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Best Photography Quotes That Will Inspire You to Take More Photos

The best photography quotes make you understand art and yourself better. Just like a great photo!

I'm trying to have more experiences so that I have more ways to connect to other people. So, I'm taking a photography class at the local community college. Since photography is an art, it comes with the baggage of having to be good, which also means that you can be bad. Of course, what photography is really about is neither good or bad; photography is about feeling. The struggle of every artist is remembering that!  

When you take a photo, you're taking a photo of how you feel about a particular thing. Putting my artwork out there is as difficult to me as putting myself out there. Luckily, the instructor has provided us with what she considers to be the 100 best photography quotes to inspire us. Our first assignment is to pick 10 quotes and talk about them in class. 

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

The best art evokes feeling in its audience, oftentimes giving voice to emotions that otherwise are rarely if ever spoken. Quotes about art can obfuscate (can you tell I'm in college?!) or mystify this point. So, I try to keep in mind that the best photography quotes are almost always about evoking feelings. And this one is pretty straightforward about that.

My trick for understanding the more opaque quotes is to just imagine they were written by Walt Whitman. “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” Oh, he means feel more!

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” — Ralph Hattersley

Sometimes to understand a feeling within ourselves, we need to create distance between us and that feeling. A photo is not necessarily a photo of what it literally is. It can represent the feeling it helps us put into words. That makes the photo a metaphor. "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," as Magritte said. And that metaphor help us better understand ourselves. That's what makes this one of the best photography quotes; it reminds us what photography is really about. Feeling.

“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” — Jim Richardson

This is one of the best photography quotes because it helps you cut through all the confusion. What makes a photo interesting isn't what it's of; it's what it makes you feel. I try to keep that in mind as I make my OkCupid profile. I know the types of profile pictures you'll see on every dating app, and it's okay if I have the same pics as other people so long as my pics make you feel something that only I can make you feel. 

“In photography, there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” — Alfred Stieglitz

The meaning of a word its use is determined by appeal to context and intention. That's Wittgenstein from Philosophy 101 (another class I'm taking at this community college). The intention behind photography as an art is to express a feeling. A lot of times people do things because of how they feel and not because of what reason tells them that they ought to do. That's what makes feeling more real than reality! And that's what makes this one of the best photography quotes. 

“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” — Annie Leibovitz

To feel something for somebody is to be emotionally vulnerable because you have to allow yourself to feel something. Once we feel something about somebody we open ourselves up to being hurt, hence the vulnerability. I'm emotionally vulnerable every time I message someone on a dating app, even though I know how to write opening lines that will get a response on dating apps.

To take a photo is to isolate your own vulnerability and to make yourself available to being hurt over and over again. Film is captured forever, so potentially you can be hurt forever too as people judge your artwork. That's scary! But that's what you have to do if you want to be loved. How's that for a horror movie?!

Luckily, once the photo is taken that vulnerability is no longer yours. Instead, the photo becomes a way for someone else to be vulnerable in the same way you were, or maybe in their own unique way. And, just like Leibovitz does for every photo, the audience has to let themselves fall in love too. That's beautiful and intense, which is why this is one of the best photography quotes. 

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” — Don McCullin

This is one of the best photography quotes because it's getting real explicit into the process of taking and viewing a photo. For my philosophy class we did a chapter on aesthetics and I got to read this great quote from RG Collingwood: “When someone reads and understands a poem, he is not merely understanding the poet's expression of his, the poet's, emotions, he is expressing emotions of his own in the poet's words, which have thus become his own words."

I wanted to put these two quotes in conversation because I don't actually know how to take a photo without quotes like these! At the start of class I thought it was just standing in front of pretty or interesting things, but I didn't really know what those words referred to. Now I know. What makes something pretty or interesting is how you feel about it.

I took an acting class last semester (I guess I'm working toward an associate's in something!). I learned about how acting is allowing yourself to feel what you're feeling about your scene partner. In a way, the subject of the photo is the photographer's scene partner. You let yourself have a genuine emotional response to the subject of your photo and that's when you click that pic! Art is finally starting to make sense thanks to quotes like these.

“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”— Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus provides one of the best photography quotes because it reminds us that no two people can take a photo of the same thing. That's because no photo is a photo of a thing; they're all entry points into an emotional point of view. This applies to all art. That makes me feel more comfortable taking photos because I know how to; I try to shoot the feeling. It also makes it easier to share because I'm sharing my feelings and what's being judged is how well I was able to make others feel what I felt, or feel something new altogether. And that's hard, so it's okay to not get it 100%.

“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

This is a tough one for me to figure out, so I will turn to Walt Whitman. "I am large, I contain multitudes." Each one of us is so many things at once. Feelings, thoughts, memories, consciousness. A photo that catches all these things lets you know how someone does what they do. That's what makes this one of the best photography quotes. It lets you know not to focus on the superficial. Expand your focus to catch everything that doesn't come up on the film, but does.

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

This is one of the best photography quotes because it gets you to realize that photography, and art in general, is about connecting with things emotionally. You can substitute any instrument for this. A canvas, the written word, the moving image, a piece of music. It's all the same.

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” — Ansel Adams

This is one of the best photography quotes because it takes the pressure off me to be perfect. Thanks, Ansel Adams! Not everyone is going to have the same emotional experience that I had when I took the photo. In fact, what makes a good photograph might very well be that people are able to have many different emotional reactions to it. That's the power of art! 

“I like to photograph anyone before they know what their best angles are.” — Ellen Von Unwerth

This makes me think of the Meisner acting method. You're supposed to let yourself have a genuine emotional reaction in response to how your scene partner feels. That's why they say acting is reacting.

So when Ellen Von Unwerth says what she wants her subjects caught on film before they know what their best angles are, what I think she means is that she wants to photograph them while they're being emotionally vulnerable. Before they've started to conceal their emotional selves. Her witty way of expressing a deep truth is what makes this one of the best photography quotes.

This quote actually makes me think of one by Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse. “We followed the true philosophy of voyeurism," Guccione said in Rolling Stone's "The Twilight of Bob Guccione," "To see her [the model] as if she doesn't know she's being seen. That was the sexy part.” Remember, what's sexy is also emotional; it's not just based on looks!

"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 one of the best photography quotes because it cuts to the core of art and even reminds you of images that have stuck with you for a very long time. Right away I thought of Kevin Carter's "The vulture and the little girl" and the frame from Moonlight right at the end where you see the quick flashback of the protagonist as a child. 

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