quote by Burk Uzzle.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

-Ansel Adams

Taking a Photo is done without much thought. Making a Photo is the exact opposite. It’s intentional, deliberate, and full of attention and awareness. Read More.

“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera”

-Yousuf Karsh

Henri Cartier-Bresson is basically saying the same. Somehow today his words are more needed than ever. With a camera in the hands of just about everybody, the snapping away has become more common than Cartier-Bresson could ever imagine. Read the full article Shoot a little less, Think a little more.

ansel adams quote, photography quotes, photo quote | Photo: Florence, Italy © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

“We must avoid, however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.”

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

-Ansel Adams

Photographing is like dancing. Well to me anyway. One of the major aspects of the act of making pictures is how you position yourself and your camera. It’s the delicate dance around your subject. Click here to discover the importance of dancing around your subject otherwise known as your point of view.

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”

-Ernst Haas

Take a moment to let this sink in.

Perhaps this is the most profound quote in this list of best photography quotes.

ansel adams quote, photography quotes, photo quote | Photo: Florence, Italy © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

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

-Robert Capa

Was Capa talking about physical closeness or emotional closeness? Find out in Come a little bit closer…..

“It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

-Alfred Eisenstaedt

And another one on getting close. But Eisenstaedt is perfectly clear on what he thinks we should get close to. Click here to read the article about making connections with the humans in front of your lens.

“One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” 

-Annie Leibowitz

When you’ve made the transition from fledgling to fully flowering photographer this is what happens. I see photographs everywhere and all the time. My ‘making photos brain’ is never off. Whether I have a camera in my hands or not. 

I remember from my purely black and white analog days that my brain would automatically translate scenes in black and white. It still happens but not so much anymore. That special pathway in my brain hasn’t been used a lot since I transitioned to digital and color. 

What does this tell us? That practice works. By doing it you’ll build a brain that never stops seeing. And if you’ve done the work you’ll have a ‘making photos brain’ that is guided by your heart.

What is your favorite photography quote? Tell us in the comments and I just might decide to write a full article about the quote!

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