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Thursday, 30 May 2013


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Interesting thought that's almost theological in it's view of the process.

I would have to say that while I attempt to make photographs every time, there's an awful lot of picture taking that gets in the way...

Well I take pictures too, but art photographers "make images", don't they?

The idea of a `finished JPEG' is a bit elusive these days; many people use Lightroom and publish straight from RAW+XMP->online. The fact that there might be JPEG involved either at the point of upload or in the process of displaying in a browser using the JPEG format, are somewhat lessened by the fact that the person never created a specific file.jpeg themselves.

To answer the questions: I push the buttons and twiddle the sliders and run some scripts.

Aren't these just parts of speech?

I create images
You make photographs
They take pictures
Y'all grab snapshots

Could not care less....in Dutch we don't even make that distinction....we have a verb


What I think you say (but being Dutch of course I have to grasp a somewhat alien concept) is making the distiction between photographing and printing/showing/publishing. In your context/concept Van Gogh never was a painter. But hey, he was Dutch, and in Holland we have a verb for making paintings....ah, in English even U.S. English to:

"schilderen (to paint)"

That's it. Only Vivian Maier looks a bit sad now, on her lofty cloud.

Greets, Ed.

You know, I'm not entirely persuaded that these distinctions are useful, Mike. I may well be missing the point or my brain all non-functional after a tiring day.

However, your post, and the difference between taking a picture and making a photograph, did strike a chord in me. It made me think of how I've been taking pictures and then posting them to Flickr. If I posted a photo to Flickr it had made the cut. Ar at least I thought it was potentially good enough to make the cut and tossing it out there, getting comments and looking at it "in the wild" would lead me to a decision about whether it made the cut.

So, yeah, I guess this does make some sense to me.

Oh it's the farmers vs. the hunter gatherers vs. the epistemologists thing.

I'm not crazy about "taking" pictures or photographs. Taking implies that the picture is there all along and like a miner or hunter you are appropriating* it. Marcel Duchamp, Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince exemplify this.

Pablo Picasso called attention to this by pasting other imagery into his paintings (well really Georges Braque did it and Picasso appropriated the idea of appropriating, just like he appropriated everything else he did)**

Infinite regress skirted here...

Take for example this street photography exchange.

Prosaic photographer:
"Can I take your picture?"
Pedantic pedestrian:
"No! It's mine! Give it back!"

Taking implies a zero sum game, making implies that you are contributing something new.

And don't even get me started on "shooting"

*I don't have any problems with this , all art is appropriating something is it is going to work.

** there is about a MFA thesis worth of stuff that should intercede*** on behalf of the argument for what originality means in this context and I'm not going to write it.

***pun intended

Very briefly, this is what the words mean to me.

Taking Pictures, i.e., Shooting, Exposing Light-sensitive Media to Create a Latent (undeveloped) Image, Capturing (ugh - worse than "photog" or "analog camera")

Making Photographs, i.e., Developing, Processing, Editing, Printing, Creating a Physical Photographic Artifact

Making Pictures, i.e., Doing Photography (also implies a mental process that might not involve photographic equipment)

Here's a distinction that I've been consciously making for several years now: When I bring a camera along with me to record a family outing, a holiday, or other social activity, I'm taking pictures, and I'm in Dad mode, or tourist mode. When I throw my gear into the car and take off by myself, for parts unknown, in search of something that I hope might transcend mere representation of what's in front of me, I'm making pictures.

I've taken pictures my whole life - there has always been a camera availabe, but there were a couple of decades where I didn't make a single picture.

In Madison last Saturday, Ctein shows me a photograph he made.

Really, it looks more like a print to me. No doubt in this case he made it by first capturing light with a camera, or took a picture, as you keenly illustrated with the first image in your post.

Somehow, it seems, the word "photograph" has come to mean something so generic and slippery to get hold of it has lost specific meaning. Not to say it is meaningless, of course. Only that getting people to immediately understand what exactly it is that is meant by the use of the word becomes somewhat challenging in itself. Your post today being a great example.

