a18 March 2013

Don't take photographaps. Make them

For many people capturing a moment is the end of creative process. They press shutter release button, then download the photos from memory card at home and they're done. Sometimes they add one or two additional steps like applying global contrast or sharpening. But nothing more.

However, this way photograph will never be very good and even if it is (regarding composition for instance) it will be similar to hundreds of hundreds of other photos. It won't stand out of the crowd. It won't be unique. And even worse it won't tell anything about you. It won't show the world the way you see it. It will show the world seen by the camera's sensor.

That's why some photographers say they don't "take" photographs - they "make" them. Making a photograph is a more complex process involving following steps:
  1. Planning a photo - often done long before arriving at a location. You plan what you would like to get, what mood to create, what emotions to convey, what composition to use, etc. For instance I have a few dozens of shots planned which often wait several months to take,
  2. Taking a photo - in this step you actually take the image in such a way as to meet criteria defined by your plan from step 1. You set up your tripod, choose exposure parameters and finally press shutter release. If the situation requires this you may use filters, additional light sources, or various props,
  3. Developing a photo - for me it's where all fun begins. At this step I have just a RAW file which is equivalent of negative in the film era. During development (or post-processing) I try to recreate the scene as I saw it. It doesn't mean it reflects the reality as others saw it.
Of course things are never that easy and for instance with landscape photography plan must be often adjusted after arriving on location - it can turn out that sunrise isn't that beautiful but there might be something else of interest. Also sometimes it takes many days, weeks, months or even years to capture a photo you have in mind. You can for instance wait for perfect light, mood or a certain thing to happen. But when you finally capture the shot, the satisfaction is huge.

Even worse developing a photo also can take a lot of time. For me in most cases it's something between 30 minutes to 2 days but I heard of photographers who can spend even 4 months in this step, perfecting their photos. So I spent relatively short time processing my photos :)

Also note that each of the steps is equally important. If you have a very bad plan, you won't take good photos in step 2. Developing (step 3) won't also help much. Similarly if you have a brilliant plan and great development skills but take very poor photo (for example completely blown-out highlights in sunset photo or a completely blurry photo caused by the wind) it will be close to impossible to save the shot. Finally if your plan was great, and you took the photo perfectly but apply completely wrong post-processing (eg. oversaturated colors) you will just ruin the photo. It means that a photographer needs to have a lot of skills to go through the process without pain. Luckily, although talent is a great addition, most of the skills can be learned.

Many people still claim that photography isn't a "real" art form (compared to painting for instance). Probably it's caused by this take & forget approach I mentioned at the beginning. But when you make a photo, you can for sure call yourself an artist as it requires a lot of skill, a lot of patience and a lot of talent. But basically a lot of passion to what you're doing. In my opinion passion is the main difference between an artist and craftsman.

Don't take me wrong. When I was beginning with photography I only took photographs... sometimes I still do. I try to be perfectionist about my work but very often I fail at one of the steps as I'm still learning.

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