Taking Pictures vs. Creating Art

October 8th, 2010 by Bret Edge

I vaguely remember the old days, back before I had an SLR and lenses and filters and a tripod.  When I’d see a pretty scene, I'd whip out my point & shoot and take a picture before continuing on my way.  I wasn’t creating art. Nope, I was just memorializing on film (yes, film) a scene or a moment that intrigued me.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Things are different today.  I lug around a big D-SLR with several lenses, a few filters, a tripod and a bunch of other stuff that I use not to record simple memories, but to create something approaching “art”.

Over the years I’ve heard photographers say they are “taking pictures, making images, capturing a moment, shooting photos” and a billion other phrases that essentially mean the same thing.  Or do they?

I can’t help but think that “taking pictures” or “shooting photos” is entirely different from what I and most other serious photographers do when we head out with our cameras.  I like to think that I am creating art.  

By it’s very nature, art is subjective.  What I think is a gorgeous piece of artwork you may think is a bunch of squiggly lines on canvas.  So, the images I create, that I consider art, you may consider just another pretty photo. Or, maybe it’s just another ugly photo.  Only you can decide that.  The point is this – I’m not just documenting a scene before me.  I’m trying to create something that is elevated from being a mere snapshot to something that others may consider to art.

What’s the difference?  Here’s what I think.  Taking a picture doesn’t involve much, if any creativity, very little effort and no creative vision.  You see a big mountain reflecting in an alpine lake, you walk up to the lakeshore, point your camera and click the shutter. Done.

Creating art works in a whole different way.  Let’s assume the same situation: big mountain and pretty reflection in alpine lake.  Maybe you’re there mid-day and the sky is clear blue.  As you approach the lake, you’re analyzing the scene before you.  Are there wildflowers lining the lake?  Is there an interesting rock just off the shore? Maybe the water is so clear you can see rounded cobbles receding into the depths of the lake.  Would any of it make an interesting foreground?  You study the landscape to determine if the rising or setting sun would best illuminate the mountain peak, and whether or not there’s a ridge or a peak that will block that beautiful light.  You walk up and down the lakeshore looking for the most dynamic position from which to photograph the scene.  Will you need to use filters to control dynamic range or tame glare on the lake?  Maybe the scene would look better in autumn, or summer.  Perhaps you’ll have to keep coming back, over and over, to get just the right conditions with dramatic clouds over the peaks as golden light bathes the slopes and the perfectly calm lake catches a crystal clear reflection?  These and many more are all considerations flying through our minds as we visualize the art we want to create at this magnificent location.

And that brings me to a conclusion and a question.  Is the difference between “taking pictures” and “creating art” the act of visualizing an end result, then using your creativity and skills to make an image that fulfills your vision?

Until next time,


You can learn more about Bret, view his wonderful images, and read his blog here:  Bret Edge Photography

You can find out more about Bret's workshops here:  Moab Photo Workshops



The Outdoor Photo Gear Blog is an outdoor photographer's resource for photo and camera tips about photography in nature, wildlife and other outdoor settings. Throughout the blog you'll find great articles on composition, lighting, general photography and imaging techniques used by professional photographers.

The Outdoor Photo Gear Store sells great photography equipment and accessories for the wildlife, landscape, and nature photographers. If you haven't visited The Outdoor Photo Gear Store to see all great camera and flash accessories for the avid outdoor photographer, you should check out all the great gear we offer.

Leave a Comment