Don’t shoot – photograph!

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

(Ansel Adams)

Water Ghosts abstract photo by Alexander S. Kunz
Water Ghosts — Ettenau floodplains, Innviertel, Austria. May 2007.

I remain irritated by the vocabulary used in combination with photography. And those who have been following my writing for a while will perhaps remember. It actually dates back at least 4-5 years, when a follower of my landscape/nature photography (on a photo sharing platform that has sunken into oblivion now) commented: “I’d love to see you shoot people!” – I still lived in Germany then, and wasn’t aware just how common the word “shoot” is with regards to photography. Someone expressing their wish for me to shoot people sounded extremely odd and wrong to me.

In the German language too, the word “shoot” is used in combination with photography: “ein Photo schiessen” means “to shoot a photo” – I always imagine there’s a photo flying through the air, and someone aims with a gun, shoots it down, and then takes it home. Silly language makes for silly associations. (but, in defense of the German language, the most common phrase is probably “ein Photo machen”, which translates to “to make a photo”.)

People “shoot” a photo, “grab” an image, “take” a picture. That sort of thing. Assuming that photography is a process where we create images, why do we use such destructive and aggressive¬† sounding words? It’s a bit as if we wanted to make sure that the superstition of indigenous people that making a photo of them would indeed take something away from them – yes, I take your photo, and your soul!

I do not understand why these words and phrases are so common. Because I think that, as visual artists, we should try everything to raise awareness that we create – and thus, stop using such derogatory terms for the process, and the art that we’re practicing. A camera is a wonderful tool, and not a weapon.

I have begun to be more aware of the language that I’m using when it comes to my craft and art. And here are my alternatives: I don’t “grab a shot” – I make a photo (or, I capture an image, based on the fact that the camera captures an otherwise fleeting moment in time). I don’t “shoot” – I photograph (yes, to photograph is a verb, too). I’m not “doing a photo shoot” – I’m having a photo session with clients.

And of course, I create images, in the end.

9 Responses

  1. I stopped using the s-word when you wrote about it the last time. Don’t remember when it was. It’s harder now, but I always want to find an alternative expression. Photo is not indeed a “shot” (in the dark). Let’s declare that as past vocabulary!

  2. I shoot and I’m a Shooter…I take Light and leave a Photo…I say the would Cuz constantly..I don’t use the term Tog..Unless it’s guttentag

    1. Haha… I won’t lecture anyone… it’s just a personal statement. Take it or leave it. Everyone can use the language that they like, of course. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable with it.

  3. Hi Alex, actually when a photographer intend to make a picture of a reindeer, the strategy to do so is very similar to the strategy of a hunter intending to shoot the animal. The difference is that after the shooting of the photographer, the reindeer is still alive…which is just great… I mean there is no better way to make shooting as we do…So what…..I wish all the hunter would patiently wait for the very special moment and than they would shoot…..a picture. :-)

    1. This association is exactly the problem, IMHO. It connects the art of photography to a violent act – intended or not. And it shouldn’t. Look how photography and photographers are treated in (semi) public places… regulations, photography not allowed, etc. etc. – I sometimes wonder how much of all the discredit that photography and photographers have to suffer has to do with the “hunting and shooting” vocabulary that has been established for so long.

  4. I am not a fan of using words like “shooting” or “taking” a photo either. I do not believe that is what we do. However, I don’t enjoy the term “capture” either. In my mind you may “capture” a photograph in your camera, but that is not the photograph I show publicly. By the time I allow others to view a photograph, I have added more of my own vision. A “capture” might be a reasonable term for one of those SOOC photos but it leaves out much of what makes a photograph MY photograph. That being said, I sometimes do use some of these words I do not like because there are only so many ways to phrase things. I use “make” a photograph the most often though, as I feel that is the best word for what has ocurred. It can feel cumbersome to use in sentences over and over again so sometimes I’ll refer to a photograph as a shot. I don’t feel that guilty about it. :P

    1. I’m with you on the word “capture”, Michael. And it’s actually what I meant – the “initial capture” of a scene, a moment, with the camera.

      And I also agree that it can be cumbersome to work one’s way around shoot/shot/take/grab/snap… :)

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