Cutting myself short I'll just say that from my perspective, I like to take pictures. It is a lot of fun, after all. Sometimes I'll post images I've made from them on the web. Rarely I'll go the extra mile and have a print made.


By your definitions, I always do both the taking and the making of photographs (though the latter often doesn't take the form of prints). However, I find that I, and others with whom I discuss such matters, have a different interpretation of your terminology. When we respond to a scene that develops right in front of us, and we had no hand in its development, we are "taking" a photograph. On the other hand, when we carefully plan the position of the camera relative to the subjects (to include choice of focal length and camera position), and carefully plan (indoors)or monitor (outdoors) the lighting to get just the effect we want (I avoided "pre-visulaized", just for you!), then we are "making" a photograph. Seems a reasonable interpretation, and I know I'm not alone in using the terms this way. Not arguing with yout definitions, just sayin'...

So ... if you take pictures but don't display them in any form, are you still a photographer? Or a pictographer? Or ... ? If a tree falls, etcetera.

Aside from that question, I think these distinctions are spot on. I'd pondered this question before (i.e., taking versus making) and it had not occurred to me to think of it the way you described it.

As someone who used to shoot transparencies for publication, there was always in my mind a distinct designation for what I was doing, especially since the transparency was my finished product (there being no making afterwards). It was "camera work." I never could find a verb I liked for camera work. Don't like "shoot" at all, though I use it. I prefer the specificity of "camera work" compared to "taking pictures." An art thief could be taking pictures.

I've been taking pictures for 45 years, and I can only find about 150 images that print well at all... but I'm still learning.

I shoot what I find rather than creating images, so I tend to have visual sets (slide-shows) rather than stand-alone images. The images relate to and reinforce each other, but you can still take time to examine each selected instant rather than seeing a video. But we have to display these sets in such limited resolution!

A good print is a wonderful thing; it allows one to be fully immersed in one specific instant. But you need a compelling, complex image that stands alone.

So I like your definition of "making" as primarily being the act of sharing the image with others. Once we have a 36 megapixel video display, these differences too will fade...

I'm someone who loves making prints. In the film days most of my prints were no larger than 8x10 and only in B&W.

Now in the digital age, using my own printer, 13x19 prints are possible and in flaming color.

Yes there is a difference between taking and making.

You print it, or it's nothing.

This is coming from someone who is critically lacking in the production of finished prints, primarily due to constraints of time and (particularly) money. We obsess over this or that camera body and this or that lens, but nobody's particularly concerned that a simple Nielsen frame with archival quality materials will run you about $100 a pop, or that it costs half a grand to put ink in a printer.

I try to produce a few - meaning maybe three - sets of finished images per year. Out of the thousands of frames shot, if I can produce a dozen quality prints that will be around for a century or so, I'm happy. I think this is sad, really, but it's a costly endeavor and curating ones own work can be extremely challenging and time consuming if you're obsessed with turning out something that has a real purpose.

The other 99.99% of "good" images land on flickr or facebook or the like. They're "nice". And then they disappear into the void of the internet, for nobody to give a damn about again.

You print it, or it's nothing.

I like the distinction and think it is important. I take lots of pictures, load them into my computer and cull the horrible ones. Then I go back and cull the not so good ones. Then I go back on keep the ones I like or that have some meaning to me. Then I may post or print a few. But, what about those I like, but not enough to share. Do they have any value? Will they just disappear when I die (or my computer does)?

One more quick comment:

The story of Vivian Maier is a great illustration of the distinction between taking pictures and producing photographs. Unless someone discovered her body of work and put it out there for all to see, it simply would have been a bunch of film in a box. Maier was dead, so it no longer had any value to her, and it had no value to any of us who had no idea it existed. And if her work was simply posted on the internet it's not likely it would have received the acclaim that it did once it was printed and hung on a wall.

Print it, or it's nothing. Well, maybe it's a box of film. Which is better than a dusty old hard drive, if you ask me.

Leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time, take nothing but photographs...

