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If you are an avid reader of this site, most likely you are a photography enthusiast wanting to learn more and advance your craft. If you really care about doing so, it is time to stop taking snapshots and start making photographs to become a better photographer.
Taking versus making can be a question of semantics; that’s why I prefer to call it snapshot versus photograph. But beyond semantics, in my humble opinion, you graduate as a photographer the moment you start making photos instead of taking them, regardless of the results. But wait, regardless of the results? Well, not really. Of course, you want great photos. What I mean by that is that you’ll progress in your craft the moment you start thinking about your photos, your vision, and how to reflect it with your image. The results could be bad or good, but you are thinking as a photographer. When you start thinking as a photographer, the results will come, sooner or later.
So what’s the difference? Taking a photo is the result of an impulsive reaction; you just press the shutter because you are there and you shoot it. Taking a photo is just snapping what you see. Instead, making a photograph is a process. When you make a photo, you are creating something from your vision. You are constructing it, and you are putting what comes from you in it.
The process of making a photo can take different periods of time. For some, it is a longer, thoughtful process, and for others it is a just a moment. For a National Geographic photographer, making a photo can take months; there is a lot of planning, research and being there just to get the right image that makes the cover of the magazine. For a street photographer, making a photo is totally different; they only have a split second to get it right without the luxury of setting up. But, there are other things they can control, like location, time of the day for best light, and so on.
I am telling you that you graduate as a photographer when you start making photographs because, for most us, enjoying the creative process is what makes us different from the rest. It does not matter if you are an enthusiast, serious amateur, or pro – we all enjoy it. Sure, learning how to expose, compose and post-process is important, but it’s something you can learn with enough practice and attention. That’s the technical aspect of photography, and when you master the basics, there will be always something new learn. But besides that, it comes with the freedom to stop thinking about aperture/depth of field and ISO/noise, and focus more on the photos you want to create.
Making a photograph will also help you to cut the clutter. When I first started to go on travel photography trips, I used to come back home with thousands of photos that were taken in just a span of a couple of days. That made the selection process a daunting task. First, who really wants to see thousands of photos? Second, is there any meaning in them? When you take the time to plan a more thoughtful photograph, you cut the clutter because often you’ll shoot less, but come out with better content.
Last, I want to leave you with a couple of examples, starting with the opening picture of this article. I was going to be in New Orleans only for a long weekend and one the things I wanted to photograph was the skyline of the city. So, I started my research ahead of time to find the best spot to do it. I only had three nights in the city and as I wanted to shoot during the blue hour, I really didn’t have the chance of messing it up. Once I knew where I was going to make my photo from, it was all a matter of arriving there in time to set up and wait for the right moment. So besides finding the location and arriving early to set up, I also had the right tools with me to make it happen. I knew I wanted to include the Crescent Connection Bridge, so I brought a wide angle lens. I knew that it was going to be a long exposure, not only because of the time, but also because I wanted a smooth reflection over the Mississippi River, so I also brought a tripod and a neutral density filter to make a long exposure.
Sometimes making a photo also means finding an interesting subject, and trying to learn more from them by staying for a while, instead of grabbing a shot and moving. I found this amazing woman for this photo (above) from the Taung Tho Market of Inle Lake in Myanmar. I sat there taking pictures of her for a while, and I remember she pretended I was not there until I told my guide to tell her that she was beautiful. Her reaction was priceless and that made the photo.
Other times, making a photo means waiting for something interesting to happen if you are in the right place. For the Bhutanese monk above, I found myself on a big patio surrounded by typical and colorful windows that I wanted to photograph, while I was visiting one of the many monasteries. But I needed something else besides the windows. Because I had seen them earlier, I knew that another monk would walk across my frame sooner or later, so I carefully composed my photo and waited until this one walked by.
There you have it. As you can see, there are different meanings and ways to create photos, and not just take them. But the most important thing is for you to understand that you can be a better photographer by making photos instead of just taking them. Plan and enjoy the process, and results will follow. By the way, if you are already making photos, why don’t you share one with us in the comments below with a short caption on how you made it and why.