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35 Magnum Photographers Give Their Advice to Aspiring Photographers

35 Magnum Photographers Give Their Advice to Aspiring Photographers

by ERIC KIM on SEPTEMBER 26, 2011

Bill Reeves, a passionate photographer who is fortunate enough to have Magnum photographers Eli Reed and Paolo Pellegrin as his mentors, told me about a blog post that Magnum had a while back regarding advice to young photographers. It was put together by Alec Soth, who has done a series of fascinating projects such as his most popular, ?Sleeping by the Missisippi? which was done on a 8?10 view camera. An interesting excerpt that Bill put together about Alec is below:

Alec writes up lists of things to shoot. Some normal objects, like suitcases, and others more weird, like unusually tall people. He would tape this list to his steering wheel, and be reminded to shoot those things when he saw them. When he found someone to shoot, he would talk to them, and from that conversation find the next thing to go looking for. An example is he did a portrait of a guy who built model airplanes, and then a portrait of a hooker. The link? She had airplanes painted on her nails. He then went to photograph Charles Lindberg?s childhood home, which led him to photograph Johnny Cash?s boyhood home and so on and so forth.

I found the advice that these Magnum photographers is golden?and have shared it here to spread the love and knowledge. Keep reading to see their inspirational images and advice. You can also download the free PDF here.


PhotobucketCopyright: Abbas

It was many years ago that I took two young Bangladeshi photographers. Mahmud and Shehzad Noorani to the offices of Magnum in Paris. Abbas was then chairman of Magnum. I remember how generous he had been, walking us round every nook and cranny of the office, telling stories that lay behind the great images. It had a lasting impact on the youngsters who have both gone on to become fine photographers. Abbas has since visited Pathshala numerous times. Asked what advice would you give young photographers, he provides an answer typical of the man:
Get a good pair of walking shoes and?fall in love
Abbas? Magnum Portfolio

Alec Soth

PhotobucketCopyright: Alec Soth

What advice would you give young photographers?
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.
Alec Soth?s Magnum Portfolio

Alex Majoli

Copyright: Alex Majoli

What advice would you give young photographers?
I would advise to read a lot of literature and look as little as possible other photographers. Work everyday even without assignments or money, work, work, work with discipline for yourself and not for editors or awards. And also collaborate with people not necessary photographers but people you admire. The key word to learn is participation!
Alex Majoli?s Magnum Portfolio

Alex Webb

Copyright: Alex Webb

What advice would you give young photographers?
Photograph because you love doing it, because you absolutely have to do it, because the chief reward is going to be the process of doing it. Other rewards ? recognition, financial remuneration ? come to so few and are so fleeting. And even if you are somewhat successful, there will almost inevitably be stretches of time when you will be ignored, have little income, or ? often ? both. Certainly there are many other easier ways to make a living in this society. Take photography on as a passion, not a career.
Alex Webb?s Magnum Portfolio

Alessandra Sanguinetti

PhotobucketCopyright: Alessandra Sanguinetti

What advice would you give young photographers?
I could use some good advice myself?but first thing that springs to mind is Bob Dylan?s’: ?keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.?
Alessandra Sanguinetti?s Magnum Portfolio

Bruce Gilden

PhotobucketCopyright: Bruce Gilden

What advice would you give young photographers?
My advice: ?Photograph who you are!?
Bruce Gilden?s Magnum Portfolio

Carl De Keyzer

PhotobucketCopyright: Carl De Keyzer

What advice would you give young photographers?
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.
Carl De Keyzer?s Magnum Portfolio

Christopher Anderson

PhotobucketCopyright: Christopher Anderson

What advice would you give young photographers?
Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don?t be in a rush to make pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn?t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a ?professional? photographer until he was already a ?famous? photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make shitty pictures that you don?t care about.
Christopher Anderson?s Magnum Portfolio

Chris Steele-Perkins

PhotobucketCopyright: Chris Steele-Perkins

What advice would you give young photographers?
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.
Chris Steele-Perkins? Magnum Portfolio

Constantine Manos

PhotobucketCopyright: Constantine Manos

What advice would you give young photographers?
Try not to take pictures, which simply show what something looks like. By the way you put the elements of an image together in a frame 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.
Constantine Manos? Magnum Portfolio

David Alan Harvey

Copyright: David Alan Harvey

What advice would you give young photographers?
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 affects 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. Photography is now clearly a language. As with any language, knowing how to spell and write a gramatically correct ?sentence? is , of course, necessary. But, more importantly, today?s emerging photographers now must be ?visual wordsmiths? with either a clear didactic or an esoteric imperitive. Be a poet, not a technical ?writer?. 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.
David Alan Harvey?s Magnum Portfolio

