Stop Taking Pictures, Start Creating Images

Stop Taking Pictures, Start Creating Images

There’s one surefire way to start becoming a better photographer. Stop taking pictures.


A picture is what you take when you accidentally mash your hands on the shutter release while your camera sits idle on the living room table. It’s when you bump the camera while it hangs from your shoulder and snap that oddly angled picture of your feet. It’s the photos you took of your friend just because they asked you to. It’s also generally what most of us are shooting the first time we pick up our cameras – myself included.

But if you really want to advance your photography, you’ve got to stop pressing that shutter release just because you can. Instead, take the time to create a vision. Stop taking pictures. Start creating images.

Professionals Create Images

We all admire the fantastic work of professional photographers from around the globe. It’s not simply because their photos are perfectly exposed, their white balance is spot on or they followed an exacting rule of thirds guideline. Given enough practice, anybody can do these. Many photographers still do. There’s a simple element that separates those photographers you admire from those you don’t.

Good photographers take great pictures, great photographers create images.

An image is something that evokes an emotional response from the viewer. It speaks to us individually and conveys some form of attraction or connection with a photo. Whether it’s longing, awe, desire, fear or any one of a thousand other, an image elicits within us a response. The ability to combine the technical with the creative and create an image is what separates a great photographer from a good one.

Fueling that creativity is a constant journey we should all strive to be better at every day. It’s something I work at every day as well. None of us have it right from the start, and even veterans of 20 and 30 years are pushing every day to take it to that next level. Here are a few techniques I’ve found helpful on my own drive towards creating images and not just taking pictures.

Continue Shooting and Start Planning

If it sounded like I’ve been telling you to stop shooting, it’s exactly the opposite! As well-know commercial photographer Chase Jarvis says, the best camera is the one you have with you. Shooting every day, even with a simple camera phone, helps develop your eye for pleasing compositions, great locations and visionary editorials. But you don’t want to be taking just pictures anymore. You want a mix of pictures and images.

What you need to add to create those images now is a plan. That doesn’t mean you need to look for six assistants, a creative director, three models and twelve lights! The start of your plan can be as simple as spending an afternoon out with your friends and showing them having a good time, keeping a vision in mind.

Ask Yourself Why

A practice I’ve always found helpful is to ask myself, “Why am I taking this photo? Why is it different from any other out there? What am I trying to convey with it? What emotion am I trying to invoke? Who is my audience?”

Advertisements plan for and answer these questions all the time. They want to create the vision of a lifestyle in their images that says, “Hey, buy this brand and you’ll be like this,” or a longing that says, “You too could be experiencing an extraordinary sunset at our hotel pool.” And they want you to create that emotion through your unique vision.

Answer some of those questions and you’ll be able to answer the one every client or company asks when seeking a photographer for a job. “Why are you worth paying for?”

Draw Out Editorials

Before pitching a model or client a test shoot, I’ve usually sketched down my ideas and a few frames on a piece of paper. It can be an invaluable tool in laying out an editorial or a vision. It’s a great way to involve your subjects in the images and help direct them. The confidence in having a clear cut vision and idea will be obvious to those you are working with, and they’ll take confidence from it as well. Ultimately, you’ll create better images because of it.

Whether it’s a landscape angle you see in your mind or simply a few portrait poses, drawing out a few ideas goes a long way towards executing a vision. Always remember to ask, “What am I trying to convey?”

Set Yourself a Client

Here’s an exercise you can set for yourself the next time you step out the door with your gear in tow and you’re just out to shoot for fun. Set yourself a client to shoot for.

Let’s say it’s the clothing store Pac Sun. What kind of image conveys the Pac Sun lifestyle? Who shops there and what message do you think will connect with them? Start thinking about what the client would want and you will be on the way towards creating photos with a purpose.

So remember the next time you grab your camera, sit down for a few moments first and concept some ideas. With a vision, planning and perspiration you’ll soon find yourself no longer taking pictures, but creating images.

