To take or To make a photograph?

A tourist photographing in Kep, Cambodia

A tourist photographing in Kep, Cambodia

Every now and then I see myself having to explain why I (and many other photographers) use make instead of take when I am referring to the process of capturing a moment with my camera.

So, why?

A photograph is not a product waiting to be bought or taken, as we do when we go to the supermarket. They do not exist objectively, before that precious moment when the shutter is pressed.

To photograph is to combine sensitivity and technic, it is "[...] to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart", as the master Henri Cartier-Bresson has perfectly summarized.

We, photographers, are responsible for everything we include in the frame. We are also responsible for what we leave outside it. Photography is not about reality; it is about interpretation

Painters start with a blank canvas, to which they add colors, lines, drawings, all depending on their style and the message they want to give with their art.

Photographers, on the other hand, start with a "painted" canvas, from which we eliminate information with our composition, and to which we add a message with the light we use and the moment we capture.

Photography, as painting, it's about creativity, perception, technic, feelings, intention. It's about ourselves, about our own way of seeing life. It is about creation

Therefore, a good photograph, one that tells a story through a beautiful use of light and an appealing arrangement of elements, cannot be taken. It is made.

It is made by the photographer in that very moment when, after an impulse (street photography) or a careful planning (landscape, wildlife photography), the shutter release is pressed. 

But what about the bad pictures?

They are also made. Despite their lack of message, poor use of light and/or careless composition, they are also a creation of the photographer who made them.

I am not saying here that every photographer is an artist, all I am saying is that he/she creates something on the very moment the shutter is pressed. 

Regardless their debatable quality, they are a product of the photographer's perception and interpretation of that place, that moment. 

We can say that the photographer translated his vision into a technically bad picture, but we can't say he or she didn't create it.  

What if the camera was set to Automatic? it does not matter. It's still a creation: the camera might have chosen the technical aspects (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO), but the moment the shutter release was pressed and what was included in the frame (and left outside it) were both a decision of the photographer, based on his/her own perception of beauty, on his/her personal idea of that place, of that moment.   

Both paints and photographs are the result of a (conscious or unconscious) creative process, they are both made. If they are good or bad, it's another discussion - sometimes a very interesting one.

Photography is about creating something out of the reality we are presented to, it's about making eternal what would have otherwise been taken away by time, permanently. 

Because once that unique moment is gone - and every single moment is unparalleled -, there is nothing we can do to bring it back. That is one of the beauties of photography: to freeze the ephemeral. 

And that is also one of the reasons why life is such an exciting adventure. 

All we have is Now

Bernardo Salce