37 Edward Weston Quotes on Mastering the Art of Photography

Looking for the best Edward Weston quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ve put together a list of 37 quotes from the master photographer to inspire and help take your photography to the next level.

Edward Weston Quotes

I find myself every so often looking at my ground glass as though the unrecorded image might escape me!

This then: to photograph a rock, have it look like a rock, but be more than a rock. Significant representations – not interpretation.

Photography suits the temper of this age – of active bodies and minds. It is a perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas, imagery, for a prolific worker who would be slowed down by painting or sculpting, for one who sees quickly and acts decisively, accurately.

Photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it my be.

When money enters in, – then, for a price, I become a liar, – and a good one I can be whether with pencil or subtle lighting or viewpoint. I hate it all, but so do I support not only my family, but my own work.

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

The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.

Edward Weston Quotes 2

Learning to See and Discovery

The photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically – that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes, so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.

I start with no preconceived idea – discovery excites me to focus – then rediscovery through the lens – final form of presentation seen on ground glass, the finished print previsioned completely in every detail of texture, movement, proportion, before exposure. The shutter’s release automatically and finally fixes my conception, allowing no after manipulation – the ultimate end, the print, is but a duplication of all that I saw and felt through my camera.

…through this photographic eye you will be able to look out on a new light-world, a world for the most part uncharted and unexplored, a world that lies waiting to be discovered and revealed.

The photograph isolates and perpetuates a moment of time: an important and revealing moment, or an unimportant and meaningless one, depending upon the photographer’s understanding of his subject and mastery of his process.

As great a picture can be made as one’s mental capacity–no greater. Art cannot be taught; it must be self-inspiration, though the imagination may be fired and the ambition and work directed by the advice and example of others.

A painter of prolific imagination might not be able to execute a hundredth of his ideas on canvas in a lifetime because of the time consumed by his recording process. But for the photographer seeing and recording are almost simultaneous. His output is limited only by his ability to see. For this reason it has always been my belief that an experienced photographer, given the means to devote himself entirely to creative expression, should be able to produce a tremendous amount of valuable work.

Weston on Finding Subjects

Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.

My true program is summed up in one word: life. I expect to photograph anything suggested by that word which appeals to me.

Anything more than 500 yards from the car just isn’t photogenic.

Very often people looking at my pictures say, ‘You must have had to wait a long time to get that cloud just right (or that shadow, or the light).’ As a matter of fact, I almost never wait, that is, unless I can see that the thing will be right in a few minutes.

But if I must wait an hour for the shadow to move, or the light to change, or the cow to graze in the other direction, then I put up my camera and go on, knowing that I am likely to find three subjects just as good in the same hour.

The camera should be used for a recording of life,for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.

I see no reason for recording the obvious.

Nude, 1925
Nude, 1925 © Edward Weston Estate

Landscape and Nature Photography

[Weston defines photography as] a way of self-development, a means to discover and identify oneself with all the manifestations of basic forms – with nature, the source.

It seems so utterly naive that landscape – not that of the pictorial school – is not considered of “social significance” when it has a far more important bearing on the human race of a given locale than excrescences called cities.

Should we use “abstract” in describing a photograph ?… The most abstract line or form, of necessity is based on actuality – derived from nature, even as God is pictured a glorified man… To keep one’s feet planted to terra firma is to keep the head poised and receptive.

l do not wish to impose my personality upon nature (any of life’s manifestations), but without prejudice or falsification to become identified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so that what I record is not an interpretation – my idea of what nature should be but a revelation – a piercing of the smoke screen artificially cast over life by irrelevant, humanly limited exigencies, into an absolute, impersonal recognition.

Edward Weston on Portrait Photography

[Weston’s definition of a portrait photograher] …to reveal the individual before his camera, to transfer the living quality of that individual to his finished print…Not to make road maps but to record the essential truth of the subject; not to show how this person looks, but to show what he is.

Success in photography, portraits especially, is dependent on being able to grasp those supreme instants which pass with the ticking of a clock, never to be duplicated – so light, balance – expression must be seen – felt as it were – in a flash, the mechanics and technique being so perfected in one as to be absolutely automatic.

Ultimately success or failure in photographing people depends on the photographer’s ability to understand his fellow man.

Related: 150+ Portrait Photography Quotes

Edward Weston Quotes on Composition

Composition is the strongest way of seeing.

To compose a subject well means no more than to see and present it in the strongest manner possible.

When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial cliches.

Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection.

Edward Weston Quotes 1

Weston on Experimentation

I would say to any artist: ‘Don’t be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.

My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, for the camera’s eye may entirely change my idea.

Photography has certain inherent qualities which are only possible with photography – one being the delineation of detail… why limit yourself to what your eyes see when you have such an opportunity to extend your vision?

The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?

I want the stark beauty that a lens can so exactly render presented without interference of artistic effect.

The prejudice many photographers have against colour photography comes from not thinking of colour as form. You can say things with colour that can’t be said in black and white… Those who say that colour will eventually replace black and white are talking nonsense. The two do not compete with each other. They are different means to different ends.

One does not think during creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years – learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this – then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment. So I can make ‘without thought,’ fifteen carefully considered negatives, one every fifteen minutes, given material with as many possibilities. But there is all the eyes have seen in this life to influence me.

Sand Dunes, 1936
Sand Dunes, 1936 © Edward Weston Estate

What’s your Favorite Edward Weston Quote?

Have a favorite Edward Weston quote from 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. If you’ve enjoyed the article, we would be grateful if you could share it with other photographers.

To see more of Weston’s remarkable photography, check out the image archive on the Edward Weston Gallery website.

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

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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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