I’ve been remembering lately a conversation between two photographers I admire about taking photographs vs. making photographs. The idea is that taking a photograph is about imersing yourself in the scene and then seeing capturing with your lens the decisive moment in the action that results in a great picture and that making a photograph is about seeing the photograph in your mind and then styling the scene to bring it to life as a picture. It’s not to say that one style is better than the other, just that while many (most) photographers work in both styles, I think many of us have a natural leaning towards one or the other.
For me? I’d say I’m more of a photo maker. I’ve always been more interested in setting up a shot than in jumping into the action and grabbing the fleeting moment. Like with this self portrait, taken in Death Valley, California in 2012. I’d had visions and plans of the tutu in the desert, long before I hiked up that sand hill.
Lately in my work I’ve come to think of (and market) myself as a stylist-slash-photographer. I find the styling aspect – setting the scene and telling a story with props – to be really energizing. There’s so much thought that can go into choosing the props for style and colour and then placing them within the frame. Styling, at least for me, can involve a lot of trial and error. I tend to start by loading everything into the scene and then editing down to essential elements that give the photo some flow. For me, making pictures this way is very creatively rewarding.
I remember styling this photo last summer. Everything is precisely placed, from the upturned lid to the honey drizzle on the figs.
You have no idea how many times I arranged and re-arranged these elderberry branches before I took this photo!
I don’t do much traditional portraiture but I’m lucky enough to have some friends who will get dressed up and play in the woods or by an old barn.
All that said, I go back to the point that while I may lean towards making, there is also joy in the taking – in capturing the fleeting moment that tells the story. For me, travelling offers me opportunities for this kind of photography. This image is one of my favourite “taken” photos. I stopped because I liked the “New York” in the sign, I waited for the man to walk into place and as I saw the yellow cab come into frame I gleefully hit the shutter button.
So how about you? Are you more “taker” or “maker”?