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Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • Christian March 15, 2012 09:33 am

    I am a big fan or source images when I am shooting portraits.

    I find that creating those guidelines are so important. I know what I want to do generally and how I am going to achieve it.

    It's funny because within those parameters I find a lot of freedom. It creates a space for myself and the subject to express ourselves.

    The funny thing is that the work ends up looking different than the original source image any way. It gets my stamp on it.

    how to take pictures

  • Tim July 7, 2011 11:54 pm

    spot on, very helpful!

  • Annie July 7, 2011 06:30 pm

    Please give feedback if this is a good example of creating an image rather than just taking a picture?

  • Thomas Varghese June 26, 2011 07:22 am

    Thank you for your excellent article “Stop taking pictures instead start creating images.”
    very useful advice for the beginners. so try our best to create images so attractive.

  • Brenda June 25, 2011 10:15 am

    Thank you for your article about creating images! You've articulated what makes the difference between a good shot versus a great compelling shot. Something to keep in mind whenever I'm taking photos.

  • HoanXTq June 24, 2011 10:55 pm

    Thanh you so much. I'll keep practising these lessons

  • Flossie June 24, 2011 05:20 am

    Really enjoyed your comments on creating images and for the most part - when you have the TIME this is amazing. However, unless doing photo journalism or portraits, when you only have one day to see an area, then picking your shots and setting up with proper lighting and sets is almost impossible. I look for different vantage points and stuff that I carry to add to the photos I take. Asking a butterfly to sit on a certain flower in certain light just doesn't seem to work

  • Oba June 24, 2011 03:29 am

    Thanks You For The Article I Will Keep This In Mind (-^_^-)

  • Reymart Pineda Sunajo June 24, 2011 01:58 am

    Very helpful article. Thanks for all those concerned photographers who really want to share their ideas wit us...

  • GradyPhilpott June 23, 2011 03:58 am

    I do sort of agree with the notion that the digital age has made pressing the shutter button a very cheap thing to do, but that does not have to be a bad thing.

    In marksmanship, I have always believed that a beginner is far better served by a single-shot firearm. Because you don't get a quick second shot, the tendency is for the shooter to take his time to focus on fundamentals and to make every shot count. After all, ammunition costs money.

    With the digital camera, shots cost you nothing, so taking advantage of that fact is not a bad thing. Surely, if the best you can do is shoot willy-nilly and hope that somewhere on your card is a good shot, you're not really using the camera to its best advantage.

    If however, you use the ability to shoot "endlessly" wisely and use the instant feedback as a means to adjust and adapt, then the digital camera becomes a boon. A good knowledge of the fundamentals is still necessary and employing them instinctively can only come with practice and feedback.

  • VanillaSeven June 21, 2011 04:51 pm

    Routine may dull our sense of creativity, taking photos instead of images.

  • ahmad June 21, 2011 03:16 am

    Great article, with additional picture made it excellent.

  • Andrew June 20, 2011 11:28 am

    A very good article. Just some more depth to it, using example photos would have made it excellent (e.g. a standard photo vs. a better photo creating an "image"). Two really good examples like this would have added two thousand words to the article.

  • phoe June 20, 2011 05:24 am

    While I get the intent, and this may work for some, my prevailing thought upon reading this was: What a way to miss the moment! If I spent all that time thinking about the why’s and wherefores of the shots I take, I’d miss more moments than I capture, and that would be sad indeed. Shoot with interest and emotion. Shoot with love and creativity, and that very love, interest, emotion, and creativity will shine through your photographs to capture those who see them later.

    I've learned and captured many moments that I would not have gotten if I did not use my genuine intuition. ie photographing clouds and a flock of geese fly by right at the right moment.
    So Donna you have the right attitude...thanks for posting...

