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Language Counts when Describing Photographs

July 12th, 2016

Language Counts when Describing Photographs

I am often put off by the way people comment on photographic images. May I say from the very start that photographs are not taken, captured or shot; photographers to not take, capture or shoot photographs. To the contrary, when using this language one is really speaking of snapshots or selfies or grab shots without consideration to how the final image will appear. Photographs are, on the other hand, created beginning with the photographer's vision. Vision is transferred from idea to composition through the viewfinder, lens selection, ISO setting, aperture setting, shutter speed and the application of compositional choices. Finally, the photographer explores post-exposure in the traditional darkroom or, as I now do, through the 'lightroom' not to be confused with the product of the same name, the computer processing options that make exploration of image aspects possible without soaking one's hands in harsh chemicals. This creative process is further influenced by every image the photographer has ever looked at or studied carefully. Images made by others influence just how one thinks about his or her own images and what they ought to look like when finished.

It seems to me that when one wishes to congratulate a photographer for an image that impresses the use of the term 'good capture' or 'great shot' is demeaning of the process that went into creating the image in the first place. While the term 'shot' and 'take' when applied to photography crept into our language nearly immediately after photography was invented, I wish to lobby for their removal from our own thought processes both as viewers of the images made by others and the images we make ourselves. I no longer 'take' or 'shoot' or 'capture' an image. I have personally erased those terms from my vocabulary. I respect the process of creation and so I have substituted 'exposed' as in I exposed this image... or 'photographed' as in I photographed this image... or 'created' as in I created this image...

What I am lobbying for is that everyone associated with the process of creating photographs do the same. Stop saying things like 'great capture' for photographs are clearly not captured in the sense that the photograph somehow holds the essence of the object being photographed. No, what a photograph does is re-present to others in a two dimensional plane what the photographer saw in a four dimensional universe open to the senses of human beings within the narrow range of a broader electronic set of frequencies that we understand as visible light. What the photographer does is quite magical as this four dimensional universe is condensed onto a two dimensional plane which still provides a sense of place. But what one is looking at in a photograph is a particular vision of a single human being, one that may not be recreated by any other human being. The photograph as a re-presentation of the photographer's vision should not be dismissed as a 'great capture.' That term is insulting used only as a lazy way to compliment someone. If you wish to use a word beginning with the letter 'c' then perhaps 'great creation' is a better choice. My point is simply this, stop being lazy, consider the process, and use terminology which celebrates the creative process rather than fall back onto lazy English.