“Buy good shoes” and other advice for aspiring photographers


Advice for Aspiring Photographers

Many of you will be familiar with Magnum Photos – a legendary photography co-operative owned by its members, and in co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson’s words, built on a shared ” curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”.

Over the last few years, Magnum have shared several blog posts asking its members a simple question – What advice would you give to young and aspiring photographers? And while Magnum photographers tend to be of a certain ilk – photojournalists and documentary photographers, rather than say conceptual or wildlife photographers – with past and current members such as Bruce Davidson, Robert Capa, Ansel Adams and Cristina Garcia Rodero, their advice is worth listening too, whatever your specialisation.

Here we share 12 of our favourites – enjoy their wisdom!


“Don’t become a photographer unless it’s what you have to do. It can’t be the easy option. If you become a photographer you will do a lot of walking, so buy good shoes”.


Image © David Hurn

See more of his work here.


“Try everything. Photojournalism, fashion, portraiture, nudes, whatever. You won’t know what kind of photographer you are until you try it. During one summer vacation (in college) I worked for a born-again tabletop photographer. All day long we’d photograph socks and listen to Christian radio. That summer I learned I was neither a studio photographer nor a born-again Christian. Another year I worked for a small suburban newspaper chain and was surprised to learn that I enjoyed assignment photography. Fun is important. You should like the process and the subject. If you are bored or unhappy with your subject it will show up in the pictures. If in your heart of hearts you want to take pictures of kitties, take pictures of kitties”.


Image © Alec Soth

See more of his work here.


1) Never think photography is easy. It’s like poetry in that it’s easy enough to make a few rhymes, but that’s not a good poem.

2) Study photography, see what people have achieved, but learn from it, don’t try photographically to be one of those people

3) Photograph things you really care about, things that really interest you, not things you feel you ought to do.

4) Photograph them in the way you feel is right, not they way you think you ought to

5) Be open to criticism, it can be really helpful, but stick to you core values

6) Study and theory is useful but you learn most by doing. Take photographs, lots of them, be depressed by them, take more, hone your skills and get out there in the world and interact.


Image © Chris Steele-Perkins

See more of his work here.


“Learn the craft (which is not very hard). Carefully study past work of photographers and classic painters. Look and learn from movies. See where you can fit in as a “commercial” photographer. Commercial: meaning working for others and delivering a product on command. But most of all keep your personal photography as your separate hobby. If you are very good and diligent it just may pay off”.


Image © Elliott Erwitt

See more of his work here.


“My main piece of advice for young photographers who have just come out of college is to get away from the ‘hubs’ of photography like London and New York. There are so many photographers touting their portfolios round in places like this that people end up fighting to do jobs that are not what they really want, just to make ends meet. It’s the kind of environment that doesn’t fuel anyone’s creativity (well mostly anyway…). My advice: go out and do the things they really want to before getting tied in…if they don’t take the risk at the beginning they’ll find it much harder to come back and take it later on”.


Image © Olivia Arthur

See more of her work here.


“Photograph who you are”.


Image © Bruce Gilden

See more of his work here.


“Try not to take pictures [that] simply show what something looks like. By the way you put the elements of an image together in a frame, [you] show us something we have never seen before and will never see again. And remember that catching a moment makes the image even more unique in the stream of time.

Also, try to do workshops with photographers whose work you admire, but first ask around to make sure they are good teachers as well as good photographers. Taking good pictures is easy. Making very good pictures is difficult. Making great pictures is almost impossible”.


Image © Constantine Manos

See more of his work here.


“Don’t stop questioning yourself (it’ll make you less arrogant). Push. Push, scratch, dig… Push further… And stop when you don’t enjoy it anymore… But most of all respect those you photograph”.


Image © John Vink

See more of his work here.


“Find something you are passionate about, and shoot your way through this obsession with elegance and you will have a potential great project”.


Image © Martin Parr

See more of his work here.


“You must have something to say. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. Think about history, politics, science, literature, music, film, and anthropology. What effect does one discipline have over another? What makes “man” tick? Today, with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an “author”. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship.

Many young photographers come to me and tell me their motivation for being a photographer is to “travel the world” or to “make a name” for themselves. Wrong answers in my opinion. Those are collateral incidentals or perhaps even the disadvantages of being a photographer. Without having tangible ideas, thoughts, feelings, and something almost “literary” to contribute to the discussion, today’s photographer will become lost in the sea of mediocrity…

Perhaps more simply put, find a heartfelt personal project. Give yourself the assignment you might dream someone would give you. Please remember: you and only you will control your destiny. Believe it, know it, say it”.


Image © David Alan Harvey

See more of his work here.


“Do not over-think the image. Lose the ego and let the photograph find you. Observe the life moving like a river around you and realize that the images you make may become part of the collective history of the time that you are living in”.


Image © Eli Reed

See more of his work here.


“Give it all you got for at least 5 years and then decide if you got what it takes. Too many great talents give up at the very beginning; the great black hole looming after the comfortable academy or university years is the number one killer of future talent”.


Image © Carl de Keyzer

See more of his work here.

Banner image © Olivia Arthur

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