I sometimes wonder if people really understand what's happening when they click the shutter release on their camera. What I mean is, do they really comprehend the gravity of what's happening? All too often people refer to it as 'taking pictures', but lately I've thought about it and it's so much more! It's the act of making a photograph that truly escapes some people, and I think if they stopped to think about it, they'd better understand the awe-inspiring moment of creation that is actually happening when that shutter release is pressed.
To take a picture is relatively easy. Taking a picture involves whipping out your camera or smartphone at a convenient moment, holding it up and snapping the picture, regardless of whether it really moved you or not. I do this all the time myself with my iPhone, and the picture simply disappears into digital storage without a second thought. Sometimes I share it, sometimes I don't.
"But Rob, taking a picture and making a photograph are the same thing!"
I don't quite see it that way. In my mind, taking a picture requires a little less heart and planning than setting out to make a photograph. I think the main difference is that more effort is required to make a photograph, and I think the actual art (and I do believe it is an art) of making a photograph is so much more than simply snapping a quick pic. Actually consciously deciding to make a photograph takes a keen eye, skill, a lot of patience and maybe even a little luck. There have been times where I haven't even attempted to make a photograph when I've gone on walks because I just didn't feel moved enough to devote an exposure. I should also mention that making a photograph isn't dependent on hardware because anyone can make amazing photographs with almost every device out there. It doesn't matter if it's digital 1's and 0's on a memory card or a direct imprint of light onto film - only the photograph matters.
Believe me when I say that I'm not trying to sound pretentious. I truly believe that anyone who is seriously into photography is an artist and a photograph is something that only you could have created because it was only you in that space, at that time and in that moment. I think that perhaps shooting with 35mm film lately has somehow transformed the way I think about photography in general. I no longer think I'm "taking" anything and I'm not snapping away. Instead, the mechanics of capturing onto film has made me more in tune with the fact that we are making a record of a moment in time that would never have otherwise been seen again. It's fascinating.
Still confused about why taking a picture is different from making a photograph?
OK. Think about the last moment that you truly set out to make a photograph - the last time you literally captured a moment in time. Chances are you didn't just hold up your camera on Auto mode and take a quick shot without looking. It probably went something more like this:
You've already adjusted your shutter speed, aperture and focal length to match your style of shooting. You know your equipment; you've been here before. It's natural. Your synapses are firing to create the perfect technical combination for an impressive photograph. You move with purpose, but you are a silent observer in an otherwise busy world. You see everything and are approachable and friendly but you can also remain inconspicuous. You're not searching for a photograph, you're enjoying life and the world around you thereby inviting the photograph to come to you.
You see a flicker of light and an amazing silhouette that captivates you and somehow moves you. You see it with your eyes but you feel it in your heart. You crouch down slightly to gain perspective. Time doesn't stand still, but that's ok, because in an instant you've decided that you will break the laws of physics and make time stand still. You depress the shutter release, and that moment in time is instantly magnified through your lens and burns itself onto one of only 36 frames available to you with all of the color, light and life that you felt passionate enough to capture. 36 moments in a day where millions of moments happen before you, and you've decided to dedicate that frame to that specific moment - no easy decision.
Standing once again, you smile. People walk past you, the light changes quickly, life goes on. The moment might be gone, but as you look down at your camera, your amazing machine that can make time stand still, you progress the film to the next frame and lock that moment in for eternity. That moment may have passed, but you will see it again soon, and only you could have made that a possibility.
To me, that is what it feels like to truly make a photograph.