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Do you take pictures or make pictures?

I’ve been a pro photographer for years, decades actually, writes Les Picker for his excellent Substack, Paper Arts Collective. And my photography has evolved, as it does for us all, in one way or other. So, allow me to ask you a challenging question…

Les preparing prints for a local gallery exhibition.

Do you take pictures or make pictures?

If that sounds strange, I’ll explain. There is a profound difference between the two phrases. Taking pictures is what I did for most of my career. On assignment I’d shoot far too many frames in order to bring back the “money shots”. I’d shoot vertical and horizontal, change lenses and aspect ratios, run from here to there… you get the picture (play on words intentional).

Making a picture is an entirely different practice. It’s more akin to the merging of Zen and art. When you make a picture you arrive at the scene prepared, maybe after casing it out on a prior visit or researching it through various resources. You’ve accounted for time of day, allowed for weather changes, and have an idea – a vision – of what you wish to capture.

You set up your equipment, you look around for best locations, you take a deep breath, you compose and recompose and you take a shot. You assess. Is the lighting correct? Is the composition effective? Did I capture the mood?

If you’re making a picture, that one shot is often enough. Or you might make one or two more. Enough. Done. Move on. The real work will come during post and printing. True art is work and not simply the result of finger applied to shutter release.

I’m often in the company of fellow photographers. In the course of a day they will fill two or three storage cards. They are so busy taking pictures, keeping one’s finger depressed on the shutter release button, that they have not thoughtfully captured the image they might have, through hard work, made into an artistic statement.

I’m not criticizing here. If you are shooting a sporting event, or recording wildlife in the Serengeti, you want to shoot fast and lots. I get it. I did that for assignments.

What I urge you to consider, however, is that slowing down and making a picture has its own rewards. It will undoubtedly make you a better photographer, more comfortable with your gear and more able to capture your vision with intent, rather than by the law of averages. If printing is your end goal – and I sure hope it is – then you want that print to be the culmination of making, of creating a picture.

I offer you some questions to consider:

  • Do you find yourself taking too many pictures?
  • Do you take a deep breath at a scene and vision what the ideal image of it would be, so that when you nail it you know it and move on?
  • Have you ever gone out for an entire day and intentionally disciplined yourself to take one – and only one – picture of scenes that you want to preserve?
  • Have you taken the time to learn the ins and outs of your post-processing software?
  • Do you spend enough time with your top-rated images to perfect them in post?
  • Do you have a color-managed workflow that results in accurate prints?
  • Do you think through how you will display your fine art prints to best effect?

Think about how you might reduce just taking pictures and hone the art of making them.

– This article is written by Lester Picker. It was published in his informative photography-skewed Substack newsletter, The Paper Arts Collective, which he co-authors alongside Robert Boyer. The Paper Arts Collective publishes a wealth of terrific information about digital photo printing, including a free 163-page E-book, The Art of Fine Art Printing.

Lester and Robert are professional photographers and passionate aficionados of printed photography.


  1. Rob Skovell Rob Skovell March 21, 2023

    One of the most difficult aspects of a creative photography endeavour is to find and understand a concept to work on.
    A fine Melbourne photographer captures leaves and plants using a scanner (!) and then expertly processes his images to produce elegant, sublime images.
    I’m a retired commercial guy and I find when I pick up my camera I become too impatient, as if I’m on a job.
    It seems to difficult to explore concepts calmly without feeling that I’m wasting my time.

  2. Sharon Greenaway Sharon Greenaway March 21, 2023

    I agree with Lester’s ideas, although I do photograph more than I may need despite the idea in my head.
    I enjoy the surprise I receive when viewing my images on the big screen…much easier on the eyes and brain.
    I photograph a lot of macro shots of flora and enjoy seeing the tiny details enlarged.
    But sometimes I need a few extra to be able to merge them together or use in post production in order to make my vision.

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