Make a Picture

In November, after seeing Traci Reed post about her Creative Live classes, I started poking around the Creative Live website. I hadn’t seen it before and I was instantly excited about all the possibilities. With the weather getting colder and the days shorter, I figured it was the perfect time to take a class. Not only would I get to learn something new, but I would finally have something to end the boredom of running on a treadmill. Each morning I would turn on the laptop, start watching, and start running. It was great.

The class I took was called Family Photography: Modern Storytelling. It was excellent for many reasons. One of the things that stuck out from the very beginning was that the teacher, Kirsten Lewis, used a phrase I hadn’t heard before. She kept saying, “make a picture” where we would normally say “take a picture.” She didn’t talk about the phrase, but her regular use of it made it clear that she thought it was important. (And from what I can tell, the phrase is probably taken from a quote by Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph. You make it.”)

Her meaning was clear. Photography isn’t only about taking something that is already there and capturing it with the click of a button. While it isn’t less than that, there is so much more than can intentionally be done to capture moments.

I have thought a lot about that phrase and there are a few things I believe that set “taking a picture” and “making a picture” apart. Perhaps they are the same things that set apart a good photographer from the everyday person with a camera.

INTENTION: While I am all for spontaneous moments and working with what you have, there is definitely room for being intentional with your photography. Even if you stumble upon a moment you want to capture (rather than planning the moment), you can still make quick decisions that will affect the outcome of your photo. Angle, camera settings, lens choice, framing and cropping, editing. All of these things change the final product.

In these photos, my daughter was standing in the kitchen, doing what she does best: begging to lick the beaters. The way my kitchen is set up, all of sunlight comes in from one half of the room. When she first started in on her beater, she was facing into the kitchen and there was no light on her face. I simply put my back to the windows and called her name. She turned around, the light hit her beautifully, and I clicked.

STORYTELLING: When you are photographing something, you have many decisions to make in the moment. Like mentioned above, all of those decisions will change the outcome. One thing that is clear in “making a picture” is that you have a chance to tell a story. So, you have to ask yourself, “What is the story I am trying to tell?” When you think in those terms, it affects what you shoot and how you shoot it.

Take this photo, for example. I was photographing a family of eight a few weeks ago. It was warm for a December day and they were thrilled to get some fall-ish pictures when it was clearly not fall anymore. While the mom was talking to one of the younger kids, the oldest daughter was standing on a log. I looked down and noticed her fun toenail polish. In that moment, I knew I wanted to record it. It’s such a “slice of life” photo for a young teenage girl.


People have different ideas about editing and what it should be and what it should not be. For me, editing is a powerful tool. It’s not just a tool to fix mistakes (though it can be used in that way), but it is more to help me recreate the feeling in my heart. What I am photographing, I feel something. It is usually deep within me. I “see” something, not just with my eyes but also with my heart. When I edit, I strive to recreate that feeling. It might not always recreate the exact physical reality, but it recreates the emotional reality.

I love this picture of my oldest daughter. We had a chance to shoot with just her, and I love that we captured this moment in time. My almost-twelve-year-old is looking so beautiful and mature. I was intentional with this photo, choosing the time, location, angle, and more. But editing allowed me to recreate exactly what I saw with my heart. Here is the original photo, complete with an ugly orange cone. Editing allowed me to make a picture rather than just take one.

So what do you think? Do you see difference between taking a photo and making a photo?