Sarah Howard Photography
To Make Or Take A Photograph - Why Slowing Down Can Reap Rewards
Posted on 23rd March, 2021
Published in Outdoor Photography Magazine - February 2020
Ansel Adams famously said “We don’t take, we make a photograph’. An interesting statement as surely that’s what we do; we ‘take photographs’, however the idea of simply ‘taking’ to me has always sounded rather selfish. Perhaps that could be said to be true if we were to simply turn up, put the camera on its automatic setting and snap awaywithout due thought or care, but that is not what artists do, and photography after all, is an art. In the same way that a painter uses brushes to create an image that, for them, encapsulates the scene before them, a photographer uses the camera as his or her tool, along with their personal vision, in order to do exactly the same thing.
It is my belief that the landscape is freely giving itself to us, enabling us to enjoy and appreciate being in its presence. As photographers, we are both observers and creators as we wait and watch for the moment when the light is right, working patiently to execute an image that pleases us. It is not a fast process and hastily grabbed photographs are unlikely to leave us feeling fulfilled. Perhaps this is the difference between the ‘take’ and ‘make’ approaches? The former suggesting a more hurried procedure, a record shot even, without any real engagement with our surroundings, whereas to ‘create’ or ‘make’ implies a slower more appreciative process, whereby we take time to consider, to watch and become absorbed.
Someone once told me they couldn’t take a photograph if the landscape didn’t ‘talk to them’. At the time I wondered what they meant but looking back I realise now that this reaction, which was no doubt due to the poor weather conditions at the time, is something we all experience, as we are left unenthused by a scene. Yes, we could ‘take’ a photograph, but to what end? The result is likely to be displeasing, the experience unenjoyable, leaving us only with a feeling of dissatisfaction. In such situations, when we are not inspired, the feeling to create and engage with the landscape is somewhat hampered.
Sometimes we need to reach out to our subject as potential images are not always presented to us on a plate. I have made successful photographs in less than ideal conditions in the past, or when I have been taken out of my comfort zone, and been surprised at the results. But, for many of us, the landscape does need to almost shout out; to stop us in our tracks and make us want to capture it. At times, under certain conditions, the landscape can literally grab us, pull us in and demand to be photographed. This often occurs under atmospheric conditions, or when the accompanying light is at its most dramatic or complimentary. On other occasions, it might make more of a simple suggestion, a hint that, perhaps, it could be worthwhile picking up the camera. Either way, it is my belief that we need to leave it, feeling that we have done it justice.
By reaching out to the landscape we see before us, and giving it our time and attention, we can endeavour to create an image that not only encapsulates that landscape but also reflects its impact on us in terms of what it makes us feel. In this way we are also giving something back.