Why a Photo is Made, And Not Just Taken

focus photo of camera lens

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams

This quote is from Ansel Adams, one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed photographers. It’s one of my favorite quotes about photography, because it highlights the fact that a photo is made as much as it is taken. Many people focus too much on the specific technical processes or tools used in photography. But the true art of photography relies more upon the unique vision and artistic skill of the photographers themselves. Better tools are great, but they are only there to improve upon the vision of the photographer as an artist.

Many photographers today are in love with their iPhones, which makes sense, as they have among the best cameras installed in mobile phones today. In 2022, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 Pro were definitely on par for the best mobile phone cameras, if not even superior to some Apple models from a pure technical standpoint. These phones next models promise to be even better rivals for Apple. In any case, the real advantage of the iPhone is the excellent software that claims to make a professional photographer out of anyone. The more recent Pro Max models with their machine learning assistance are now giving the Android competitors quite a run, however.

Still, there is far too much focus on tech when it comes to photography. The real art of making photographs is more about the composition and elements such as lighting, focus, and zoom. While iPhones help people take great photos and video, for sure, nifty software and light-weight tech themselves aren’t what make the photographic artist.

What is a Good Photograph?

A good photograph is not something that just happens by chance. Good photos aren’t the product of software, even with all the machine learning available to help average Joes and Janes better shots. Taking a photo is a conscious choice of composition and understanding, followed by meticulous care and consideration in the darkroom or on the computer screen.Every choice made in photographing an image must be considered carefully when aiming to create an image worth sharing with the world. 

Great photographers separate themselves from the merely good ones by possessing passion coupled with mastery of their tools. You must have both the knowhow and the passion working together to elevate photography from a hobby into a professional art form. While digital photography has its perks, many master photographers still dabble in film photography because analog media creates a much different image than their digital counterparts. 

In professional photography, it’s just as important to pay attention to detail in selecting film type and exposure as it is to frame a scene with precision and skill. Careful editing either in the darkroom or on digital platforms allow the artist to alter contrast, color balance, sharpness, light falloff, and more. These adjustments are made in order to capture nuances present within the original scene but could be missed at first by what we perceive with our naked eye. 

Creating Great Photographs Both in Your Head and On Film

The ideal for a photographer is to not just capture reality on film, but to create a new focus on people, places, or things that deserve direct attention. Of course, no photograph can represent the entire reality of anything, but rather only the pieces of them that we decide to capture in visual form.

In this era of mass media, we have literal documentary tools at our fingertips. Being able to capture these moments with such precision is part of today’s reality. But, what we choose to share from our own personal experiences necessarily must still be filtered by our own creative vision. Our smartphone cameras are just another tool for us to preserve memories or share experiences. 

We still are the directors of our own life stories. Whatever we do, we must remember it is not our tech, powered by ever-evolving machine learning, that makes our photos and videos. We must still appreciate and rely on our own unique vision in how we choose to frame the moments and scenes we capture.

Remember this Ansel Adams quote every single time you snap a photo on your Android device, iPhone, tablet, or even your consumer-grade digital cameras and 35mm film point and shoots. If you see each shot that you take as an artistic feature, you’ll find yourself taking much more meaningful photographs. With today’s technologies, you can not only take photos, but make images that will remain timeless artifacts of preserved memories.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.

One thought on “Why a Photo is Made, And Not Just Taken

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