My native language is Danish, so much of this doesn't apply to our language (we're actually closer to Dutch :-). But it just occurred to me, that whenever I use a camera, I say that I'm "taking pictures", but when I tell my wife that I'll be spending the evening in front of the computer (scanning negatives or working on RAW files), I say to her that I'll spend the evening "making pictures". I do speak Danish to my wife, obviously, but the distinction is still there :-)

Incidentally, we mostly use the word "fotografi" (a photograph) when we want to distinguish the medium from, say, a painting or collage. Our word for picture is "billede", and that is not limited to photographs.

There once was a bishop called Berkeley,
Who remarked, metaphysically, darkly:
"Quite half what we see
Cannot possibly be,
And the rest's altogether unlarkly".

In the UK, Berkeley does actually rhyme with darkly. Can't remember who wrote this, so I regret I can't give due credit. Bishop George Berkeley was the 17th/18th century philosopher who wondered if a tree fell in a forest, with no-one around to notice, did it truly fall?

I have always liked the term "Taking Pictures". For me it describes what I do more than anything else. I have always hated when photographers describe the process as "Making Photographs", it sounds pretentious and unless you're Jerry Uelsmann I don't think you can get away with it.

At least its not as bad as "Creating Photographs". If you say that you're just a douche.

I take huge numbers of pictures, and publish photographs on my blog at https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/What/Arts/Photos/ - and occasionally even sell one or two.

The distinction seems so self-evident as to hardly be worth writing about, but as with many of these things, that’s only obvious once it’s been written about, so thanks.

"And if her work was simply posted on the internet it's not likely it would have received the acclaim that it did once it was printed and hung on a wall."

But the reason it was on the wall in the first place was because it was already acclaimed, mostly on the Internet.

There is this widely held and peculiar idea that work becomes well known because it gets shown, but in fact work gets shown because it is well enough known to get shown.

"As long as it's just a RAW file you've assigned five stars to, it isn't quite a photograph, yet."

What if you've shown it to someone on the back of your camera?

[I think it's more the ideas that might be helpful here, rather than the actual semantics. One of the nice things about being a photographer today is the same as the nicest thing about being an amateur: you decide. We each determine and define our own practice. The semantics are only useful if they help any of us clarify that for ourselves. --Mike]

Probably I could say I take many photos...I make only a few photographs...you gave me something to think about...but I like printing...postprocessing and printing...editing....it 's a long work...

I was very deliberate in my use of both terms when I commented on the earlier post as follows..."I'll settle for "making photos" (or pics). Not pretentious, and implies more of a workflow than the initial act of "taking" a photo."

The distinction I make is different than yours: the 'taking' part is the same; the 'making' part, however, is a broader term for me that encompasses every part of the workflow, including the taking, and then the printing, matting, framing and display (for the worthy ones). I did it with film, and now I do the same with digital, just using different tools.

I prefer to think that I 'make' a photo in my head before I actually press the shutter (Ansel's 'visualization' term to me is too pretentious, but meaningful). So yes, it starts with the 'taking' but the terminology that best embraces the entire process, for me, is 'making a photo.' It's the whole deal, not the back end.

But, just semantics.

I take pictures. They start out as what's in the camera and end up printed on ink jet cotton rag paper and stored in boxes or hung on the wall. But it's still taking pictures to me.

I think it's an important discussion, and the points you make are not trivial, and more clarity would be helpful.
Personally, I see a great divide in the way 'pictures' are treated between those whose experience includes significant time "before the digital flood" (Mike, surely you can coin a word for this), and those whose experience with photography came after.
We no longer hear people concerned if their pictures 'came out' because even for the most casual of picture takers, technology has solved that problem. As the act of taking record pictures has become ever easier, and the ability to share them ever faster, it has become harder for most folks to view them as special, rare, or important.

