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Taking Versus Making

There's a common distinction made by those who teach photography that you should strive to make pictures rather than merely take them. It's worth exploring more deeply into just what this means.

Taking pictures involves standing where you happen to be when you notice something of interest. Making pictures involves exploring the surrounding area and making mental note of where as many things as possible of interest are located. Images can then be made of your best finds, either by themselves or in combination. You get to make the choice after you know better what's available.

Taking pictures involves thinking about what your subject looks like. Making pictures involves thinking about what your images will look like. Only you will absorb the totality of what is going on before and within you as you stand somewhere with your camera. Others will have to rely on your images to come as close as they can. It's up to you to help make that happen by highlighting what you feel most strongly about and why. It's up to you to make those pictures.

Taking pictures is often a matter of convenience, involving only as much effort as needed to record what you see. On the other hand, making pictures can involve significant effort and occasionally some degree of acceptable physical discomfort. I often describe good landscape photography as being a contact sport. Or at least after crawling around on sharp rocks looking for the best vantage point, it can sure seem that way. But sometimes, you've got to be willing to do what needs to be done.

But making pictures does not involve focusing so much on your subject that you risk damaging what surrounds it. I sometimes hear of people taking matters into their own hands to the point that subsequent visitors find things trampled on and spoiled. I unfortunately encounter such things in my own travels from time to time. It's a shame that some people do this. As important as making the picture is, it should never be at the expense of the subject's wellbeing or that of its surroundings. And this goes equally well whether your interests lie in wildlife photography or in landscape.

Making pictures should also take into account your own safety. I don't mind (and indeed have come to expect) a few bumps and bruises perhaps, but I do have my limits. And so should you. Don't wait to learn this the hard way.

Taking pictures means letting your camera determine exposure for you, typically with it set on fully automatic Program mode. Making pictures means exercising control over exposure yourself. Your selection of shutter speed should favor how you want motion to be rendered in (or absent from) an image. Aperture primarily should be used to select depth of field. Within reason, exposure can then be adjusted via the ISO setting. Cameras today are able to produce amazing results over a much wider range of ISO values than comparable models could just a few years ago. I used to never even think of raising the ISO to get a shot for fear of noise. Today, it's become a standard tool In the end, I may need to compromise on aperture or shutter speed to avoid ISO falling too far from what I know my camera can handle, but we are now in a world with three useful variables affecting exposure, not just the traditional two. Making pictures should consider the effect of all three.

Taking pictures means letting your camera convert what you shoot into jpeg format for you, so you don't have to do it once you get home. Making pictures accepts the dictum that the second half of photography is what you do to optimize what you shoot, after the shutter release has been pressed. Many images will probably require only minimal tweaks to white balance, levels and the like. But when an image would benefit from more extensive optimization, the only way to produce the best results is to start from the original raw files. Sometimes, a jpeg simply won't do when making images.

But making pictures is also about being truthful about what edits you may have made to a given image. The line between a falsified image and a work of art based on a real image is one with no clear delineation, and a lot has to do with the intended purpose and audience. Making pictures should stay ethically true to what that audience believes and expects. Truth in advertising, if you see what I mean.

It can be tempting to judge how serious someone is by how much they appear to have spent on their camera gear. But I've seen great images shot on a smart phone, just as I have ho-hum, average-looking images shot on top of the line Nikon or Canon gear. Making pictures isn't about the gear you own or even what gear you use. It's about what you do with that gear, and it's about the thought and attention put into the process of shooting.

Taking pictures is just something you do. Making pictures means putting your whole self into your photography, so you can in turn get as much out of it as you can. Anyone can be a picture taker. To be a picture maker means to go beyond what everyone else does and develop your own creative vision.

Date posted: October 7, 2018


Copyright © 2018 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Shooting Quickly versus Thinking More
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