Not to get all Mr. Miyagi on you, but I’m not going to kick off this improve-your-photography series by teaching you a magical karate chop. Some car washing has to come first — it’s important to lay the philosophical groundwork of making great photos before you run out there and actually create them. And the reason is because the photographer’s attitude, vision, and approach are infinitely more important than cameras and settings and filters.
So, making vs. taking. The critical distinction between the two is the difference between active engagement and passive reaction. In the former, you are a creator, an actor, a director; in the latter, you are a sheep. In making a photo, the wheels are turning, you’re considering the options, you’re processing what’s in front of you, you’re studying the light, you’re actually deciding things. When simply taking a photograph, you’re the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon — you pull up, see something obvious (and probably cliched), and push a button.
You get the concept, I’m sure. But what does it mean, in practice, to make photos? Well, it’s not to stage things (though that can be an element of it). It is, most of all, to be active and aware. Here are some specifics:
Tell yourself that you’re a photographer and making pictures is what you do.
Yeah, it sounded as ridiculous to write as it probably does to read. But the first step in being a photographer is being one — is knowing that photography is part of who you are. I know that sounds all meta and stuff, but identifying as a photographer leads to confidence, which lets you give yourself the time and space for the creation of photos.
This is critically important. There are a million small pressures telling you not to shoot, or to hurry up and get the shot. They are both internal and external — your bros are impatiently waiting at the next switchback, your boyfriend is drumming his fingers on the dash, or you’re simply telling yourself to hurry. Embracing your identity as a photographer subtly but importantly gives making photos a higher priority.
The art of photography comes first and foremost from an understanding of light and how it interacts with objects. Watch what light does as you move in relationship to its source. Then look at the objects, whether they’re people around a campfire or bison standing in a Yellowstone field. Become an active observer.