A long time ago, back when I was just starting to realize how much I love playing around with a camera, my old friend Braden looked at some of my recent images and asked me "do you want to take pictures, or make pictures?"
I've never stopped thinking about that distinction. He was saying that anyone can take a picture: just point a lens and hit the button. Voila, instant picture. And that instant picture has probably been taken in exactly that same view by many others in the past, and will likely be again in the future. But making a picture is something else entirely. Taking a picture tends to involve just standing there and capturing whatever is right in front of you. Making a picture involves more than that. It means moving around, for one thing. Moving to the right or left, or up or down, to see which better combination of angles and rays of light, shadows, lines, juxtapositions, can be aligned to craft something more interesting.
Years after Braden opened my eyes with that comment, I devoured photography books by long-time pro Bryan Peterson. He suggests first deciding what kind of story you want to tell with your camera and then choosing your lens, your aperture, and your shutter speed accordingly. And so photography - making a picture - gets even more complicated than just moving around to get the "best" view.
I still catch myself taking pictures. It's the easy, lazy method. Sometimes I get the gift of an awesome sky, when I'm standing somewhere with interesting architecture, and up goes my arm and down goes the shutter release. And occasionally those images aren't too bad. But I don't feel like I can take much credit for them. Those photos aren't me saying much of anything, other than "wow, a gorgeous sky." They're flat, pretty perhaps, but flat. I was reminded anew of how much more a photographer can say if she puts her mind to it when I saw a Sally Mann exhibit recently. Her photos are the opposite of flat.
It's super easy when I'm on the lookout for color for my DC or London by Color projects, to just take a picture when, in my glee, I spot a bright dab of color screaming out to me. I'm trying to do better than that though, trying to avoid the flat, trying to scrutinize how on earth I'm going to make that bit of color look more interesting, more unique, and more my expression, not everyone else's.
I don't suppose this is something I'll ever completely accomplish. This is going to be a lifelong effort, trying to avoid the easy taking of pictures, and instead trying to get it right and make a picture - a unique image. That challenge is what makes roaming around for hours with my camera, even on cold, dreary days, one of my absolute most favorite ways to spend time.
(Here's one such taken, not made, image, snapped with my camera phone in a fast minute, stopped at a traffic light while walking home. If I'd had my camera with me, I'd have stood there for a good ten minutes at least, possibly as long as a half an hour, crossing the street, back and forth, trying to find the best angle. My husband, for the purposes of our dinner that evening, was probably glad I didn't!)