34 Alfred Eisenstaedt Quotes on Story and Keeping it Simple

Looking for the best Alfred Eisenstaedt quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ve listed 34 quotes from the master photographer to inspire and help take your photography to the next level.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Quotes

All photographers have to do, is find and catch the story-telling moment.

We are only beginning to learn what to say in a photograph. The world we live in is a succession of fleeting moments, any one of which might say something significant. When such an instant arrives, I react intuitively.

The way I would describe a pictorial is that it is a picture that makes everybody say ‘Aaaaah,’ with five vowels when they see it. It is something you would like to hang on the wall. The French word ‘photogenique’ defines it better than anything in English. It is a picture which must have quality, drama, and it must, in addition, be as good technically as you can possible make it.

When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.

Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Quotes 1

On Style and Technique

My style hasn’t changed much in all these sixty years. I still use, most of the time, existing light and try not to push people around. I have to be as much a diplomat as a photographer.

I’m often asked how I go about an assignment – well, I was always good with people. I’m no dumbbell; I read a great deal and treat people the same way I wish to be treated myself. When I enter a room, I can talk to almost anybody – no matter if they are an astronomer, a physicist, a philosopher, an astrologer, anything adn everything. It’s important for a photographer to remember they may want to return later on, as a friend.

I seldom think when I take a picture. My eyes and fingers react – click. But first, it’s most important to decide on the angle at which your photograph is to be taken.

I don’t like to work with assistants. I’m already one too many; the camera alone would be enough.

I see pictures all the time. I could stay for hours and watch a raindrop.

There is, I think, an electronic impulse between my eye and my finger. But even this is not enough. I dream that someday the step between my mind and my finger will no longer be needed. And that simply by blinking my eyes, I shall make pictures. Then, I think, I shall really have become a photographer.

It’s important to understand it’s OK to control the subject. If most editorial stories were photographed just as they are, editors would end up throwing most in the waste basket. You have to work hard at making an editorial picture. You need to re-stage things, rearrange things so that they work for the story, with truth and without lying.

For instance you might ask a subject to sit this way and then look at the camera. You might ask them to move their face this way or stand over there. Sure, I rearrange things – but the person hasn’t changed, the room is still the same, it’s the same light.

Eisenstaedt Quotes on Photographing People

In a photograph a person’s eyes tell much, sometimes they tell all.

I was all set to to photograph the Prime Minister [Winston Churchill] from the best side and at the best angle, as he sat in an armchair in his library. But Churchill shook his head. ‘Young man,’ he called me ( I was fifty-two at the time). ‘I know how to take pictures. You have to do it from there.’ In order to please the great man I photographed him ‘from there’, and then discreedtly skipped back to the opposide side and got the picture I wanted.

I once asked Eisie if he had ever felt awed by any of the hundreds of famous people he had photgraphed. “Never when I had a camera in my hand” he said. “I always remembered what Wilson Hicks, the picture editor of LIFE, said to me when I was on assignment photographing the most glamorous stars in Hollywood: “They may be queens in their profession” he said ‘but you are a king in yours.” This has helped me with anyone and everyone.” Eisenstaedt : Remembrances by Bryan Holme, Doris C. O’Neil, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Barbara Baker Burrows

I don’t come as a photographer. I come as a friend.

Making friends is second nature to me. I like photographing people at their best. This means making them feel relaxed and completely at home with you from beginning.

Never boss people around. It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Quotes 2

Eisenstaedt on Light

Today’s photographers think differently. Many can’t see real light anymore. They think only in terms of strobe – sure, it all looks beautiful but it’s not really seeing. If you have the eyes to see it, the nuances of light are already there on the subject’s face. If your thinking is confined to strobe light sources, your palette becomes very mean – which is the reason I photograph only in available light.

I always prefer photographing in available light – or Rembrandt-light I like to call it – so you get the natural modulations of the face. It makes a more alive, real, and flattering portrait.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Quotes about Equipment

The important thing is not the camera but the eye.

People don’t often take me seriously because I carry so little equipment and make so little fuss… I never carried a lot of equipment. My motto has always been, “Keep it simple.”

I waited, focused, waited again for several minutes, then – remember, I always behaved like an amateur with a little equipment – click, it was done.

I don’t use an exposure meter. My personal advice is: Spend the money you would put into such an instrument for film. Buy yards of film, miles of it. Buy all the film you can get your hands on. And then experiment with it.That is the only way to be successful in photography. Test, try, experiment, feel your way along. It is the experience, not technique, which counts in camera work first of all. If you get the feel of photography, you can take fifteen pictures while one of your opponents is trying out his exposure meter.

With photography, everything is in the eye and these days I feel young photographers are missing the point a bit. People always ask about cameras but it doesn’t matter what camera you have. You can have the most modern camera in the world but if you don’t have an eye, the camera is worthless. Young people know more about modern cameras and lighting than I do. When I started out in photography I didn’t own an exposure meter – I couldn’t , they didn’t exist! I had to guess.

Nurses at Roosevelt Hospital
Nurses at Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, 1938 © Alfred Eisenstaedt Estate/Magnum Photos

The Life of a Photographer

I enjoy traveling and recording far-away places and people with my camera. But I also find it wonderfully rewarding to see what I can discover outside my own window. You only need to study the scene with the eyes of a photographer.

People will never understand the patience a photographer requires to make a great photograph, all they see is the end result. I can stand in front of a leaf with a dew drop, or a rain drop, and stay there for ages just waiting for the right moment. Sure, people think I’m crazy, but who cares? I see more than they do!

…but when a photographer wants to do really good work, he must work alone. He shouldn’t be surrounded by anyone – art directors, girlfriends, or anyone. Think in terms of Cartier-Bresson. Can you imagine Cartier-Bresson working with someone leaning over his shoulder? Would it be possible?

Yes, I sold buttons to earn living. But I took pictures to keep on living. Pictures are my life – as necessary as eating or breathing.

His Iconic VJ Day Photograph

I will be remembered when I’m in heaven. People won’t remember my name, but they will know the photographer who did that picture of that nurse being kissed by the sailor at the end of World War II. Everybody remembers that.

[I was following the sailor] running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference. None of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then, suddenly in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse.

Now if this girl hadn’t been a nurse, if she’d been dressed dark clothes, I wouldn’t have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor’s dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact.

Retire? Retire from What? Life? I will only retire when I am dead and people will say ‘that’s the man who shot that picture of the sailor and the nurse on VJ Day’!

V-J Day, Eisenstaedt
V-J Day in Times Square, New York, August 14, 1945 © Alfred Eisenstaedt Estate/Magnum Photos

What’s your Favorite Alfred Eisenstaedt Quote?

Have a favorite Alfred Eisenstaedt quote from the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

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To see learn more about Eisenstaedt’s remarkable photography, check out this Alfred Eisenstaedt article on Google Art and Culture.

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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