28 Bill Brandt Quotes to Learn From

Looking for the best Bill Brandt quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve put together a list of our favorite Brandt quotes that are guaranteed to help take your photography to the next level.

If you would like to know more about Brandt’s remarkable photography, then check out our Bill Brandt master profile article, which covers everything from his photography style to printing techniques and much more.

The Best Bill Brandt Quotes

The photographer must first have seen his subject or some aspect of his subject as something transcending the ordinary. It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep with him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country… they carry within themselves a sense of wonder.

If there is any method in the way I take pictures, I believe it lies in this. See the subject first. Do not try to force it to be a picture of this, that or the other thing. Stand apart from it. Then something will happen. The subject will reveal itself.

A photographer must be prepared to catch and hold on to those elements which give distinction to the subject or lend it atmosphere. They are often momentary, chance-sent things: a gleam of light on water, a trail of smoke from a passing train, a cat crossing a threshold, the shadows cast by a setting sun.

Sometimes they are a matter of luck; the photographer could not expect or hope for them. Sometimes they are a matter of patience, waiting for an effect to be repeated that he has seen and lost or for one that he anticipates.

Leaving out of question the deliberately posed or arranged photograph, it is usually some incidental detail that heightens the effect of a picture – stressing a pattern, deepening the sense of atmosphere. But the photographer must be able to recognize instantly such effects.

When I have seen or sensed – I do not know which it is – the atmosphere of my subject, I try to convey that atmosphere by intensifying the elements that compose it. I lay emphasis on one aspect of my subject and I find that I can thus most effectively arrest the spectator’s attention and induce in him an emotional response to the atmosphere I have tried to convey.

Bill Brandt Quotes on Photography Style

Towards the end of the war, my style changed completely. I have often been asked why this happened. I think I gradually lost my enthusiasm for reportage. Documentary photography had become fashionable. Everybody was doing it. Besides, my main theme of the past few years had disappeared; England was no longer a country of marked social contrast.

When you have done everything inside you, you cannot carry on unless you repeat yourself, and that’s not very interesting.

Photographers should follow their own judgment, and not the fads and dictates of others.

The good photographer will produce a competent picture every time whatever his subject. But only when his subject makes an immediate and direct appeal to his own interests will he produce work of distinction.

I did not always know just what it was I wanted to photograph. I believe it is important for a photographer to discover this, for unless he finds what it is that excites him, what it is that calls forth at once an emotional response, he is unlikely to achieve his best work… instinct itself should be a strong enough force to carve its own channel.

To achieve his best work, the young photographer must discover what really excites him visually. He must discover his own world.

Kenwood Park
Evening in Kenwood c. 1934 © Bill Brandt Archive

Landscape Photography Quotes

To be able to take pictures of a landscape I have to become obsessed with a particular scene. Sometimes I feel that I have been to a place long ago, and must try to recapture what I remember.

When I have found a landscape which I want to photograph, I wait for the right season, the right weather, and right time of day or night, to get the picture which I know to be there.

Nude Photography Quotes

A good nude photograph can be erotic, but certainly not sentimental or pornographic.

When I began to photograph nudes, I let myself be guided by this camera, and instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.

Brandt Portrait Quotes

I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself.

[on color portraits] the results are always too soft, they lack impact. But I do think colour can improve a landscape, particularly when the colours are odd and incorrect. Colour is so much better when the hues are non-realistic.

In my portraits I try to avoid the fleeting expression and vivacity of a snapshot.

I think a good portrait ought to tell something of the subject’s past and suggest something of his future.

Bill Brandt Quotes 1

Bill Brandt Quotes on the Work

I hardly ever take photographs except on an assignment. It is not that I do not get pleasure from the actual taking of photographs, but rather that the necessity of fulfilling a contract-the sheer having to do a job-supplies an incentive, without which the taking of photographs just for fun seems to leave the fun rather flat.

I find that on an average I get three usable prints out of every spool… By temperament, I am not unduly excitable and certainly not trigger-happy. I think twice before I shoot and very often do not shoot at all. By professional standards I do not waste a lot of film; but by the standards of many of my colleagues, I probably miss quite a few of my opportunities. Still, the things I am after are not in a hurry as a rule.

It is essential for the photographer to know the effect of his lenses. The lens is his eye, and it makes or ruins his pictures. A feeling for composition is a great asset. I think it is very much a matter of instinct. It can perhaps be developed, but I doubt if it can be learned.

Printing and the Darkroom

I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.

No amount of toying with shades of print or with printing papers will transform a commonplace photograph into anything other than a commonplace photograph.

Photography is still a very new medium and everything is allowed and everything should be tried. Photography has no rules. It is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved. And there are certainly no rules about the printing of a picture. Before 1951, I liked my prints dark and muddy. Now I prefer the very contrasting black-and-white effect. It looks crisper, more dramatic and very different from color photographs.

Brandt on Rules of Photography

I am not interested in rules and conventions … photography is not a sport. If I think a picture will look better brilliantly lit, I use lights, or even flash.

I am not very interested in extraordinary angles. They can be effective on certain occasions, but I do not feel the necessity for them in my own work. Indeed, I feel the simplest approach can often be most effective. A subject placed squarely in the centre of the frame, if attention is not distracted from it by fussy surroundings, has a simple dignity which makes it all the more impressive.

Most photographers would feel a certain embarrassment in admitting publicly that they carried within them a sense of wonder, yet without it they would not produce the work they do, whatever their particular field.

Photography is not a sport. It has no rules. Everything must be dared and tried!

Policeman Bermondsey
Policeman in Bermondsey, 1938 © Bill Brandt Archive

What’s your Favorite Bill Brandt Quote?

Have a favorite Bill Brandt quote from the list? Know any other quotes from the master photographer that would make a great addition to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. Also, don’t forget to share it with others through the usual channels (social media, forums, websites, etc).

If you would like to learn more about Bill Brandt’s photography, we recommend reading our Bill Brandt master profile article. To see more Brandt photos, then check out his image archive on the MoMA website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Check out the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

More Quote Articles:


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

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.