This seems to have led folks who take pictures/make photographs with even mildly artistic intent to use the more 'loaded' terms that you described in order to pre-condition the audience that they are about to see work from a 'fine art photographer' or some such name.
We see jargonized comments like 'nice capture' or 'nicely seen' to indicate an 'informed viewer'
This is understandable because there are many people who care deeply about photography and who are driven to do it by a creative spirit, or desire to document, or simply to put a frame around something and say' consider this'
For me, a picture is still most complete as a physical print.
A print put out into the world is a complete thing. It is not subject to someone's screen size, or calibration, it simply 'is' for better or worse.
personally, I'm even mildly reluctant to show someone the back of the camera because those pictures are not yet my pictures, they have not had the benefit of my (to misuse a term) 'rendering intent'.
This is not because I consider my pictures 'important' or 'fine Art'
which I do not, but I DO consider them mine and as such feel a duty to have them 'say what I mean' to the best of my ability.
No excuses necessary or allowed.
So for my personal work (or as my kids call it 'Dad's pictures of nothing') I shoot, edit, let it age a bit, revisit and perhaps tweak, and for those few that somehow speak to me I make 2 prints to the best of my ability and put them neatly in boxes.
Commercial work is more often than not delivered as digital files.
For those, the art and care of 'presentation' is gone

It gave me great comfort to see Ctein 'presenting' finished prints in a box. The Craft of Photography is still an important (and the title of David Vestal's wonderful book) but increasingly an overlooked aspect of the medium. TOP print sales show that there is still appreciation for that craft. I know that I have been instructed by Ctein's Dye of Tri-color Ferns that I keep next to my printer to keep me humble.
So this discussion is helpful to both kinds of photography --the casual and the more formal, and it would be more helpful still if it came up with a term to describe what many of us are drawn to do but unable to adequately describe. (Especially if it could be done without sounding pretentious)
Now how about a term for those of us who came of age 'before the digital flood'

"'before the digital flood' (Mike, surely you can coin a word for this)"



You're welcome.


I'll go with the third option - I just take pictures. Although I think about other things, like why I'm doing it and how I do it, how I describe it doesn't seem as important (to me).

I agree with Ed.

In English we, like the Dutch, have a perfectly good verb, "to photograph." I strongly prefer it to the more commonly used "take, shoot, capture, or make a photograph" to describe what I do with a camera in my hands.

What I do after I photograph has other, more appropriate and specific verbs such as "view, edit, process, print, post, present, show or publish" to describe my subsequent actions.

Two opposing takes..

1. It's all in the word photograph

Photograph is a Greek derived term which means light drawing.

Whether you take, make or dance with a photograph does not matter because it is not a photograph until it's seen. So clicking the shutter is not taking a photograph, it's capturing light. Developing it (or viewing it) is where it gets drawn.

So strictly speaking when you press the shutter, there is no photograph so you haven't taken one....yet.

2. The potential is all that's required

Did Beethoven make music when he wrote the score for the 9th Symphony, or did it have to be played? Does my word document exist unless the computer has unscrambled the tags and formatted it for me to read?

I would say yes in both cases - the information that can be interpreted (in more than one way) is still an artefact, even if it cannot be viewed or heard.

In neither case is there a distinction between the taking and the making. The distinction is in the definition of the artefact itself.


Went to the Bend Country to take some pictures this week. Made the photograph when I returned. The original image is source material which may or may not contain a finished photograph. This one did contain a photograph.


You have hit the nail squarely on its head. I like the distinction you make between taking a picture and making a photograph. Makes perfect sense to me. Just today, I went to lunch and took 16 pictures and then came home and made 3 photographs from those.

I suppose I'm out of step here - when I see a photograph I look at a picture. Photographs aren't made with brushes and paint, or charcoal and paper, but pictures are.

I'll carry on using cameras to make photographs as a way of making pictures.


I see you share more of my insights....a book to me is the new form of exhibition. Started making books this month actually. On Blurb in my case (though I'm not completely happy with the Blurb quality I should say).

But thus I photograph as an antidigitaluvian and in fact still somewhat analog photographer should do (great word Mike, lets call Websters).

Greets, Ed.

That reminds me of the line from "Annie" ...
"May I take your coat ?"
"Will I get it back ?"

