In today’s world of smartphones and digital cameras, photography has become more accessible than ever before, and we see social media full of images of places and events that people have chosen to share. It is fantastic that people can capture these images with a simple click of a button, but this act of taking a picture is quite different from the art of making a picture. It’s something I’m very aware of when making images such as the one below, which shows one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen out at Ardtoe. This is because, in such moments, I’m not only trying to capture what my eyes saw, but also what my heart felt.
For me, taking a picture refers to the act of quickly capturing a moment, scene, or subject without much thought or consideration. It can be spontaneous, casual, and primarily focused on preserving memories or documenting an event. The emphasis is on the subject itself rather than the photographer's creative interpretation. In this sense, taking a picture is often associated with casual photography, such as snapshots, selfies, or everyday moments captured on the go.
On the other hand, making a picture is a deliberate and intentional process in which the photographer uses their technical and creative skills to transform a scene or subject into a visually compelling image. The focus shifts from simply recording what is in front of the camera to crafting an image that conveys a specific message and evokes certain emotions.
When taking a picture, you typically rely on the automatic settings of a camera or smartphone, allowing the device to make decisions about technical aspects such as exposure and focus. The priority is to capture the moment quickly and efficiently. In contrast, making a picture often involves a more involved manual approach, where you take control of the camera settings to achieve a desired aesthetic. In landscape photography, this typically involves selecting the right lens and focal length; adjusting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO; and reading the weather and light conditions to determine the best place and time to press the shutter button.
Taking the image above as an example, I planned and made repeated visits to a particular spot at Ardtoe at this time of the year because I knew that I would see the Sun setting behind the Isle of Eigg from there. The specific days on which I made these visits were determined by the weather conditions, with me looking for low cloud directly overhead and gaps in the clouds on the western horizon through which light from the setting Sun would shine.
I chose a lens with a long focal length, that would bring the distinctive silhouette of An Sgùrr on Eigg closer to the skerry of Sgeir an Eidigh. I set the aperture so that both would be in focus because they were key elements of the story. I set the ISO and shutter speed to let the correct amount of light into the camera when using a long exposure time to smooth out the sea so that it would not detract from these key elements.
Finally, I waited with great anticipation for the rays of light to break through the clouds and light up An Sgùrr to create the perfect moment to press the shutter button. It was only then that I was able to make the image that I had in my mind’s eye. A simple but distinctive image that conveyed the dramatic beauty of a mid-summer sunset that featured the unmistakeable profile of An Sgùrr on the Isle of Eigg.
So, although both picture taking and picture making have their place in photography, it’s the latter that I find the most satisfying. You have to be prepared for disappointments and failures along the way, but with planning, patience, and persistence, you will be rewarded with images that go beyond mere documentation to capture and evoke the emotions you felt at the precise moment you pressed the shutter button.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.