The Difference Between the Taking and the Making of a Photograph

June 18, 2012 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 29 Comments | |
The Difference Between the Taking and the Making of a Photograph Image

The location was scouted yesterday and we're now in position overlooking England's most southerly point. Despite the fact that autumn is merging into winter the colours in the vegetation clinging to the cliffs are rich and verdant. In the bottom of my frame are green and red jobbies; we have no idea what they're called. As I set up I'm eyeballing the view. I'm pleased with the strong lines, depth and simplicity of the composition, but I need all three of the prime elements; light, sky and waves to come together. That Decisive Moment may well be fleeting. I've done the leg work to be here and compose the shot, now I need to knuckle down and concentrate on the nitty gritty; the timing and camera craft that will ensure this is as aesthetically and technically perfect an image as possible.

The lens I'm using here is a 24mm tilt and shift with a touch of droop dialled in to achieve maximum depth of field. I'm mentally applying the Schliempflug Principle as I calculate the intersection point of the sensor, lens and subject planes. Squinting through the eyepiece confirms what I've calculated; just a notch of tilt is required but it makes all the difference. With the lens focused on infinity that touch of tilt brings the foreground into sharp focus; Bob's your Uncle; lock the lens, time to consider my filtration.

The Difference  Between the Taking and the Making of a PhotographThe market at Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 50, 1 sec @ f16. 0.6 ND grad (soft) & 0.9 ND proglass filters. I'm just imagining attempting this kind of shot in our local farmer's market in Sherborne. I had the tripod set up with the front element of my wide angle lens just centimetres from this lady and she didn't bat an eyelid, she just carried on sorting out her carrots. The markets of Vietnam are a riot of colour and activity; a real stir fried feast for this photographer. Everywhere I turn there are enigmatic faces, conical hats, squatting merchants, motor cycles and colourful produce. To portray the hustle and bustle I used a slow 1 second exposure, hence the tripod and 0.9 ND filter. To quote the famous war photographer Robert Capa who died in Vietnam “if your pictures aren't good enough you're not close enough”. I know what he meant.

Firstly the sky; experience tells me a 0.6 neutral density grad will hold back the exposure on the heavens enough, and this is confirmed as I slide the filter into position with Live View activated. It took me a while to see the point of Live View, but now I use it frequently for positioning filters, checking focus points and taking a second look at a composition. Now I need to consider what shutter speed to use. I want a touch of movement to be recorded in the wave motion, but not too much. I could reach for the Big Stopper and slow the exposure down to minutes, but that would turn the water into a sea of milk and the clouds into dreamy wisps; it's a look that has its moments, but not today. I want the form and texture of the waves and clouds to be strong elements in the picture, suggesting the raw energy of nature surging around the very point from which in 1588 the Spanish Armada was first spotted. All of this I've pondered beforehand; the hard work of photography is usually done before the camera is out of the bag.  A few test exposures confirm a shutter speed around 0.8 sec is right and with the crisp light of a winter afternoon an ISO of 50, aperture around f16 and a Lee Proglass 0.9 neutral density filter is the combination I need to achieve my desired shutter speed.

Next I need to asses my exposure. Normally I work in aperture priority exposure mode with evaluative metering, but in this case the tilting lens confuses the metering system so I've gone fully manual. A few test exposures soon help me zero in on the ideal exposure. Checking the histogram reveals that in this high contrast situation I've little room for error. Normally I'll dial in as much over exposure as possible to move the histogram to the right, maximising my shadow detail and signal to noise ratio, but any attempt to do that this afternoon will result in blown highlights in the brightest part of the white frothing waves.

The Difference  Between the Taking and the Making of a PhotographHorses nr Heggstadir, Snaefellsness Peninsula, west of Iceland. Canon 5D mkII, 16-35mm lens @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/1000 sec @ f2.8. 0.6 ND grad (hard). Whilst working on a story about Iceland's Snaefellsness Peninsula I was struck by the prevalence of the rugged native horses. Along with the glaciers, lava flows and lonely churches they were a defining feature of this beguiling region; a horse portrait had to be attempted. It looks like this pony posed for me, but in fact this was a fleeting moment snatched in the chaos between the jostling, inquisitive animals. I used a wide angle lens to give a sense of place and shot wide open at maximum aperture to separate the subject from the background. A 0.9 ND grad (hard) enabled me to hold on to the mood and detail in the sky whilst exposing to record the maximum shadow detail in the dark horse's face. An ND grad is essentially a contrast control device; here working quickly and hand held it was the only way to hang on to highlight detail in the sky.

