Leica M9, Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 Nokton
Honestly, I’m not sure there’s two opposing camps out there. I think the way it usually goes is some poor unsuspecting chap says he likes to take pictures… and then, invariably, someone wearing a much more expensive watch says he doesn’t take pictures, he makes them.
Then the first guy smiles and shrugs and says yes, of course, and then looks at his feet. The party’s over for him. He doesn’t even know what the other guy is talking about.
Make pictures? What does that even mean? What’s the difference between taking a picture and making one? Are they really two different things? How come I don’t this?
The reason he might not know it is because there are so many instances in life where others hang onto information as if it’s a proprietary asset. Or, just as likely a theory, as long as I’m casting aspersions, they can’t really explain it themselves even if they wanted to because they themselves don’t know.
Ansel said it. That should be good enough for everyone. Right?
The truth is, making and taking a picture are really two different things. What the annoying snobby person (a recurring character on this blog) may not know is that, believe it or not, both are important approaches to photographing and it’s important to know the difference and to be able to execute on either at your discretion as a fairly decent photographer.
Simply put, you MAKE a picture when your eye selects a subject or scene and you can envision how you want that picture to appear in a photographic image and then you set about the business of positioning yourself and your camera, deciding areas under your control such as the aperture and how it will effect depth of field, for instance, as well as principles of composition or how you might use exposure, the balance of light and shadow, and an almost infinite number of other variables that will allow you to achieve the image that you’re envisioning as an end result.
Almost everything is riding on you. Your desired outcome will come about to your satisfaction only if you can execute and control the many decisions and results that represent your own vision for the image.
It’s an important basic concept to be aware of as a photographer and you can cement the processes involved in making images as opposed to taking them into your mind by repeated practice or application. After you’ve ‘made’ a half dozen great images of things as banal as the folds and polka dots on your shower curtain you’ll understand the concept of making an image as opposed to taking one.
But as you have probably already figured out, this is just one approach or thought process of photography and there certainly are countless instances where great photographers producing iconic images were not and are not engaging in anything approaching such a carefully thought-out creative process in the capturing of their images.
In fact, and apologies to Ansel Adams, I would suggest the vast majority of photography’s most famous, memorable, or iconic images were not made in the sense that they were envisioned, preconceived, thought about, prepared or set up for, or any of the many actions that a creative photographer might go through in an effort to make an image.
This is probably best explained with a picture, which is, the last time I bothered to check, still not really worth a thousand words.
Sao Paulo, Brazil. 2006. Women’s World Championship of Basketball.
Team USA has just lost a game in international competition for the first time in 14 years. Since international amateur athletic bodies that govern things like world championships and the Olympics changed the rules that prohibited professional athletes from participating, allowing for the creation of ‘dream teams’ made up of the best professional players in a given sport, the United States had dominated the world in women’s basketball.
But the scrappy (and photogenic) team from Russia found a way to do what no one believed even possible; literally beat the Americans at their own game.
So a bunch of baseline photographers are under the far basket after the historic loss. Some of us, the Americans I’m guessing, are shocked and more than a little bit angry. We all came a long way to shoot the United States winning a world championship.
We’re all looking around in confusion and as the Russian post-game celebration extends beyond a polite 30 seconds or so, it seemed that most of us had gotten all the shots we needed of this sacrilegious demonstration and we’d gone back to mostly arguing about who screwed the pooch harder, the US players or coaches.
After a while, in any group or pool of photographers covering an event, there’s this group-think that seems to occur. We all know what we’re there to get, and I think some of us can get a little self conscious if we’re the last photographer still grinding away at our shutter’s life expectancy at eight frames per second shooting at essentially the same scene. You don’t really want to be that guy. What is that clown doing? You mean you haven’t gotten one in focus YET?
But then I saw something. Something was added to the scene. Instinctively I raised my Nikon D3 with the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor VR mounted and took this shot.
Nikon D3, 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor VR
I will tell you without question that it is my firm opinion that if women’s basketball and the exploits of our US national team in international ball were a big deal in this country, as big of a deal as say, NBA basketball is in America, then this image would have been an iconic capture.
It’s Diana Taurasi, then and probably now the best women’s player in the world, dejectedly walking by as the ecstatic Russians carry on the celebration of their incredible upset of a team made up of the best professional and amateur women ballers our country could produce. Something that hadn’t happened, as I pointed out earlier, in 14 years.
I know you could argue that I somehow made that image, and that’s fine. My mind recognized the opportunity and blah, blah, blah. Yes, I was prepared to shoot that moment. But we’re all as photographers in a constant state of preparation.
The truth is, I took that shot. And the further truth is, I seek to take shots a lot more than I set out to make shots.
I wrote this article because I think I understand the difference between the two and can explain it. I also wrote it because I’d like to change as a photographer. I can take shots. I’m very good at it and I want to continue taking them whenever the opportunity arises.
But I want to spend a lot more time in the future of my photography making images. This blog entry will be, I hope, a major step forward for me to focus my attention onto an approach to photography that I’ve often neglected.
You don’t really know something, it is said, unless you can explain it to others. And I sincerely hope this piece is as helpful to me as it might be to anyone reading it.
P.S Here’s another women’s basketball shot that this time I apparently, in spite of myself, somehow managed to make.
Nikon D3, 24-70mm f2.8 Nikkor