Start Making Photographs to Become a Better Photographer

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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.

New Orleans Skyline

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.

Happy woman in Taung Tho Market Inle Lake

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.

Monk in the Punakha Dzong

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Daniel Korzeniewski is a Miami-based, travel photographer. His work has appeared in several publications and he contributes to various stock photography outlets. You can find out more about his work, travel adventures, or join him on one of his upcoming photography tours (to Morocco, India, or Myanmar). You can also follow him on Instagram.

  • I am still relatively new to “making” photographs rather than “taking” them but I find the process very interesting.

    What workflow do you generally use when making a photo?

    My workflow goes a little something like this:

    – Research the area on google street view.
    – Figure out where the sun is going to be and hence what type of natural light I will have available and what is the best time to go to the site.
    – Preset my cameras settings to something that will roughly equal a good exposure given the expected light conditions
    – Leave the house.
    – Survey the area in person. Taking my time to really get a feel for the place. Find the best spot for the image using the trusty finger framing technique.
    – Set up at the site. Including using a tripod! Just the use of the tripod slows me down enough to survey the area once again.
    – fire off a few shots
    – take a break but always look around the area for another different type of shot.
    – Repeat

    Just realized that I actually must take ages making a photograph. :S

    Would you suggest a better workflow? Would be interesting to hear what everyone else does in preparation.

    Ronnie
    http://www.ronniedayphotography.com

  • Thanks for the comment Ronnie.
    I don’t have a specific workflow as it really depends on the situation. Good examples are the photos above, as I am going to a specific place and I want something in particular like the photo of New Orleans yes there is research done before, getting to the location on time, etc. In other situations you have to “make the photo” on the spot because maybe you got to a place exploring or without knowing what you were going to find, like in the case of the portraits.
    But as a general rule your approach is correct.

  • David Thompson

    Thanks for an interesting, reflective essay Daniel. The headline gave me pause to click through my feed aggregator to read in depth… and then to comment.

    In reading your article, I realize that I do three things with my cameras. Sometimes it’s just a snapshot. I’m someplace with family, friends, or just see something interesting and grab a shot to record the event/item/person. Sometimes I’m wandering about, specifically looking for something interesting, be that a person, place, or thing. Then there are the more rare times when I actually plan a photographic outing with one or more specific objectives in mind.

    The latter two are the most satisfying. However, there are times when a snapshot or a grab shot are all you get. The attached is of my daughter and youngest grandson and I think it captures the emotion of the moment. There was no time to set up this shot.

    Thanks again… and my best…

  • Thanks for sharing David! That’s a nice photograph. I enjoy the process as well, and of course I take a lot of snapshots just for memory or reference, even when not “photographing” my phone is always handy to grab images.

  • Judith Laguerre

    Thanks for writing such an insightful article, Daniel. Thought I’d post this photo in response to making instead of taking photographs. This adorable animal wandered into my yard and planted itself in the tall grass. I watched him for a couple of minutes, hoping to gain some trust. To my surprise, it did not run away. I quickly grabbed my camera and made this photo. The thought process behind the photo was simply to capture a simple, yet rare occurrence.

  • Erika Swafford

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this. It wasn’t until after I stopped having to think so much about my camera settings that I started making photos instead of taking them. It’s a big step – and fun one, too!

  • Thanks for commenting Erika, I am glad to hear you are having fun in the process.

  • Thanks for sharing Judith.

  • A great post, Daniel! I enjoy shooting a combination of urban landscapes and street photography and get wonderful satisfaction from waiting for the perfect moment or the perfect person to step into the frame, as you did in your wonderful example. While my focus in the attached photo was in the Empore State Building in the distance, the shot wasn’t anything special until this wonderful woman exited from a taxi!

  • Thank you for the comment and sharing your picture.

  • As a newcomer this is very nice to read. I have shot a couple of images with a couple of cameras i borrowed, but now i got my own. I think these are good images for a “first try” https://www.flickr.com/photos/126900539@N07/albums/72157657055561105

  • Thanks for sharing your photos and comment Niels

  • Beverly Johnston

    I recently made this photograph. I was facing the front of a rental cabin and looking for a view that others might see and this is one I found.

  • David

    Daniel – I really enjoyed your article. For many, many years I was thoroughly enjoying “taking pictures” of kids, family, vacations, etc. with instamatics and point-and-shoots. I started paying attention to things a few years ago, bought a better camera, and started moonlighting as an Event Photographer about a year ago. My favorite thing to do is watch for a developing “situation”, discreetly get my settings and focus, and wait for the right moment. One of my favorite candids is attached: three women at a fundraiser for an art institute, looking through old photos depicting the institute’s early beginnings. Watched and waited.

  • Thanks for reading the article and sharing your photo Beverly!

  • Thanks for sharing your photo David and commenting David.

  • Marwa Elchazly

    thank for this useful article, I really needed to read something like this as i’m learning to make photo not just take one, but one obstacle come always in my way witch is I often find my mind empty of ideas … Sometimes when I visit new places it’s motivating ,like this shot I took when I visited India for the first time and I was insisting to capture faces reflecting Indian life …

  • Jim the Photographer

    I make a distinction between “pictures” and “photographs.” I’ve stopped doing it because it’s impolite, but I used to tell people that I took photographs not pictures when they would tell me, “I like your picture(s).” The reality that I’m a photographer means that I will do my best to get the best photo possible.

  • Sive Manana

    From Africa, Swaziland you guys inspire me. In this part of the world we have no formal photography courses or institutions but your tips are very helpful. I have never been formally trained but I’m already doing paid work…I love your FREE approach to access of information. Wud love to feature my pics for critiquing soon

  • Sunny Wilson

    Thank you man for the awesome tips …definitely learned a lot cheers…

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