Learning to take a photograph is easy, learning to make a photograph takes a lifetime of work


There is a world difference between making a photograph and taking a photograph.  Most people aim their camera and take a photo.  There might be thought to composition but not much.  For the fine art photographer, when you finally see an image it is often the result of hours upon hours of dedicated time to that single image.  Take this photo of the windmill.  I have a dozen or so images of it.  One day I noticed the trees and the field covered in birds.  And I wanted this shot.  Even though its about an hour’s travel I went back time and time.  I knew I wanted the birds in the sunset.  I planned, looked at the weather and kept looking.  Not just for the right sunset but the best angle and height for my camera.  The best placement.  This single photograph probably had 50 hours of work into it BEFORE hitting my shutter.

A year or so ago I posted this on FACEBOOK:

“One lady I dated said "your photography sucks the oxygen out of the room."  Maybe so.  In the last 72 hours I might have slept 6.  I have nearly 3000 photos I need to crunch in edits.  Yet when I saw the moon against the morning sky, I took off excited to capture a sliver of time.  Obsession? Passion?  Who knows?  I have seen so many ugly things in life, experienced so much pain, the camera has reminded me life has as just as many beautiful things and meaningful moments.  It's all about focus...”

A very kind friend responded to me with this:

Friend: “Don't let what you want keep you from appreciating what you have....we would all be wise to live in the moment with someone we care about.    Photos are inanimate objects.    Time has a way of slipping away from us....think about what you want to be left with...photos? or a companion?”

I thought a lot about her response.  I was lonely and single.  But the more I pondered it the more I began understanding something about what art was doing for me.  She said, “Photos are inanimate objects"  I think this is the cutting line between artists and non-artists.  You see, be it the sculpture, or painting or music composition, the final product is the smallest part of the thing.  Most people take photos, Photographers make photos.  Huge difference.  And I am not talking about just professional photographers but those obsessed with the art of it.

It starts with seeing.  Not just looking but using a trained eye that looks for light and composition, line, color, form and so on.  Then it's finding the right angle and place to see the thing in the best possible fashion, to see the thing or event in the most pleasing of ascetic quality.  Ansel Adams said, ““A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

Then comes the craft of knowing the camera's settings and previsualization, to know what settings will create what effect.  And also the choice of shooting for the edit or to nail the shot which can be far different. Often I have to look ahead at the process of editing.  Then after sometimes hours, days and seasons of study, I take my shot.  Then comes the edit.  Most of the photos that I publish have a minimum of 2 hours or editing.  A few of my photos actually have days of editing time to craft an image that is more in my mind than in the RAW file from my camera. 

You see, for an artist, it's not something we can turn off, and be it the paintbrush or camera or score sheet, we create way more in our minds without the tools of our art than we ever produce.  The longer I practice my art, the more artist I associate with, I am becoming convinced some artists are hard-wired differently.  The photos that most people take are simple inanimate objects, the photos or paintings or music or sculptures created, made... those things are the result of every second lived poured into a creative process and the final result is something that reflects an nth of what that thing is.  My photos are not simple inanimate objects, they are sacraments of the experience of creation.  And in that, the physical “art" object simply represents a way of being, thinking and becoming.  Many artists have become celibate.  It is so hard often to explain to those who don't create, one photograph, one painting, one score of music represents a way of existing and engaging life.  Learning to take a photograph is easy, learning to make a photograph takes a lifetime of work, learning to see is nearly impossible but that in the end is what the camera is, a simple crutch to teach those willing to learn, how to see, how to exist in the moment.