28 Yousuf Karsh Quotes for Better Portrait Photography

Looking for the best Yousuf Karsh quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a list of 28 of our favorite quotes from the master portrait photographer to help take your portrait photography to the next level.

If you haven’t done so already, we recommend reading our Yousuf Karsh master profile article to learn more about his iconic photography work, techniques, lighting and much more.

Yousuf Karsh Quotes

To make enduring photographs, one must learn to see with one’s mind’s eye, for the heart and the mind are the true lens of the camera.

Photography is, to me, more than a means of expression, more than my particular profession – it is a way of life.

Be a student of humanities because if you are, it makes you a more sensitive recorder of life.

Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.

The darkroom should be a logical extension of the photographer’s eye.

The trouble with photographing beautiful women is that you never get into the darkroom until after they’ve gone.

The art is the challenge which you must meet every day: the technique you should learn to control with time. The science and the art of photography are really one, and not opposed to each other.

Yousuf Krash Portrait Photography Quotes

The endless fascination of these people for me lies in what I call their inward power. It is part of the elusive secret that hides in everyone, and it has been my life’s work to try to capture it on film.

I am not a judge, I am a recorder.

I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul-taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.

The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.

If it’s a likeness, alone, it’s not a success. If, through my portraits, you can come to know the subjects more meaningfully, if it synthesizes your feelings toward someone whose work has imprinted itself on your mind – if you see a photograph and say, “Yes, this is the person,” with a little new insight – that is a beautiful experience.

Within every person a secret is hidden, and as a photographer, it is my job to reveal it if I can.

Yousuf Karsh Quotes 1

Karsh on Photographing Greatness

My personal interest in ordinary people is unlimited, but I am fascinated by the challenge of portraying true greatness adequately with my camera.

The mind and soul of the personality before my camera that interests me most. The greater the mind and soul, the greater my interest.

I have found that great people do have in common. . .an immense belief in themselves and in their mission. They also have gerat determination as well as an ability to work hard. At the crucial moment of decision, they draw on their accumulated wisdom. Above all, they have integrity.

I’ve also seen that great men are often lonely. This is understandable, because they have built such high standards for themselves that they often feel alone. But that same loneliness is part of their ability to create.

My chief joy is to photograph the great in heart, in mind, and in spirit, whether they be famous or humble.

If there is a single quality that is shared by all great men, it is vanity. But I mean by vanity only that they appreciate their own worth. Without this kind of vanity they would not be great. And with vanity alone, of course, a man is nothing.

The search for greatness of spirit has compelled me to work harder… It has kept me young in heart, adventurous, forever seeking…

When one sees the residuum of greatness before one’s camera, one must recognize it in a flash. There is a brief moment when all that there is in a man’s mind and soul and spirit may be reflected through his eyes, his hands, his attitude. This is the moment to record. This is the elusive “moment of truth”.

Karsh Quotes for Better Portraits

It should be the aim of every photographer to make a single exposure that shows everything about the subject. I have been told that my portrait of Churchill is an example of this.

To make a significant photo of someone, you have to know a great deal about them – their accomplishments, mission in life, or contribution to their fellow man. All this information and observation plays an important part so that the photographer can make a sensitive image.

I go after having done all this preparation, I go with [an] open mind. Usually, these great men and women, are in the habit of giving much of themselves to you, so that much of your preparation may totally be unused at the time but you feel you are well-armed.

The use of the camera should become second nature.

If I were asked to choose one word which holds the key to my work I would select ‘light’ – for light is my language, and it is international, readily understood by any person of any race.

It has been my good fortune to welcome before my camera many great men and woman who have made their mark on our generation and will find a place in history. I feel that my life’s work is to interpret to the best of my ability, the inner strength, the true character, of these personalities, through the medium of photographic portraiture.

I can think of no elation equal to that when something close to my ideal is achieved, through necessarily there must always be a spark of what I call ‘divine discontent’ – the constant striving for near-perfection.

In this self-appointed task, which also carries, I believe, a great sense of responsibility, the medium of light is all important. It is the portraitist’s chief tool, and he can never learn enough about it.

Memorable photographs have been made with the simplest of cameras using available light.

Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.

Yousuf Karsh Quotes 1

What’s your Favorite Yousuf Karsh Quote?

Have a favorite Yousuf Karsh 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. Also, don’t forget to share it with others through the usual channels (social media, forums, websites, etc).

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

More Quote Articles:

Want to learn more about Yousuf Karsh and see more of his great photos then visit the Yousuf Karsh Foundation website.


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.