I also agree that "taking pictures" sounds very trivial when the act involves lots of prep work to setup whatever is to be photographed (on location lighting, makeup, possibly involving an art director, etc.) I mentioned in reply to Mike's post on Jay Maisel that he embodies everything I'd like to be in a photographer - I do it to capture/record/respond to what I see when I look around, and in a cyclical way, to learn to look around differently (channeling Dorothea Lange here). So taking a picture fits my style of photography even if it short changes those who actively and intentionally create their images.
I guess any of a variety of terms works, sometimes better, sometimes worse. But I still cringe when I read "Nice capture !"

David duChemin has an interesting post that touches on this, but is more about how, why & whether we talk about photographs than the terminology:

When I was a photography student at art college (pre-digital; early '90s) I tried to open a similar discussion among my fellow students regarding what exactly is "the photograph." The rhetorical question I started with was the case of photographing for a magazine. You make a print, and the print is reproduced in the magazine. Assuming the intention was for the photograph to appear in the magazine (as opposed to the magazine simply reproducing a print that was made for it's own sake), then is the magazine page "the photograph" or is it simply a reproduction of the print, which itself was "the photograph?"

I was prepared to argue that if the photographs were shot for the magazine, that the magazine page constitutes the final "photograph," and the print is just an intermediary.

Unfortunately I couldn't get anyone to pick up the conversation, because no one there was thinking along those lines so they had no interest in such discussions. Not even the teachers. So much for semiotics and rhetoric.

That said, this discussion, along with some other things going on lately, have convinced me that it is time to settle in and get serious about making prints from my digital files. Given how fussy I was about darkroom work, I expect this to be a long an arduous process. And expensive.

I've swung back and forth on this. In fact, very recently I realized that, for me, it's always about the print, and always has been, even during the years when I looked at printing as a chore that I'd gladly hand off to someone else, only caring about the part where I was working a camera. Even then, it turns out, the reason it was fun was because one was using all those cool machines, skills and techniques to make pictures.

Makes perfect sense to me now: printed photographs--beautiful images on paper--are what drew me to photography in the first place. It was, and it turns out still is, the point.

I still think printing's a chore--a rewarding craft, yes, but seldom fun. That is, until that moment when there's a wonderful picture in my hand, printed in just the right way to bring out the things that are wonderful about that picture. Then, it's fun; and more than fun.

On the semantics, what's wrong with "print", "making a print" and "printing"? I note that photoshop has only expanded the potential implications of the verb "make" as applied to photographs, further distancing it from "take". And for those who take umbrage at "take's" greedy side, please take a moment to take note of the word's more gentle and generous aspects.

The problem with photography vocabulary is that photography is so broad a practice--photography is everything from Hubble images to birthday snaps to fashion spreads to gallery art to journalism to cell microscopy. It's like cooking. What does "preparing a dish" mean, vs "cooking" dinner or "whipping up a bite"?

I've avoided the phrases you mention by using photograph as a verb:

"Today, I photographed down by the lake."
"I'm going to photograph at the party tonight."
"May I photograph you with that unique hat you are wearing?"

Later, I may use the images recorded in the camera to post on a web site, to send by email, or to make a print.


If you take pictures and don't make pictures, it means you don't have a hard copies that you can hold in your hands. Very cheap and clever so you say, cos you can store it in your HD here and there, or in cyberspace.

Do you seriously think the next generation will have the time or the inclination to examine your intangible collection of pictures?

I think this is far more than a semantic niggle, or a mechanical distinction between unfinished or finished work.

I think "taking" vs. "making" gets at the heart of the photographer's *relationship* to what they are approaching either with the force necessary to sieze something that's not theirs, or with a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect. I prefer to say I am "making pictures" (or photographs) because I aspire to a collaborative and deeply respectful relationship with the content of my photographs.

I do think words matter, but I think the meaning here is less about the mechanical outcome of "take" vs. "make" and much more about the state of mind in which the picture is made. While plenty of very well-intentioned people say "take pictures", I do wonder about the cumulative effect of take, take, take, take, take being associated with picture making within our culture. Does it have something to do with the general hostility towards photographers, for example? After all, they're often self-described "takers"...

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