Anyone Can Take a Holiday Picture, But Who Can Shoot a Photo?

By

Paul Souders
It’s that time of the year again when everyone thinks they should be a photographer. So many situations arise that just need to be captured with a digital memory. Smartphones have done nothing if not exacerbate the common misperception that anyone can take a picture.

Well, in a way, it’s true that anyone can take a picture. But not everyone can shoot a photograph. (I believe I can say this without pretension because I am supposed to be a writer not a photographer.)

We digress. The point here is that a photograph is something special. It represents more than just a thousand words, as the old saying goes. As the great street-scene photographer Elliott Erwitt once said, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Well, usually, I know a real good photo when I see it. Yet, despite many years of trying, the art of capturing a good photo has remained elusive. Fortunately, though, I’ve been lucky to work around or near some wonderful photographers.


Photo by Paul Souders
One of my former newspaper colleagues, Paul Souders (his resume includes National Geographic honors, among others) is one of a handful of professionals who truly has dedicated his career to taking great photographs. Souders has done his colleagues one better, in fact, by putting together a collection of fascinating photos of polar bears that he’s interspersed with a memoir about his travails as a freelance, nomadic, professional photographer. It’s called, “Arctic Solitaire, A Boat, a Bay, and the Quest for the Perfect Bear.”

The stories behind the taking of these shots provide a descriptive look into what it’s like to travel solo in a 22-foot boat across the Arctic. And come face to face with large polar bears. Souders covered thousands of miles of remote coastline in search of the perfect picture, and he’s gotten many of them in this report. When asked to let the average guy in on some of his photography secrets, Souders said, “I wish I was one of those photographers who could pre-visualize my images, who could plan it all out and then execute flawlessly. I'm just not that guy. Coming from a newspaper background, we were taught to run and gun. I've learned to react quickly to whatever situation I'm in.”

Photographers have a unique way of looking at their craft and the world they see through their lenses – and usually their advice is nothing close to enlightening. Erwitt, known for his ability to capture the candid moment, once said, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”


Photo by Paul Souders
American photographer Berenice Abbott, who was known for spectacular black and white images of New York, summed it up even more succinctly, “Photography helps people to see.”

For aspiring photographers, there’s also this pearl from Ansel Adams, widely recognized as perhaps the greatest landscape photographer of all time. “You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” he once said.

As you gather with family this year for a special holiday celebration, take a walk with old friends in fresh-fallen snow or just get ready to raise a glass and toast the New Year with that special someone, think about taking more than just a picture. Shoot for a photograph, an image for the ages or something that you will truly find special years from now when recalling this particular moment.

We’ll leave you with just one final comment from another master of the photographic image. The late Imogen Cunningham, an American best known for her photos of flowers and portraits, was asked to identify her most-cherished photo. She replied quite straightforwardly, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”