You Don’t Take a Photograph, You Make It

Windmill and Corral, Near Franktown, Colorado

Windmill and Corral, Near Franktown, Colorado

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.

– Ansel Adams

So many people who are not involved in photography – and many who are – have the misconception that a camera is a magic tool for creating great photographs.  For laypeople, I often encounter the assumption that the quality of the final photograph is directly proportional to how much the camera cost, as if all it takes to produce compelling photographs is an expensive camera.  Among photographers, I’m often asked about camera-specific considerations such as the type of camera, the lens used, or the aperture/shutter speed combination.  The underlying premise seems to be that cameras create great photography, and if the questioner just knew the right combination of price, make, and settings, he or she would be producing great photography too.

Cameras are important, no doubt.  But they’re important as information gathering tools, not image making tools.  A camera capture is just that – a capture.  It’s the starting point for making the final image, not the end of the process.  Camera skills are important mostly to optimize the information in the capture, be it digital data or film exposure, so that it’s in its best form for use by the photographer when the time comes to make the final image.

It’s not hard to accept this concept on an intellectual level, but my observation has been that it’s difficult for most people to really internalize it, at least at first.  I know it was for me.  When I started out in photography, I was seduced by seeing the capture I had made on the little screen on the back of my digital camera.  Problem was, that little image would imprint itself in my mind, limiting my concept of what the final print could be to something that was pretty close to what was on the screen.  If you’re a photographer, don’t do this!  It’s a huge stumbling block to creativity and growth.  It’s important to learn the ability to see the potential of what an image can be with the right editing after the capture (be it on a computer or in a darkroom), and not limit the vision of the final image by what was captured by the camera.

The impetus for writing this post came from comparing the “before” and “after” for the image in this post, “Windmill and Corral.”  The final image, of course, is at the top of the post, and I’ve included the jpg of the capture from my camera below for comparison.  Whatever your opinion may be of the final product, I hope at least you’ll agree that the final image is as made by me, not as taken by my camera.


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