Six inspirational photography quotes

In Inspiration

It’s the time of year when we make plans, take stock and look for new sources of inspiration. But inspiration for photography doesn’t just have to come from images. I like to collect memorable quotes from photographers, so here are some of the most inspirational ones — and what they mean to me.

“It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.”
— Eve Arnold

This is in fact the second half of a quote about photographing people: the first half is “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given.” Arnold is saying that getting a good picture depends on the photographer, not the camera. That is particularly true when photographing people, but omit the first half, and it’s true of photography generally. In other words, don’t obsess over gear; photography happens in the mind, not in the camera. When you see a picture, take it, with whatever camera you have to hand! (I took this one under the Golden Gate Bridge with my smartphone.)

“You just have to live and life will give you pictures.”
– Henri Cartier Bresson

I hadn’t heard this one until last year, so it’s a relatively recent addition to my collection. I take it to mean that when you are looking for inspiration, just go and do something interesting and new, and the pictures will follow. I am always looking for new things to try in the kitchen, or new places to go, or new activities to try. Sometimes that leads to taking pictures! Do something you enjoy that is not photography-related, and before you know it you’ll be reaching for the camera.

“Photographs open doors into the past but they also allow a look into the future.”
– Sally Mann

Anyone who takes a lot of pictures of children will have a view on Sally Mann. I happen to be a fan. But this quote in particular resonates with me. You know how sometimes you take pictures of kids and you get a glimpse of what they will look like when they grow up? I love it when that happens. This one of Ella, taken a few years ago, gave us a glimpse of the intense young woman she has since become.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
— George Eastman

You would expect the founder of Kodak to be aware that light makes photography. But his wider point here is that there are so many different types and qualities of light, and photography is about learning to appreciate them and understand them. I took this picture in the magical light of a misty winter morning. I am also a big fan of liminal light. Being a photographer means being a connoisseur of light.

“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.”
— Robert Mapplethorpe

It seems appropriate that I like this quote but am not a particular fan of Mapplethorpe’s photography. That is the point. We can be inspired by looking at kinds of pictures that we wouldn’t take ourselves. Every December, for example, we have a family outing to the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. I don’t do wildlife photography (the nearest I get to wildlife is this spider, for example!) but the breadth of subject matter, the humour, the technical tricks and the dedication required always inspire me. Last year one of the winning photos was taken with a GoPro camera, which is a reminder that fancy gear is not necessary!

“Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
— Imogen Cunningham

The reason we keep taking pictures is that there’s always more to discover and more pictures to be taken, just around the corner. You’re never done, and there’s always more to try. This quote beautifully captures the reason why photography never gets old. What picture will you take tomorrow?

— kirstin


  1. Love all of these quotes. I’m on a journey this year to learn and see anew. These give me hope and courage! xo

  2. Thank you for a few new additions to my own quote collection. Even though the quote may speak for itself, I appreciate your sharing what the quote means to you. This personal explanation makes it feel as though we are having a conversation, and I found myself nodding my head and thinking of questions and responses. I especially like the quote about how seeing more pictures makes you a better photographer . . . and this is so true for me. I’ve been studying the pages of a favorite cookbook, not for the recipes, but for the stories and photographs, filling my head with the kinds of images that inspire me (The Kinfolk Table). Thanks for lovely start to my day.

    • I have so many cookbooks for inspiration. And the Kinfolk Table is one of my faves too. I look forward to seeing where the inspiration takes you. x

  3. I love these quotes so much! Each one gives me a burst of inspiration, as do your words and photos (always) Kirstin. xoxo Deb

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