Donovan Wylie

PhotobucketCopyright: Donovan Wylie

What advice would you give young photographers?
Never stop enjoying it. Try and not ?look? for pictures but keep yourself always open and allow yourself to be stimulated by whatever hits you. Work towards a goal?book, exhibition? but more importantly work towards finding your own voice, your subject and your application. Accept that your work is more about you than what you represent, try to bridge that balance, without resorting to photographing your feet! In other words try and translate personal experience into a collective one, it is very possible and I think the key quest of any art form?(study the book ?Waffenruhe? by Michael Schmidt) ? study all the great photographers and love doing it, start at the beginning, look at early American, and German, then French, then take a close look at artists using photography in the sixties, Rusha etc. Don?t get bogged down in theory, but respect it, read Robert Adams on Photography, in fact embrace Robert Adams generally and you will learn a lot. Read literature, especially early Russian, French and modern American, (and Irish, Joyce), the journey literature has taken as an art form in terms of description and representation is very similar to photography. Don?t rely on style for the sake of it, if you have your own subject, you can adopt other peoples styles if it helps, and visa versa, if you photograph something every one has, then adopt an style, execution, that can only be yours, eventually you will achieve both, your own voice will come through, but it can take time. Study the book ?How You Look at It??Important essays there will help you. Always try and be honest with yourself? for example, is the idea of being a photographer more exciting to you than photography itself, if this is true think about becoming an actor???????..if you genuinely love photography don?t give it up. Understand and enjoy the fact that photography is a unique medium. Respect and work within photography?s limitations, you will go much further.
Donovan Wylie?s Magnum Portfolio

David Hurn

Copyright: David Hurn

What advice would you give young photographers?
Don?t become a photographer unless its 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.
David Hurn?s Magnum Portfolio

Dennis Stock

PhotobucketCopyright: Dennis Stock

What advice would you give young photographers?
Young photographers should learn their craft well and don?t expect to make a constant living at taking pictures. But they should FOLLOW THEIR BLISS. Find time to pursue themes that indicate their concerns, big and small. Above all when shooting, MAKE AN ARTICULATE IMAGE.
Dennis Stock?s Magnum Portfolio

Eli Reed

PhotobucketCopyright: Eli Reed

What advice would you give young photographers?
Stop talking theory when a camera is in their your and 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.
Eli Reed?s Magnum Portfolio

Elliott Erwitt

PhotobucketCopyright: Elliott Erwitt

What advice would you give young photographers?
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.
Elliott Erwitt?s Magnum Portfolio

Lise Sarfati

PhotobucketCopyright: Lise Sarfati

What advice would you give young photographers?
Read a lot and create your own universe. Learn how to construct and create a series. Do not be impressed by other works. Try to innovate or simply to be yourself.
Lise Sarfati?s Magnum Portfolio

Martine Franck

PhotobucketCopyright: Martine Franck

What advice would you give young photographers?
My advice to photographers is to get out there in the field and take photographs but also if they are students to finish their course, learn as many languages as possible, go to movies, read books visit museums, broaden your mind.
Martine Frank?s Magnum Portfolio

Harry Gruyaert

PhotobucketCopyright: Harry Gruyaert

What advice would you give young photographers?
Be yourself, Don?t copy anybody.
Harry Gruyaert?s Magnum Portfolio

Hiroji Kubota

PhotobucketCopyright: Hiroji Kubota

What advice would you give young photographers?
Study the works of the greatest photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz. Try to travel to many parts of the world and understand what a diverse world we live in.
Hiroji Kubota?s Magnum Portfolio

John Vink

PhotobucketCopyright: John Vink

What advice would you give young photographers?
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?
John Vink?s Magnum Portfolio

Jonas Bendiksen

PhotobucketCopyright: Jonas Bendiksen

What advice would you give young photographers?
Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean. Photography is a language. Think about what you want to use it to talk about. What are you interested in? What questions do you want to ask? Then, go for it, and throw yourself into talking about that topic, using photography. Make a body of work about that.
Jonas Bendiksen?s Magnum Portfolio

Larry Towell

PhotobucketCopyright: Larry Towell

What advice would you give young photographers?
Be yourself and look outside of yourself.
Larry Towell?s Magnum Portfolio

Mark Power

PhotobucketCopyright: Mark Power

What advice would you give young photographers?
Although there are far more people trying to ?be photographers? than there were in those heady days of 1980, there are also far more opportunities. Gone are the days, thankfully, when a commercial assignment, or even a picture in a newspaper, can damage the chance of gallery representation.
Yet what is clear is that a number of ?good pictures? are no longer enough; today it has to be about ideas, and about the intent of the work. If you have something to say, and even better you have an innovative way of saying it then opportunities are out there.
I sense that photography is concerning itself with real issues again. For some time much of photography seemed to be about itself, and while this was fine, and interesting in some cases, it?s not what photography is really good at. Understand this by familiarising yourself with the rich and wonderful history of our medium. Be proud of it, what it has, and what it can, achieve. Don?t try and reinvent the wheel. Be inspired. Try and copy, if you like (because no one can).
Find a subject you care about. Something that moves you. Something which stirs your rawest emotions. And then have patience.
Mark Power?s Magnum Portfolio