  • phoe June 20, 2011 05:15 am

    "...Sometimes my best outdoor photos have nothing to do with my “plan”, but show up just because I stop and look around in a full circle often while shooting. So I guess my “wildlife photos” often become “nature photos”.

    An excellent write up and, Mark I agree with your statement, as 'nature' is all around us.

    I've been creating images for well over 16 years and studying images around me most of my life. When I've photographed a subject, the next picture is a little better then the first, as I've been able to create a different image in my mind for the next time, whether it's changing shutter, film speed or apature, or changing the way I move to get the best background etc. I feel all this helps to create a different response everytime and still keeps me excited everytime I pick up my camera.

    Thanks for the continued articles and support and keep them coming...

  • Vaughn Barry Photography June 20, 2011 05:03 am

    There is a fine line between many things in life however not when it comes to photography. The gap between snapping a picture and creating an image can be cavernous - the latter is where we all aspire to be. It conveys an emotion, it stirs the mind.

  • Scapevision June 20, 2011 03:20 am

    too bad the examples look like they have been taken, rather then created

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 20, 2011 01:55 am

    Before shooting this location, I studied what had been done before. I cam across the same scene shot hundreds of time, albiet somewhat different depending on the atmospheric conditions and season. I took some time and created a unique image of this geothermal poool in New Zealand.

    PS Love the article!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 20, 2011 01:54 am

    Before shooting this location, I studied what had been done bfore. I cam across the same scene shot hundreds of time, albiet somewhat different depending on the atmospheric condisions and season. I took some time and created a unique image of this geothermal poool in New Zealand. PS Love the article!

  • Donna June 20, 2011 01:52 am

    While I get the intent, and this may work for some, my prevailing thought upon reading this was: What a way to miss the moment! If I spent all that time thinking about the why's and wherefores of the shots I take, I'd miss more moments than I capture, and that would be sad indeed. Shoot with interest and emotion. Shoot with love and creativity, and that very love, interest, emotion, and creativity will shine through your photographs to capture those who see them later.

  • doodles June 20, 2011 01:50 am

    This article is a great "nudge" to make us realize why we do what we do. I am not prefessing to be a pro and never will be HOWEVER I do not like staged photos. I sometimes have in my mind when I go out to say maybe a flea market what I want to capture.........almost like going on a hunt.

  • OsmosisStudios June 20, 2011 01:41 am

    No. "Creating images" is a ridiculous statement. You TAKE PICTURES. People have ALWAYS just TAKEN PICTURES. Stop trying to make it more than it is.

  • Mihai June 20, 2011 01:32 am

    True words! Most of us take tons of photos, but rarely can say we've thought of the feeling we'll transmit to the viewer.

    Here is my take on the subject

  • Jim April 9, 2010 05:23 am

    I especially liked the last tip about what client I imagine I'm shooting for. I'll try that! Thanks

  • Jennifer Moore December 16, 2009 07:07 am

    Michael Cockerham says: "Ask yourself, as you are looking throught the viewfinder, “why do I want to take this photograph? What is it that is compelling me to create an image?” If you cannot answer the question, then don’t take the photograph."

    This is EXACTLY the mindset I have when I'm going out shooting for shots to sell: If I see what I think will be a great shot, but can't manifest it the way I'd like, then it just does not happen. Disappointing, sure, but I'm an artist through and through--it has to be RIGHT.

    This post and the comments are amazing. Such great advice! Kudos!

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Joana K December 3, 2009 11:35 pm

    "Stop taking pictures, start creating images." I like that, could become one of my mottos even... :) That was a great and helpful article, kind of inspiring and motivating as well, also the photos are awesome, great example for what IMAGES are. Although I support the idea of having a plan, taking our time, etc., I also agree with Mark Pashia's post, because most of my successful photos weren't actually planned. :) They were spontanious. But even so, having a plan is always very important, and not only when it comes to photography. :)

  • Mark Pashia December 3, 2009 10:10 am

    My question is: how does this relate to a beginner learning wildlife photography?

