Pictures: Do you take them or make them?

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 know 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.

P.P.S. This article was originally published here on June 10th, 2012. I could (and probably should) just reblog these old articles, but they don’t display quite the way I would like them to so I don’t. I guess I don’t quite see the harm in doing it this way.

Nikon D3, 24-70mm f2.8 Nikkor


    1. Yes. I’m not a fan of multi-layered textured in PS art images etc.

      I do wack my images with various filters in Lightroom. I don’t think that’s any different than dodging and burning and various darkroom techniques that were used to bring out certain areas of a photograph or even toning that was intended to bring out or emphasize Certain color in a picture. I do all that and actually couldn’t live without doing it to be perfectly honest.

      The colors straight from the camera are for me only a jumping off point. In fact, unlike a lot of people who think of the raw image file as some kind of pure representation, I don’t think of it as anything But one step on the road to an end result.

      If I ever showed the raw image as it came from the camera alongside of some of my end results, something I don’t think I’m ever going to do By the way, I think it would be informative and shocking.

      Some images the difference is negligible. But for some images the filters I use bring out something that even I can’t sometimes predict the wonderfulness of. In my opinion of course.

      Replying by iPhone, dictating Actually. So sorry for the weirdness of the message.

      Thank you for visiting!


      1. I can not agree more. Those who thinks the straight raw file is the purest form, are idiotic. Raw / straight files from cameras are simply representations of how your camera would like to present the photos.” Raw ” files are processed files, by camera’s calculation and automated parameters.

  1. We all take snaps, sometimes we’re lucky.

    Some of us think that we are more tuned-in aesthetes and, mostly intuitively, try to compose our images, though we have to grab shots mainly.

    The camera interprets in its own way, though we can turn off some functions.

    So pressing the shutter is only the start of the process.

    Ansel Adams composed his shots generally.

    ….but he spent up to a week in the dark room trying to get the best out of each negative by the use of complex masks for dodging and burning with his technician taking detailed notes so that he could replicate every step of the way.

    Now there are many styles and approaches to the act of post processing and some of us use short cuts by working with photo ‘aps’. Mostly we over-do it and sometimes we get lucky, but only by trying things out, and by accepting comments from other photographers do we gradually formulate our own approach….our own principles of photography.

    Ultimately we are judged on our results…..and sometimes the best photos have ignored ‘the rules’…… who cares how we get there. It’s the image that counts.

    I make my photos. I never print or show a photo straight out of the camera and I really couldn’t care less if my images are a distortion of reality…whether they are ‘truthful’, or not.

    I do it because that’s what I want from my photography…….but……it is good when someone likes what you do…..we all need a little encouragement… and then…

    ….but those who are dismissive of your work because of ‘manipulation’ can go hang….

    Ansel Adams edited his work……and that’s good enough for me….

    I just wish that I was as good as he was……… Ho, ho….

    1. I agree, Smithie. I think you only have to pick up contemporary art photography books or go to an exhibition to begin to give yourself some leeway in post processing. But I just want more effective color and tonality, etc. Nothing more exotic.

      And by the way, you absolutely didn’t comment when this article was posted originally. So I’m glad you did this time!

      Thank you!


  2. I create mine. 😉 (with whatever tools that come to hand – film , cameras, computers, programs,
    Sometimes I see the result in my minds eye before I expose the recording material, very often I ‘see’ something at some later date and develop the idea from an existing image.

    1. Very true for me as well. I think for some people though, the distinction between making and taking might still catch them off guard.

      Thanks for commenting, Stephen!

  3. Glad you reblogged this. I definitely make photos when it comes to food photography, however when it comes to spontaneous moments that I can’t control I take photos and either way they turn out great even when I’m not expecting it. Great read thank you for reblogging 🙂

  4. Good discussion question. I tend to try and put myself in the right place and press the button. I’m finding I’m not the worst in terms of positional sense.

  5. Excellent timing! Just wrapping up a 12 day car trip of Southern Oregon and Northern California, constantly taking photos, and shifting back and forth regarding the intention of each press of the shutter! I’m hoping I end up with a good blend of planned shots and opportunistic grabs. And having great expectations for all those shots that were taken in the kind of light that prevents me from even seeing the screen. The second “trip” is when I get to go look for actual photographs in all those shots 🙂

    1. Thank you! Exactly, that is the Getty. Can I get my props for how that image works with the title of this piece? Okay. 😉 I titled the piece and wrote it, and then I went looking for an image for it. And when I saw that one I was like oh jeez you’ve got to be kidding me.

      1. That’s a great title and I was thinking about it. Am I taking or making? I guess photographers are making photos. I am designer, so I am taking them as fast as I can, caching them if you let me say that. And later making them with photoshop:) Did I answer you? 🙂

      2. Oh I was just pimping my luck at finding this particular image to place with this article given the title. But I enjoyed your comment! Thank you.

  6. I draw or paint watercolors but my photos are usually of family. Goo post title and since I ha entry been by in awhile re logging works for me 🙂

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