Martin Parr

PhotobucketCopyright: Martin Parr

What advice would you give young photographers?
Find something you are passionate about, and shoot your way through this obsession with elegance and you will have potential great project.
Martin Parr?s Magnum Portfolio

Mikhael Subotzky

PhotobucketCopyright: Mikhael Subotzky

What advice would you give young photographers?
Stick to one project for a long time. And keep working on it through many stages of learning, even if it might feel finished. Its the only way to break through what I think are some vital lessons that need to be learnt about story-telling and how to combine images.
Mikhael Subotzky?s Magnum Portfolio

Olivia Arthur

PhotobucketCopyright: Olivia Arthur

What advice would you give young photographers?
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.
Olivia Arthur?s Magnum Portfolio

Paolo Pellegrin

PhotobucketCopyright: Paolo Pellegrin

What advice would you give young photographers?
I believe photography ? like many other things one does in life ? is the exact expression of who one is at a given moment: every time you compose and release the shutter you give voice to your thoughts and opinions of the world around you. So other than the obvious patience (photography is a complex medium, a voice which requires time to develop) and perseverance and the necessary humility when dealing with others, I would recommend working to become a more developed and informed individual, a more knowledgeable and engaged citizen. This will translate into a deeper more complex understanding of the world around you, and ultimately into a richer and more meaningful photography.
Paolo Pellegrin?s Magnum Portfolio

Patrick Zachmann

PhotobucketCopyright: Patrick Zachmann

What advice would you give young photographers?
You have to fight for beeing a photographer! More seriously, my advice for young poeple is to go to exhibitions, to see books and try to do a personal project which they feel they have a unique approach of it because they are close the subject and need to express and understand urgently things about it.
Photography has something to do for me, like with Diane Arbus, with oneself through the others and with unconsciousness (sorry for my English: I mean ?l?inconscient?) a psychoanalytic approach. I will answer to a third question because it?s linked with above: why did you become a photographer? I became a photographer because I don?t have memory. It took me quite a long time to understand that trough my personal researches (?Inquest of identity or a Jew in search of his memory?, ?Chile. The roads of the memory?, ?My father?s memory,? etc?), I was looking for the ?missing? pictures. Making my book ?Inquest of identity?, I found out that my aunt-my father?s sister who was a Nazi camp survivor- had at her home a picture of my grand-parents deported and killed in Auschwitz that my father never showed to us. Thanks photography, I met my father?s parents that I never knew. That?s what I like with photography. It helps me to understand myself and the past through the present.
Patrick Zachmann?s Magnum Portfolio

Peter Marlow

PhotobucketCopyright: Peter Marlow

What advice would you give young photographers?
Be yourself, get up early, and don?t try too hard, as whatever is trying to come out will come eventually without any effort, learn to trust your instincts and don?t think about what others will think or about the process too much. Work hard but enjoy it.
Peter Marlow?s Magnum Portfolio

Steve McCurry

PhotobucketCopyright: Steve McCurry

What advice would you give young photographers?
If you want to be a photographer, you have to photograph. If you look at the photographers? work you admire, you will find that they have found a particular place or subject, and then have dug deep into it, and carved out something that is special. That takes a lot of dedication, passion, and work.
Steve McCurry?s Magnum Portfolio

Stuart Franklin

PhotobucketCopyright: Stuart Franklin

What advice would you give young photographers?
Follow your heart and never give up.
Stuart Franklin?s Magnum Portfolio

Susan Meiselas

PhotobucketCopyright: Susan Meiselas

What advice would you give young photographers?
Dig in and follow your instincts and trust your curiosity
Susan Meiselas?s Magnum Portfolio

Thomas Dworzak

PhotobucketCopyright: Thomas Dworzak

What advice would you give young photographers?
Try live something intense, at home, abroad? it does not matter. It has to be passionate. And once you know the basics forget about photography.
Thomas Dworzaks?s Magnum Portfolio

Thomas Hoepker

PhotobucketCopyright: Thomas Hoepker

What advice would you give young photographers?
Avoid all photo schools and courses. Most will give you lofty ideas and twist your mind in one direction. Find your own way to photography, nobody will ask you later if you have a diploma. Visit as many museums as you possibly can. The images you see (painted, drawn, etched or photographed) will stay with you for the rest of your life. They will help you to discover good pictures in real life. Suppress any silly ambitions of becoming a great artist. Being a good photographer is difficult enough.
Thomas Hoepker?s Magnum Portfolio

Trent Parke

PhotobucketCopyright: Trent Parke

What advice would you give young photographers?
To photograph what is closest to you and the things that you enjoy and have an interest in. Make the whole process as fun and least difficult as possible.
Regarding this document, You can download the PDF here.
Credit: Magnum Photos Blog
via Bill Reeves

Published inPhotographyPhotojournalism


  1. […] Shahidul News has just re-published some advice by 35 Magnum photographers, originally published in 2008 at the prompting of Alec Soth, and it still makes a lot of sense. The photographers were asked two questions, “When did you first get excited about photography?” and “What advice would you give young photographers?” […]

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