The photograph everyone takes or makes
Updated: May 31, 2021
I like to think that there is a difference between taking pictures and making pictures, even for photographers.
When we travel or attend an event we can bring home a memory of that day with one click of the shutter. It’s often an image that many people have photographed, such as the lights of Times Square or the beauty of a national park.
We can also make a picture. We can look at a moment in time differently and create an image that is truly unique, even when the subject is cliche.
So when is it ok for a photographer to take a picture of a cliche subject vs make a picture of that subject? I would say whenever the hell we want. It doesn’t matter if it’s an overly photographed location. Even cliche subjects can have an important story to tell.
The following examples will take a look at both taking pictures and making pictures of locations and subjects that have been photographed by the masses.
Garden of the Gods
The above photo was taken at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’d like to tell people that I hiked for four hours up a mountain to get the shot, but in reality I photographed it from the observation deck of the visitors center across the street. It was a great view never the less, but one that many people have enjoyed and photographed in the past. Was it a layup? Yes. Can I see it on a calendar or a postcard? Yes. Did I photograph it in a truly unique way? No. But how do you not take the shot? Look at those colors and texture. It’s a memory of a location that I fell in love with and it’s better than any souvenir that I could have bought in the shop behind me.
Moon over Manhattan
I was fortunate to grow up in an interesting area. My hometown is just 8 miles from Manhattan. With that proximity to New York comes an endless supply of street photography, interesting people, and many events to document. There’s also an endless supply of cliche subjects. Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and of course the New York skyline.
My location allows me to photograph the skyline of Manhattan multiple times a year and during a variety of lighting conditions.
The photo above was one of the last photos I made prior to the Covid lockdown. I saw the moon rising over the buildings and spent quite a bit of time taking multiple shots as the sunset. The hour before sunset is an interesting time for cityscape photos. There’s always a small 3 to 4 minute window of time where the buildings go from being illuminated by the sun, to being light up by artificial light.
The night was cold, very cold. The moon provided an additional light source to work with. It was a nice combination of natural moonlight illuminating the sky and the artificial light shining through the windows that created the geometric shapes of the the skyline.
I knew I wanted to capture and highlight both of these elements in an image that was as bold as the bone chilling air.
The above photo was shot in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. It’s the same location as my skyline shot.
I shot this photo in October 2020, in the thick of one of the toughest years in America. Save some desaturation, this images is straight out of the camera. The fog added an extra element to the story by veiling the elements in the background. On a clear day you would have seen blue Skys and a hint of buildings in the background.
The image felt appropriate for the times we were in. It was Lady Liberty gazing into uncertainty, and waiting for the fog to lift in America.
The image isn't about what you’re seeing, it’s about what you’re feeling.
There are many reasons and ways to photograph a subject, but it all boils down to passion or at the very least enthusiasm for a subject. So find what stops you in your tracks and take it or make it from there.