I'm ready. All of these considerations and adjustments took just a few minutes at most, now as I wait for the next gap in the clouds to the south west I double check them all again. Light bursts through, painting the Lizard. I expose as waves crash on the rugged rocks, then the clouds close in again. I scroll through the few first frames; it's working. I could move on now, job done, but careful analysis of the best so far reveals how the picture could be better. Occasionally a larger than usual wave breaks below me, giving interest to the normally placid water in the foreground. I've a feeling some interesting clouds are going to drift into play, and the quality of the light should steadily improve as the sun drops. I stick with it, engrossed for another hour as I wait for the perfect combination of wind, light and water. When it comes I know it; the strong diagonals of the plants, wave, rocks and clouds combine for a second and I press the button. Maybe Wendy was right; it really is as simple as that.

The Difference  Between the Taking and the Making of a PhotographA rainbow over the fortified Cité of Carcassonne, Languedoc, France. Canon 5D mkII, 100-400mm lens @ 200mm, ISO 100 1/60 sec @ f8, polarising filter. Some locations take a feat of endurance to work; not this one. I have to admit this vigil by the tripod was accompanied by a tailgate feast with wine whilst waiting for the light. It's definitely the way to work, particularly when gorgeous evening light is bathing Carcassonne as if to order. The rain clouds of the day were just clearing and lo and behold there was a rainbow over the Cité. Sometimes life is too good to be true. A polarising filter really accentuated the colours of the rainbow.


Born in England in 1957, David spent much of his youth travelling with his family between the UK, California and Canada. After leaving school David joined the Navy in search of further travels and adventures – and it was while sailing the seven seas that his interest in photography grew. After several years at sea he decided to pursue his passion for photography and returned to study in Gloucester, England.  After leaving college in 1985 he began work as a freelance photographer specialising in landscape and other travel subjects, which over the last 25 years, have taken him to almost every corner of the globe.

David is now established and recognised as one of the UK's leading landscape and travel photographers. His images sell all over the world – both as fine art photography and commercially in advertising and publishing. He has won international awards for: British Gas/ BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in 1985,1989 & 1990 and also writes regularly about landscape and travel photography for a number of national and international magazines. David has worked for numerous clients including British Airways, Sainsbury's, Geo, Toyota, Qantas, Sunday Times and the Telegraph.  During the last twenty years he has also worked extensively for the National Trust covering much of the UK's landscape and coastline, which has featured in many high profile publications and several highly acclaimed photographic exhibitions. Most notably:

'New Vision' Contemporary Art Photography – AOP Gallery
'The Coast Exposed' – Maritime Museum Greenwich and the Lowry
'Climate Change – in Britain's Back Yard!' – London, Nottingham, Wales, Belfast, Bristol

“l'm still passionate about photography. All aspects fascinate me; from capturing the first light of day on a frosty landscape or making the most of a bustling market in Vietnam to portraying the dignity of a wrinkled face in China.”

David spends much of the year travelling with his wife Wendy. When not travelling they live in England, near Sherborne in Dorset.

All images in this article © David Noton

Entry Tags

photo, David Noton, photograph, photographs, noton, compose, make, david, take, taking, composing, making

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29 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Paolo Miscia

Very beautiful article: makes you want to go out and “press the button”!!!

12:30 pm - Monday, June 18, 2012

#2 Howard Marantz

Great article. Please post more in this vein

3:03 pm - Monday, June 18, 2012

#3 John

Brilliant article: as it shows photographs are definitely made and not taken and require hard work and dedication bu can anyone think of as better way to spend one’s life?

7:27 pm - Monday, June 18, 2012

#4 Chas

Nice to see some old fashioned values expressed in today’s terms.
I think it was Ansel Adams that coined the term of making photographs instead of just taking them. I have a book of his in which he describes the ‘making’ of seven photographs with all the printing details, times for burning in and holding back. A different skill certainly but still relevant.

8:45 pm - Monday, June 18, 2012

#5 FThomas

What a wonderful article and beautiful images.  It is so refreshing to read an article in this digital age that gives much greater insight to how an image is invisioned and then put together by the artist / photographer.  Truly a challenge to all of us to utilize our talent and skills in a well thought out manner rather than simply firing away hoping to capture one image out of 100’s.

9:08 pm - Monday, June 18, 2012

#6 Sanjay


I have forward the link to this lovely article to various friends and also posted it on face book.

Well done David!

8:43 am - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#8 wedding photographer

Brilliant article! What a wonderful article and beautiful images! Well done David!

9:55 pm - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#9 Ken

First, I must say good article. The photos are nothign short of amazing. HDR is fantastic.

However, beyond all that, once the novelty wears off, the HDR looks unnatural.

Yes Aunty mary and Uncle Sam photos may have aerials, but at least they do look natural. They may not be techical perfects, but equally they didnt spend the pension fund onthe equipment, the precious life time on waiting and tweaking. Instead they use their tiem perhaps to cook, to visit different places, and socializing.

Dont take it perosnally, you need to find the balance.

