Making vs Taking Photographs

How many times have you been asked if you edited or retouched your nice photograph? And how many of those who asked probably thought you were cheating because you did so? Well this post is for them and probably for you as well. Allow me to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing.

There is a big difference between taking a photograph and MAKING a photograph. The former ends when you click the shutter. The latter involves so much more.

Taking a photograph is like playing backyard basketball with your friends. Making a photograph is like being the captain ball during a championship match crafting your best plan of action during the dying seconds.

Taking a photograph is like going to a McDonalds drive through. Making a photograph is like being in the finals of Masterchef.

See the difference?

Allow me to explain further and take the McDonalds drive through as an example. Sure, you have choices of what food to get but you do not have control over who made the burger or what ingredients they put in there. Personally, I don’t like mustard in my burger but I like the Big Mac. Getting into the finals of Masterchef means using all your skills in crafting the best meal possible for the judges. Yes, you can use all the advanced cookware but they are just tools. It’s the final output, your masterpiece, that the judges will get to taste. Would they ask what oven or frying pan was used or whether you used your armpit to mold the dough? The method does not matter at all. The output is everything.

The same is true in photography. If you think that your job is done after tripping the shutter then you are basically just accepting what the Canon or Nikon engineers think is the best JPEG output. The truth is you have just cheated on yourself. The camera could not possibly capture all the light intensities and colors that the eyes see. Don’t be disheartened if that magnificent sunset sky background became a pale crap of gray color when you took a snap of your girlfriend. It wasn’t your fault. A big part of that failure is the camera’s inherent limitation. That’s why casual shooters rarely get photos that are worth keeping. They do not understand the limitations of their equipment. They think they are hopeless photographers when in fact, it’s the camera that isn’t capable of capturing what they saw. Even modern cameras with advanced metering systems and automatic everything could not match the human eye and brain combo.

Even during the film days, photographers carefully chose their film. Velvia for landscape, Portra for weddings. Because films have different characteristics. The landscape photographer Ansell Adams spent countless hours in the darkroom tweaking his black and white negatives to achieve the prints that made him famous.

Tweaking makes a good photograph great. Tweaking can’t make a poorly captured image great. Maybe better but not something you could hang on a wall. There are photographers who can take nice photos straight from the camera but to settle for nice is being shortsighted.

Not all tweaked photographs are nice. There are those who overcook their photos and make them look like clown vomit. They make a nice shot look terrible.

If a photo looks great then it is great. Do you really care how it was made? And if you do, can you accept the fact that it wasn’t what you expected? If you can’t, then don’t ask. Just enjoy the masterpiece. If you are genuinely interested then open up your mind and start learning how to make a photograph.


5 thoughts on “Making vs Taking Photographs”

  1. No matter how you justify your so-called “taking” and “making”, the bottomline is simple. The moment that you use Photoshop to enhance your image that is Graphic Design and no longer a Photography. Unless you want to redefine this…

    “Photography is the art, science and practice of “creating durable images by recording” light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically “by means of an image sensor” or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film.” Source: Wikipedia.

    Again, I will emphasize…”creating durable images by recording” – NOT editing.
    “by means of an image sensor” – NOT Photoshop.

    1. What do you call the process of creating a print from negative film then? What do you call the process of converting a RAW file into a viewable JPEG image? Are you saying then that anything done outside of the camera is not photography?

      That definition you quoted is a VERY NARROW definition of photography. Basing your argument on such a definition is, as I have mentioned in my post, being shortsighted. You have so much to learn.

    2. “Graphic design is a creative process—most often involving a client and a designer and usually completed in conjunction with producers of form (i.e., printers, signmakers, etc.)—undertaken in order to convey a specific message (or messages) to a targeted audience” – Source Wikipedia

      This subject has been debated to death already. Few people realize Ansel Adams spent most of his time in the darkroom processing his prints by dodging and burning from negatives. This means that his final output is NOT a 100% faithful rendition of what his camera captured. Does this mean he is not a photographer?

    3. Even modern cameras with advanced metering systems and automatic everything could not match the human eye and brain combo.

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