10 Timeless Lessons Edward Weston Can Teach You About Photography

Inspiration from one of the old-school masters, Edward Weston:



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1. Photography is for prolific artists

“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.” – Edward Weston

Photography is great if you want to make art, instantly. To be decisive, without the delays of painting:

2. Never repress your artistic expression

“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.” – Edward Weston

Photography and life is all about experimentation, trying new things, and finding new paths and directions.

Lesson: Follow your artistic urges.

3. Shoot more than your eyes see

The fun thing about photography— augmenting our vision and reality.

“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston

Lesson: don’t make “factual” photos as we see reality. Rather, create your own reality.

4. Photograph ordinary things, and make it look extraordinary

Edward Weston on his toilet photo: For long I have considered photographing this useful and elegant accessory to modern hygienic life, but not until I actually contemplated its image on my ground glass did I realize the possibilities before me. . . . Here was every sensuous curve of the “human form divine” but minus imperfections.

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

Toilet by Edward Weston. For two weeks Weston studied and photographed the ordinary plumbing fixture from different angles. For this version he dispensed with the tripod, rested his 8 x 10-inch Seneca view camera on the floor, and directed the lens upward, lending unexpected volume and monumentality to his subject. He wrote that the “swelling, sweeping, forward movement of finely progressing contours” reminded him of the Victory of Samothrace. Learn more on THE MET

Don’t just photograph the exotic. Rather, photograph the familiar, and make it look extraordinary.

“I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enameled receptacle of extraordinary beauty. Here was every sensuous curve of the human figure divine but minus the imperfections. Never did the Greeks reach a more significant consummation to their culture, and it somehow reminded me, in the glory of its chaste convulsions and in its swelling, sweeping, forward movement of finely progressing contours, of the Victory of Samothrace.”

Learn more about the Victory of Samothrace:

Victory of Samothrace
Victory of Samothrace on pedestal

Lesson: don’t just study photography for inspiration. Also study sculpture. Alberto Giacometti is a good source of inspiration, who was friends with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

5. Composition is presenting your subject in the best possible manner

Nautilus by Edward Weston

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

“Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”


6. Discover composition while you shoot, not from composition theory

“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

Discover your compositions while you shoot, and afterwards when judging your contact sheets.

7. Don’t be a slave to composition theory

Cabbage composition by Edward Weston

To have a fresh vision, approach each photo like a beginner.

“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.” – Edward Weston

8. Don’t ‘think’ while shooting

Urban landscape silo by Edward Weston

“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.” – Edward Weston

9. Start with no preconceived ideas

Close up of onion by Edward Weston

“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.” – Edward Weston

Have an empty mind before you shoot, like a zen photographer.

Discover new things, and use that enthusiasm to make great photos.

Then process and export your photos that is a recreation of what you felt while you were shooting.

10. Master the art of photography; don’t get distracted by the tools

Egg by Edward Weston

Stick with the same camera equipment for a long time, master it, and squeeze the fullest potential maximum from it:

“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

Conclusion: Don’t become a slave to facts/rules

Close up of mushroom by Edward Weston

Don’t be a rational photographer, rather, be irrational. Never keep experimenting, exploring, or trying new things.

“The great scientist dares to differ from accepted ‘facts’ – think irrationally – let the artist do likewise.” -Edward Weston

And don’t forget, photography is about emotions, and the human soul.

“My work is never intellectual. I never make a negative unless emotionally moved by my subject.”

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