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Do You Take a Photograph or Make a Photograph?

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

It is a question that is regularly discussed in photography circles.

It seems to be the most natural thing to say that we take a photograph, but is it the most accurate?

Recently two professional YouTube photographers had a discussion on their separate channels on this very question.

And they disagreed on their conclusions.

James Popsys suggests that using the term ‘make a photograph’ rather than ‘take a photograph’ is a sign of insecurity on the part of photographers, who may be worried that people don’t credit their skill enough. In his view, these photographers feel that people assume that if they produce a good photograph they must have an excellent camera, and that no credit is given to all the effort that goes into producing a compelling image. By using the term ‘make’ these photographers are encouraging others to acknowledge the considerable effort involved in creating an image – planning, making decisions on subject, perspective, composition, camera settings, focal length, exposure and post-processing. It also acknowledges the amount of time involved in producing an image – possibly waiting for long periods or returning to a location multiple times to shoot in optimal light.

For Popsys it's an argument that doesn't warrant the time spent on it. He is happy (and confident enough!) to simply say that he takes a photograph, and leave it at that.

There were several comments in response to this video, giving a wide variety of views on the topic. As always in these types of photography debates, there is a lot of difference of opinion.

In a separate video, photographer Thomas Heaton discusses the same question. His take on the argument is that it is all about being intentional with your photography, it is about really thinking about all the different elements of your composition.

In Heaton’s view, spending time making decisions so that you get the composition you are looking for does suggest that you are ‘making’ an image rather than just ‘taking’ one.

In the final analysis I would suggest that, while I wouldn’t argue the toss with anyone over which word to use, ‘make’ does sit best with me.

I think using the term ‘make a photograph’ gives credit to the creative brain of the professional photographer; it acknowledges creativity and the role that this plays in determining the decisions involved in creating a captivating photograph.

In that sense the photographer does more than take the photograph – he or she does really create or ‘make’ the photograph.

In my own case, as an amateur, I do try to be intentional with my photography, I try to spend time making decisions to get a good composition, I strive to make my photographs rather than simply take them.

I have waited a long time to get this close-up of the heron who regularly visits my garden. On this occasion I spent almost an hour trying to make a somewhat decent image (including waiting for the little bird to perch on the wire!). On other occasions I felt that I did take a photograph of the heron but none did justice to my subject. Here I did try to make a final image by waiting, and watching and trying different angles. I came away with at least six images that I felt were worth bringing into Lightroom.

With this image, again I worked for a long time to get an image I was pleased with. I eventually concluded that I will need to return to this location with a different lens!

I have numerous variations of the image which, to me, serves to point to the fact that effort does go into making an image, even if it does not go as planned.

On the occasion below, I was travelling home when I noticed the sun going down over this lake. I could have got out of my car and taken a few photographs, but I did not feel that I had the best light so I waited around and took photographs from many different vantage points and in variations of light as the sun moved across the sky and disappeared behind the mountain.

While I say that I took photographs I do feel that it would be more accurate to say that I spent some time at the location, and later in Lightroom, making the images.

I used different lenses and focal lengths, smartphone as well as camera, and came away with more than thirty images. In Lightroom I experimented with enhancing the colours and playing with the shadows to create silhouettes, which I love. All this effort went towards achieving a look that I liked.

To me, this process really is about making an image, but I won't argue with anyone who says I take photographs!

Related posts –

What is your view?

Do you take a photograph or make a photograph?

Leave a comment below.

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