Do You 'Take' or 'Make' Photographs?

Do You 'Take' or 'Make' Photographs?

An interesting debate around word choice among photographers is the question of whether one "takes" or "makes" photographs. There are compelling arguments behind both choices. But which is correct?

Let's argue the point here as to what the distinction may be and when you might like to use either verb.

To Take Photographs

Taking photographs is the more commonly used verb. This is what you would readily use in conversation for the most part, whether a photographer in a professional sense or not.

In fact, it might be more accurate to say that any non-photographer is most likely to describe the action as taking photographs. This in itself presents a distinction for photographers: if you are a professional, you may want to use language which sets you apart from anyone with a smartphone.

Taking also sounds quite forceful. It harkens back to a time when people believed that a camera might literally take your soul. This word use may sound harsh to some, while to others, it feels natural. Some people might react badly to having their picture "taken," as if it is a valuable possession being stolen from them. Though we may not consciously consider it this way, the context of the word may be something that puts people's hackles up.

To Make Photographs

Confused looking man by Rhiannon D'Averc

Confused looking man by Rhiannon D'Averc

The use of to "make" photographs might be considered a little more artsy. It describes an act of conscious creation, as in to make a piece of art. This gives more of a serious connotation, indicating the skill and dedication that goes into capturing a truly great photograph.

It may also be a more accurate word choice for a professional. An amateur will take a photograph and leave it there; a professional will edit the image, elevate it, and shape it into something which produces an end result at least slightly different. In this sense, the photograph has been "made" after being "taken."

It implies a deeper level of work and presents the photograph as something more aspirational. On the downside, some photographers may feel that it sounds a bit too forced or pretentious. 

It's a little bit unexpected, too. Consider the implications for asking to take someone's portrait on the street. If you ask them, "may I make your portrait," they might be surprised by the question and agree to it where they wouldn't normally. It sounds more courteous and polite and also has that dramatic air of art about it.

Mindful Use

The distinction in actual use appears to be that more artistic-minded photographers might describe their work as making photographs, particularly if they are of a level to have exhibited or published books of their images.

It's also interesting to note that the verb "to make" is often used in other languages, and is not interchangeable for photography as it is in English. Some other languages do stick to "take," and in some contexts, even more complex verbs may be used. Ansel Adams is said to have coined the use of "make" in English, but it's not clear if this can be fully established. Still, if one of the most respected photographers of all time is known to have used it; that might be an indicator for you of how seriously you take it.

In the light of all this, you might choose to say that you make a photograph in order to establish yourself as a creator and artist, bringing yourself above the level of amateur. Mindful use in this sense could even create a shift within your internal perception, turning a skill into a craft and a photograph into art.

So, what's your verdict? Do you take or make? Voice your opinion in the comments.

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23 Comments

I take pictures and make prints:)

John Dawson's picture

Take or make? Yes.

I’d say the goal for many is to make art by taking photographs.

David Pavlich's picture

Yep! I have a hard time drawing a good stick figure. :-) That's why I use a camera.

Chris Sampson's picture

Both
There are times where I’m making a photo and times where I’m taking a photo

Camlen Broken's picture

I do neither as I capture moments in time based on what I see at that time or on our travels. A beam of light hitting a rocking chair, A shadow on leaves through the forest. Take.. Maybe, Make?.. sounds so staged.

Michael Yearout's picture

I "take" photographs to make "images." And it's not staged at all. I have the images already formed in my mind and I know what I must do (what photographs I must "take") in order to make that image

I definitely "take" them! :-) Last year, I went to an office to photograph (intentional avoidance of the operative words) employees and introduced myself to the first person I met, telling him, "I'm here to steal your souls!" He looked at me kind of confused and said, with no trace of guile, "Umm... I don't really believe in that." It took every ounce of will I could muster, to not burst out laughing. :-)

Dan Seefeldt's picture

I facilitate photographs.

JetCity Ninja's picture

yes. sometimes it depends on the subject.

Nicholas K's picture

Not fussed. Pointless semantic debates are a very Millennial thing. Both uses are completely acceptable in the English language, so pick whatever takes your fancy.

Carl Irjala's picture

I take photographs, captured time in frames and make it to images.

Stuart Carver's picture

I just click the button on my camera, people tend to use words to try and enhance what they are doing to other people and often it comes out sounding a bit pretentious, I’d rather not get involved in all that crap.

Ian Smith's picture

"Take it til you make it." Isn't that what they say? ...wait :/

"It may also be a more accurate word choice for a professional. An amateur will take a photograph and leave it there; a professional will edit the image, elevate it, and shape it into something which produces an end result at least slightly different."

Interesting how this tripe implying all professionals are more thoughtful and essentially better than all amateurs keeps getting spread. Professional is not a skill. Professional is a choice to monetize. Whether one edits the image or not has nothing to do with that. It is a choice of whether you accept the manufacturer's choices of how to process along with your own in-camera configuration choices. If you don't accept that then you edit with intent.

I just shoot.

I would suggest saying take a picture. You a take a picture when you just want to capture memory like your kids playing or friends at a party

Personally I "capture images"... But I also "create art" and get "in line" at the grocery store, though I'm sure many of you think I should "get stuffed" and "pound sand"...

user-206807's picture

I shoot photographs
(Sometime I also take pictures)

Kind of funny how I wrote an article just like this back in 2009.
https://luminous-landscape.com/making-images-not-taking-images/
Pete

I've stopped "taking photos", and started "receiving moments" It has been my shift from landscape photography to contemplative photography. But, the sensor and film is simply receiving light, and so I've made the switch to receiving moments.

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