    As a beginner, I am still learning my DSLR so I try to give myself a "mission" but not very restrictive. Yesterday I went to a small park owned by the local Audubon Society chapter. My "plan" was to try and CATCH some small songbirds with my Sigma 70-300mm DG APO Macro lens. That was the closest I could come to "creating a photo". I took about 105 snaps, but ended up with about 5 worth prepping for print. I felt that it was a successful day, even though only three were of songbirds!

    Two of the images were macros that I spotted while looking around and went ahead and shot them even though that was not my plan. The first was of a water strider on a little creek and the macro shot showed the depressions on the water surface from his feet as he walked on water. The second was of a tall grass seed pod that was empty of seeds. In macro it ended up being very abstract looking as I used a very shallow depth of field on it.

    Sometimes my best outdoor photos have nothing to do with my "plan", but show up just because I stop and look around in a full circle often while shooting. So I guess my "wildlife photos" often become "nature photos".

  • Alex Suffolk Photographer December 1, 2009 09:55 pm

    Even if it's something simple like lying on the ground, all these things will help improve your photography.

    Stop shooting at eye level - we see that every second of our lives.

  • DaBlayn December 1, 2009 03:41 am

    Great article! Bringing this to top-of-mind is just what I needed -- thanks! I know that I really work a situation when I'm expected to turnaround images for a client or a specific purpose. In my personal photog though, I can easily get into a rut. I love your idea of setting yourself a client/purpose/parameters. I'm going to try that line of thinking. I've enjoyed reading the different perspectives on making images. Personally, I've changed my thinking recently of what I do as making/creating images instead of taking images. An aquaintance recently brought up that she was not sure how she felt about photojournalistic images she had been making -- she struggled with whether the images were documenting a reality or actually taking something. That made me think about the subjects I had recently photographed. I believe making a photo is creating something that would not exist otherwise no mater it the subject is taking a little direction from you or if it is more of a documention of a moment through your lens. Great article -- interesting conversation! Thanks again.

  • Peter Bryenton November 30, 2009 03:07 am

    Yes, exactly right: stop taking pictures and start making pictures instead.

  • jack clarfelt November 29, 2009 02:51 am

    I have found asking myself some of the following questions helpful and it stops me rushing to press the shutter.
    What am I doing? How do I feel about the object or situation I'm photographing? What am I trying to say? Do I need to try and simplify some elements and exaggerate others? Having a point of view puts me in chargenot the subject, how can I make it my own? It works for me
    Photography is a search to express our inner voice.

  • Michael VanDeWalker November 28, 2009 02:05 am

    It is as much knowing when NOT to press the button as knowing when to press it. If you slow down and take time to really look at what you are shooting you will find that you enjoy shooting more.

  • Can Berkol November 27, 2009 05:32 pm

    "Good photographers take great pictures, great photographers create images."

    I'm not sure.. For an ad photographer this statement can be true but for a documentary photographer or a fin art photographer it's not the case.

    Photography hosts many commercial & non-commercial distinct disciplines. Quite a few of disciplines require the photographer to be observative, and patient. In some disciplines time & luck are distinguished factors for incredible shots.

    So basically; altough partially true I can debate on this statement...

  • valleyblog November 27, 2009 03:49 pm

    I've been using only 256mb memory cards, because they limit my picture-taking to about 80 shots (on my 6 megapixel Nikon D40)... just to force me to think a little more about each picture before hitting the shutter.

    It's also great not having to sift through hundreds of photos every night.

    It's kind of like back in the old 36-exposure film days.

  • Jonathan Tommy November 27, 2009 12:27 pm

    Thanks for the motivating post - made me rethink the way I approach visual art... :)

    Best wishes,

  • Jera Cravo Rio Branco November 27, 2009 12:15 pm

    A lot of great photographers don't have perfectly exposed photos, or spot on white balance, neither use the rule of thirds...

