Recently I read a great book called The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography by Galen Rowell1 , a renowned outdoor photographer from the US. This book is one of the best photography books I have read, even though it hardly even touches on technical aspects – there are no explanations of apertures and shutter speeds, except in discussing how to capture a particular image.
Instead, this is a book that delves deeply into the “inner process” of photography, and the important philosophical approaches that differentiate the snapshooter from the serious photographer. Irrespective of whether you shoot underwater or topside, outdoors or inside, close-up or wide-angle, your thought processes help you to identify potential subjects, backgrounds, compositional opportunities, lighting approaches and technical requirements to express your vision through a photograph.
One of the things that struck me on reading this book, and set my mind thinking, was that the essence of the language used by Rowell to express his philosophy. Rowell never uses the phrase “taking a photo” – instead he contemplates “making a photo”.
From our earliest introductions to photography, we are exposed to the phrase “take a photo”, and indeed the common vernacular enshrines this expression as the standard amongst all of us. But if we stop for a minute to consider the expression, we note very quickly that it suggests a passive approach to photography – one of recording the moment.
It is no secret that the vast majority of photographers are snapshooters – people who are simply recording the moment. These “momentary records” have an important place – they show family, friends and scenes that are important to the individuals. They have a context and value to the snapshooter and those close to them. In many cases, however, these momentary records are otherwise unremarkable.
Likewise, many underwater photographers are snapshooters, and again, their photos have a meaning to them that is also implied and contextual. They take good photos that trigger a memory for them.
In an effort to move beyond the simple snapshot, we invest time, money and effort into the process of photography. We get better equipment, we study composition and lighting, and we try to take control of the photographic situation. We are no longer passive “takers of photos” – we are looking for more than the momentary record.
We are now actively “making” our photos, not taking them.
To be active in the process of photography, whatever the setting, we need good technical skills, and good equipment. We also need a thorough understanding of our environment, the behaviour of our subjects, and how we can interact responsibly with them. We then need the mental approach to put all that together to make great photos.
Do you take or make photos?
Originally published on BlueBeyond.com.au on 14 July 2002.