a blog by knut skjærven

Bits & Pieces: The Difference Between Picturetaking And Photography

At The Beach. © 2006 Knut Skjærven. (Arromanches, France.)

Tell me about the difference between picturetaking and photography!

I’ll be happy to.

I had to find a way of describing the transitions you have to go through when wanting to take photography seriously. The best phrase I found was that this was a transition from simply being a picturetaker to that of being a photographer. Picturetakers take pictures, obviously. Photographers literary takes picture too, but they do it with a clear purpose, high dedication and by knowing and using the alphabet and grammar of visual communication. Metaphorically speaking. The alphabet consists of  the single units used to tell a story. The grammar is the way you put units together.

Being a photographer takes experience and knowledge. Being a picturetaker does not. That is the different. It is huge.

It is all too easy creating some sort of result when you use a camera. Everyone can buy one and start shooting. They don’t even have to leave the shop to start their new career. Knowing how to press the button, however, make them no photographers. Buying canvas and brushes and starting using them do not make people painters. You need to know how to use these tools before you will become a painter. You have to study and you have to practice. You need to know something about colours, brushes and canvas before you can start painting as an artist. You need to know something about perspective and composition as well. That learning takes years.

Anyone can cover a canvas with paint using a brush as anyone can cover a film/card with light using a camera. That has, however, nothing to do with painting or photography. Having the gear is only the first beginning.

Photography means “drawing with light”. I simply asked myself what do the pencils look like when you want to draw with light. I started coming up with answers and I tried deliberately and consistently to use the pencils I carried in my bag. And I looked for new ones. Most importantly I got myself a mentor. Now I have many. All these things were part of the new beginning.

Having a mentor does not mean that you copy stuff. It means that you use established experiences and results but walk down your own path. When you look at my photographs I hope that you will see that there is no copying but a lot of inspiration.

One of the most important things in messaging is the form and structure of that message. If you have that right, a message is conveyed. Do it wrong and no message will not be conveyed. I try to do very simple photographs. The lucky ones are also precise. I do simple things with the camera. That is the only way I know. I have that from advertising, actually. Other may have this very differently.

I found that is was much harder to do a simple picture than a complicated one. The last type you very easily get by just shooting away. Left and right. Up and down. That world belongs to the picturetaker. Could be so complicated that it ends in confusion. A message mess.

To do a simple shot you have to evaluate all the time. Get rid of all the access information. Make sure that things fit together. That can be quite a task. That world belongs to the photographer.

Mind you a simple picture can be complex, but never complicated. That difference is important.

I have also found that you are not 100 percent photographer, or 100 percent picturetaker. These attitude often mix, but the ambition must be to be a photographer most of the time, and picturetaker less of the time. The good thing is that the new information you acquire, for instance, by having a mentor gradually link into your spine and becomes second nature to you. Even when you are only picturetaking the results could end up as photography. That is the reward of learning. You get the investment back tenfold.

Some will say that this sounds like a strain, difficult and even academic. And photography is supposed to be fun. Maybe so. But think about in another way. It takes about 5 years become a lawyer, even longer to become a medical doctor. Takes a lifetime to a become painter, a songwriter or a good harmonica player. Why is it that as soon as some people get a camera in their hand they become instant photographers? You tell me.

The point is that they don’t. It is impossible.

The good thing is that photography is a craft and like any other craft it can be learned. You cannot teach anyone to be come a Picasso, a da Vinci or a Bob Dylan. Or for that matter a Cartier-Bresson, but you can teach how to hold the pencil, how to wait and to point it the right direction when the decisive moment is there.

That said, I also realize that some do photography mainly by instinct. You can see it in their individual works, and even better in their portfolios. Such people are very rare. They are the onepercenters. Or even lessthanonepercenters. Call them talents. Even these talents have to cultivate their capacities, and that is just what the process from picturetaking to photography is all about.

I am afraid that for the rest of us it is even harder work. My 2P.

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;


10 responses

  1. Wonderful read which perfectly describes my thoughts. May I post it in my deviantArt account giving credit to you and your blog? I hold the position of Street Gallery Moderator in this site.

    December 16, 2011 at 7:36 am

    • That, Stamatis, would not only be a pleasure, that would also be an honor. Thanks.

      (You will link to it, right?)

      Have a good weekend :-).

      December 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

      • Thank you for giving me the permission Knut. I will link to your blog by all means!
        have a good weekend too 🙂

        December 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

  2. Benny Asrul

    thanks for sharing Knut… i agree with you…
    everybody can have a camera, but not everybody is a ‘photographer’ … 🙂

    December 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

    • Thanks Benny.

      And yet it puzzles me that in a poll run on Facebook group, On Every Street, not that long ago, 29 out of 34 votes suggested that there are no connection whatsoever between formal and non formal education and the quality of photography.

      I wonder, for instance, where HCB would have been without his severe formal and non formal schooling.

      Here is a link to a summary of that poll: https://phenomenologyandphotography.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/the-poll-that-went-wrong/

      Have a good day :-).

      December 16, 2011 at 9:28 am

  3. This article has been reprinted at devianArt. With my permission. You can see the reprint here:


    December 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    • 300 people have read it and some interesting comments have been added so far 🙂

      December 21, 2011 at 10:29 am

      • Stamatis, I was not aware that what I called LINK to the article was be a repost of the text article minus the image.

        Please include the image which is part of the article, and also make sure that the author’s name is in the headline. Like Knut Skjærven: The Difference …

        I am sure that is possible :-). After all I wrote it.

        Have a very good day.

        December 21, 2011 at 10:57 am

  4. Done with pleasure! Tell me if it’s better now, please.
    If there is a problem with reposting it, I will erase the text keeping only the link to your blog.
    I thought that I had made myself clear when I fisrt asked you (“May I post it in my deviantArt account…”) but probably there was a misunderstanding from my side. I am sorry for that.

    December 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

  5. Thanks Stamatis. Works really well now :-).

    December 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm

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