  • B P Maiti November 27, 2009 11:19 am

    I feel that this article has covered a part of such a brain storming subject for the intending/practising photographer.The art of seeing is more important than clicking.So vast is the canvas that the writer should in a nutshell suggest the art and science of seeing / visualisation.

  • Rob November 27, 2009 06:25 am

    We had a judge at our camera club who put it like this. "What did the photographer bring to this image other than pushing the shutter button?" That made me realize there was more to photography and I went and made the following image, which did very well in one of our B&W competitions. Please take a look at the link below. I am very proud.
    I also like to think of a caption and then go and make the image to suit. Cheers..Rob

  • Joe November 27, 2009 05:18 am

    Thanks for the motivation. I will get on my bike tomorrow and look for those special images!

  • Rohit November 27, 2009 05:16 am

    I wanted a dark look so i created this image of myself.I want you to comment what else i could have done to give my pic a better look.[eimg url='' title='newpic.jpg?t=1259262870']

  • Jenn @CanvasPop November 27, 2009 05:11 am

    Great post Matthew. It was a very enjoyable read with great tips. I really like that you mentioned "Why do I want to take this photograph?" This is great to remember when you are taking photos because it will cause you to stop and think and create the shot. Instead of just taking pictures it gets you thinking of creating images, images that could become images on canvas.

  • Rama November 27, 2009 03:07 am

    Thank you so much Mathew Dutile. Such sound advice in creating images rathert than photos. I realised that is nearly what I should do, after showing a number of my photos at a photo evening and found that the ones that drew any response were the close ups showing people's emotions. Yes next time, I will ask the question why I am taking the phot and for whom to which audience, even if it means just for me.
    Thanks again.

  • oliverignacio November 26, 2009 03:16 pm

    This article is nice. Thanks.

  • Amy Dunn November 26, 2009 01:25 pm

    Great tips! I love the "draw out editorials" point the most - it's more helpful than you know.

  • Ed Schultz November 26, 2009 11:04 am

    Since I first started shooting with a digital camera I was getting frustrated that I could not not get the "I can't waste this roll of film" idea out of my head. With this article I see that I need to stay in that frame of mind and take the time to compose and treat each shot as something special. Thank you for getting me back on track.

  • Mei Teng November 26, 2009 10:39 am

    Great images! Thank you for this reminder :)

  • Matthew Dutile November 26, 2009 04:38 am

    Suzanne, I can't sketch either! :) My sketches are usually just stick figures in certain places of a frame. But it reminds me to create those shots and not just go out and be like, "hmm what should we do now?"

  • suzanne November 26, 2009 04:24 am

    Criminy. I CAN'T sketch, which is why I've taken up photography! But I get what you're saying. Tell a story with your pictures, show a perspective that may not have been considered before. Down with hum-drum!

  • Michael Cockerham November 26, 2009 03:11 am

    Personally I would an extra element to your "Ask Yourself Why" section. The guiding principle I have always used professinally, and the one I have tried to instill in my students is:

    Ask yourself, as you are looking throught the viewfinder, "why do I want to take this photograph? What is it that is compelling me to create an image?" If you cannot answer the question, then don't take the photograph.

    A good illustration of this comes from a commission I had a couple of years ago. I was asked to produce some fine art black and white images of the Kent twon of Cranbrook in Southern England. I'll skip the long part of the story and get straight to the part where I entered the third floor room of Hatters Cottage which I had been told had the best view of Cranbrook - including the windmill. A view that had not changed in over two hundred years. On entering the room I looked to my right out of the window across the rooftops, and it took my breath away. For half an hour, in the fading evening light, I struggled to make an image that captured my emotional reaction, and I kept failing. So I stopped and thougth about my own advice. And then it dawned on me: a large part of my reaction was based on the view from the room. If I was to create something memorable, the image had to include not only the view, but the room from which it was seen. Technically a bitch to capture, but the result was what I had felt. It is image number 007 on the intro section of my website.

