Taking vs Making Pictures

Photography is often perceived as a simple and effortless activity, where anyone with a camera, at any skill level, with any device, randomly and candidly, can point and shoot at whatever catches their eye and produce stunning images.

However, this, in my own personal experience, and the experience of tens of thousands of commercial photographers and advanced hobbyists before me, is far from the whole truth, especially when it comes to the work of professional photographers who have earned a living from photography. These photographers do not merely “take” pictures, they “make” them.

From the beginning of my career until now, I have been a passionate, productive, and prolific advocate of “making” and not “taking” pictures. I have known nothing else.

“You don’t take a photography, you make it” Ansel Adams

What does it mean to make a picture? It means having a clear vision of what you want to achieve and planning and executing the necessary steps to realize it. It means to have a deep understanding of the technical and artistic aspects of photography and applying them skillfully and creatively. It means to have a sense of purpose and direction and to communicate it effectively to the viewer.

Making pictures is the modern equivalent of intentional photography.

Making a picture involves a lot of preparation and decision-making, both before and after pressing the shutter. It involves choosing the right location, time of day, weather, lighting, equipment, lenses, settings, composition, angle, perspective, focus, exposure, white balance, color, contrast, mood, tone, and style. It involves editing and post-processing the image to enhance or alter its appearance and meaning. It involves organizing, backing up, archiving, printing, or sharing the image with others.

Making a picture also requires a lot of passion and dedication, as well as patience and perseverance. It requires constant learning and improvement, as well as experimentation and innovation. It requires inspiration and motivation, as well as feedback and critique. It requires confidence and courage, as well as humility and honesty.

Making a picture is not something that happens by chance or luck. It is something that happens by design and intention. It is something that happens by skill and talent. It is something that happens through hard work and effort.

It is a great misconception to think that skilled, trained, and talented photographers simply wander around, randomly, spontaneously, and serendipitously and take photos of spur-of-the-moment subjects, scenes, and scenarios. Some do, and most don’t.
While there may be some occasions where such an approach can yield interesting, even amazing, results, they are rare and exceptional. More often than not, remarkable and memorable photography is the result of both great intention and attention.

“To photography: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye, and the heart” Henri Cartier-Bresson
I can’t think of a single photographer, from history, especially among those who have earned a living from photography, that has, as a career choice, “taken” rather than “made” pictures.

The very act of commercial creation implies “making” and not “taking” pictures.

Intentional photography, at varying degrees and levels, requires making photographs

“Taking” pictures might be more suitable for photojournalism and reportage, but even in these disciplines, the act of “making” pictures often supersedes the act of “taking” pictures

“Taking” pictures, represented by the lion-share of social-media photographers today, often executed with little-to-no artistic or journalistic intention, more often than not, results in casual snapshots. This is photography as communication and entertainment.

And while this isn’t always but often the case, “making” pictures results in photographs.

This is photography as art and commerce.

This is what it means to make photos. This is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. This is what distinguishes the snapshots from the masterpieces. This is what makes photography an art form.



Jack Hollingsworth