Just look at the instagram patronage than a typical Ameturer / pro photo blog then you know where the next big thing is.

1:33 pm - Thursday, June 21, 2012

#10 Sanjay

Ken I appreciate your zest for doing things besides photography in life.

However perhaps you realize that cooking and socializing is fun for some while waiting for the morning light fun for others? Ya?

AND how can you assume that the photographers do not indulge in such things and have a balance?

HDR of course should be done subtly. Just to increase the latitude and not always make statements.

5:59 am - Friday, June 22, 2012

#11 Vijay Pandya

Enjoyed article. Photography hobby keeps one alive and active throughout life. one leaves behind good photos for the next generation to remember him/her.

7:17 am - Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#12 keng

Very good article with lots of great information. Thank you!

4:29 pm - Monday, July 2, 2012

#13 Omar

Hi David,

Liked the fact you used the ND filters the old fashioned way instead of using photoshop. However, the field of sainfoin does look slightly unnatural.

8:59 am - Friday, July 13, 2012

#14 Harry

“Photography is all about momentary blinding flashes of opportunity, inspiration and creativity”

None of which is in evidence in any of these photographs. Trite, stock and boring maybe.

2:33 pm - Sunday, July 29, 2012

#15 Reminisce Studio

I have never been involved in landscape photography, but your images have taken my breath away.

Keep up the good work. :)

8:00 pm - Sunday, August 12, 2012

#16 Declan O'neill

Very interesting. I’d have to part company in the whole nd filter issue. Call me old fashioned but I think a photo of a river should look like a river not like some weird blur! Also why push the saturation so much?  Does it really need that much artificial colour?

11:10 am - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#17 Ben @

Thank you David! I think because taking photos seems quite easy - you press the button and the world appears on the back of the camera - too many people think it’s simple. There are loads of tourist photos of Barcelona! Actually, it’s an amazingly expressive medium for communication if you use it properly and understand how to use the visual symbolism of aesthetics. When I teach Barcelona photography courses, my students quickly realise that it’s not the camera that matters, or even the objects in front of them. A photograph is of the light on an object, not the object itself. More than that, the objects of the world are just the paints and brushes that allow the art photographer to create proper photographs.

9:42 pm - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#18 Lightworks wedding photographer Cambridge

You talk such common sense! Thank you, a great article with loads of great down to earth advice and some fantastic images!

4:54 pm - Friday, September 7, 2012

#19 San Diego Plumber

Wow. How do you do that? You really got a talent on photography. What type of camera would you recommend for a newbie like me?

4:37 am - Thursday, September 27, 2012

#20 Jed

Nice! I’ve learn!

Can you have comment on my Blog about photography

5:41 am - Saturday, October 13, 2012

#21 JohnJohnny

You have great talent,its just fantastic Now this blog is my favorite.

11:06 am - Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Unbelievable, You have great talent, its just fantastic

12:46 pm - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

#23 Diana

lackadaisical? I had to google the word! Lol

I love the East Dart River pic. So I was thinking, it would be perfect if you would add a bride and groom sitting on the rock, it would look enchanting.
Capturing moving water is difficult to shoot. So kudos to you! Great job!

Oh and you are spot on! Photography is way more than just pressing a button.

11:31 am - Wednesday, January 9, 2013

#24 James Harvie

Some might think creating stunning images is all about Equipment, which is true to a degree but there is far more to creating stunning Award winning pics. An image needs to grab ones attention in a matter of seconds. Stunning images are all about composition, mood and emotion. If you get these factor right your well on your way to creating stunning award worthy pics. You can see some of our award winning pics right here:

1:17 pm - Saturday, April 6, 2013

#25 Martha

I think photography means knowledge and creativity. You can take excellent photo if you have knowledge about the technique and if you are creative. Professional photographer never tell their all secrets to you. If you want to take breathtaking photographs and amaze people with your skills, you need to learn and practice a lot. I learned almost everything to skip the amateur photographer stage with this website. You should take a look at the great information.;/photography-tricks-and-techniques-learn-advanced-photography.html

10:57 pm - Tuesday, April 30, 2013

#26 David Hunter

Very interesting article. Thanks.

I really love your pictures. Very inspiring.

7:55 pm - Sunday, August 11, 2013

#27 Justin Cooksey

A really good read, that explains that great images are made not simply captured.  Time effort and experience goes in to every great photograph

10:32 am - Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#28 Erin R. Brewer

Oh my!!! You are just too true to be good. How do you manage to write and research on such wonderful things? You have inspired me to work harder now. I shall try as much as possible to enjoy life to the fullest and be satiated with the wonderful things that are around me, which I have been unaware of until now. Your all article and images are very nice.

5:57 am - Thursday, June 5, 2014

#29 Alva Bryant

Will you please remove me from your mailing list?

2:32 pm - Monday, September 15, 2014