  • Greg Taylor November 26, 2009 03:11 am

    I recently heard Joel Meyerowitz lecture in Arizona and every time he made reference to a photo he shot - he used the term 'Make a Picture'. That's stuck with me over the last couple of weeks. I mostly do concert photography and now I try to work with the band not to take live music photos but to make pictures of them. Totally different paradigm.

    Thanks for the great post and all the comments!

    Cheers~ GRT2

  • Jason Collin Photography November 26, 2009 03:09 am

    I like the idea of when you go out shooting just for fun, imagining you have a client you are out shooting for. I mean, after all when you play basketball you always imagine you are in game 7 of the Finals with the winning shot in hand right? So I think it's a great idea to imagine you are on assignment from National Geographic or Rolling Stone and you need to get that money shot for the cover.


    When photographing this step dancing troupe, I wanted to make a photograph that captured their intensity.

  • Matthew Dutile November 26, 2009 03:01 am

    Hi David.

    I usually have sketched out (very rough sketch) a dozen or so images in my head. Not the exact particulars of them because I don't always have the location I'm shooting at scoped out. However, I do put down the progression of the editorial I am creating.

    For instance, if I want to tell the story of an afternoon in a pumpkin patch I have planned out I want an image of my model spinning in the fields, holding a pumpkin over their face, laughing on a hay ride, etc. Also keeping in mind, am I shooting this for the pumpkin patch owners, for a clothing company? What's the focus, who is the audience? Also, allow for some spontaneity in the moment.

    And Chris, I might argue that by purposefully position a model and shooting take after take to bring forth the emotion you want IS creating an image. It didn't just happen on its own. ;)

  • Chris Horner November 26, 2009 02:24 am

    Excellent article and so true. There's some really good advice in here. I've seen this happen in myself in a personal photo project that I enjoy shooting. My first few times to this place it was more random point and shoot. But as my experience grew, I came back with less and less shots but more and more quality ones that could tell a story on their own. Preplanning is definitely important and makes all the difference.

    Happy shooting!

  • OsmosisStudios November 26, 2009 02:07 am

    If I may...
    You can't "make an image". An image isn't something you can physically represent: it's an idea.
    You *CAN*, however, make photographs. Even then, though, anything remotely outside your control isn't made. If I'm in a studio taking a picture of myself, then that's making an image. If I'm out doing photojournalism, that's documentation. It's not making anything because you don't control any of the icons in the image: you simply control the method and perspective with which the event is documented.


  • Christoph November 26, 2009 01:43 am

    Even if one is not into stock photography, reading and thinking about it helps to create images.



  • David November 26, 2009 01:33 am

    Thanks. That's something that I've been thinking about a bit recently, because I think I'm good at taking nice photos, but I haven't yet really starting making photos, and I find it hard. I know what looks nice when I take it, but the creative side of my brain hasn't yet got around to actually creating those nice shots (posing the people etc.).

    When you go on a shoot, how much of an idea do you have of what you're going to shoot beforehand? (You say you sketch a few images beforehand...)

    Any more tips on how to come up with artistic vision?

  • Ilan (@ilanbr) November 26, 2009 12:09 am

    Ooops... Very sorry for all that bold text. It should have ended after the first question mark :(.


  • Ilan (@ilanbr) November 26, 2009 12:08 am

    Amen to that!

    On my last post I was wondering about something very similar - How can people "take photos" so they can hold a quality DAILY photoblog?

    You can read the post here -

    I think we can blame (strong word, I know) the digital age. Clicking the shutter is no longer something that "costs" you. People don't mind clicking tens of thousands of photos a days, choose few "ok" photos and post daily.

    Each photo should get a proper respect. Don't just "click" and kill those poor pixels. Think before you shoot. Create. Imagine.