Musings on Photography


Posted in Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on June 7, 2009


I know I’m weird. And it’s probably just me.

But go and look at this page of search results for this blog:

What you’ll notice, if you care to look, is that I tend to not use the word ‘shoot’ to mean ‘photograph’. Most (not all, but most) of the occurences of the word ‘shoot’ and its variants here on this blog appear in quoted text.

There’s a reason for that. I look at the definition of the word ‘shoot’, and I think to myself “One of these definitions is NOT like the others. One of them doesn’t belong.”

Here’s the definition, lifted from the handy dictionary on my Mac:

shoot | sh oōt| |ʃut| |ʃuːt|verb ( past shot | sh ät| |ʃɑt| |ʃɒt|)1 [ trans. ] kill or wound (a person or animal) with a bullet or arrow : he was shot in the leg during an armed robbery | [ trans. ] troops shot dead 29 people. [ intrans. ] fire a bullet from a gun or discharge an arrow from a bow : he shot at me twice | the troops were ordered to shoot to kill | [ trans. ] they shot a volley of arrows into the village. cause (a gun) to fire. [ trans. ] damage or remove (something) with a bullet or missile : Guy, shoot their hats off. [ intrans. ] hunt game with a gun : we go to Scotland to shoot every autumn. [ intrans. ] ( shoot over) shoot game over (an estate or other area of countryside). shoot game in or on (an estate, cover, etc.).2 [ intrans. ] move suddenly and rapidly in a particular direction : the car shot forward | Ward’s hand shot out, grabbing his arm. [ trans. ] cause to move suddenly and rapidly in a particular direction : he would have fallen if Marc hadn’t shot out a hand to stop him | Beauchamp shot United into the lead. [ trans. ] direct (a glance, question, or remark) at someone : [with two objs. ] Luke shot her a quick glance |[with direct speech ] “I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” she shot back. [ intrans. ] used to invite a comment or question : “May I just ask you one more question?” “Shoot.” (of a pain) move with a sharp stabbing sensation : Claudia felt a shaft of pain shoot through her chest | figurativea pang of regret shot through her. [ trans. ] (of a boat) sweep swiftly down or under (rapids, a waterfall, or a bridge). [ trans. ] informal (of a motor vehicle) pass (a traffic light at red). extend sharply in a particular direction : a road that seemed to just shoot upward at a terrifying angle. [ trans. ] move (a door bolt) to fasten or unfasten a door.3 [ intrans. ] (in soccer, hockey, basketball, etc.) kick, hit, or throw the ball or puck in an attempt to score a goal : Williams twice shot wide | [ trans. ] after school, we’d go straight out in the alley to shoot baskets. [ trans. ] informal make (a specified score) for a round of golf : in the second round he shot a 65. [ trans. ] informal play a game of (pool or dice).4 [ trans. ] film or photograph (a scene, film, etc.) : she has just been commissioned to shoot a video | [ intrans. ]point the camera and just shoot—nothing could be easier.5 [ intrans. ] (of a plant or seed) send out buds or shoots; germinate. (of a bud or shoot) appear; sprout.6 [ trans. ] informal inject oneself or another person with (a narcotic drug) : he shot dope into his arm.7 [ trans. ] plane (the edge of a board) accurately.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but if #4 there wasn’t in the list, and you didn’t already know this particular meaning of ‘shoot’, I think you’d be a bit surprised if #4 was added.

I know other photographers who don’t like to use the word ‘shoot’ when they mean ‘photograph’, so I know I’m not completely alone. And I know that occasionally, I fall into the same usage as everyone else.

It’s just that when I hold the concept of making a photograph in my head, and then I hold the meanings I associate most with the word ‘shoot’ in my head at the same time, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap. And when I say “doesn’t seem to be much overlap” I mean “the two concepts immediately retreat to opposite corners of my mind”. As a result, I don’t have a handy short single word to apply instead of the verb ‘photograph’. I guess I’m stuck with two extra syllables and having people look at me funny.

In the scheme of things, this is probably insignificant. I’m wary, though, of the way the multiple meanings of the words we use can mean that ideas and attitudes that aren’t relevant can get dragged into our thinking. As a result, I guess I’ll continue my stubborn yet futile resistance to this particular usage of the verb ‘shoot’.

Call me a rebel. I’m ok with that.

8 Responses

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  1. Hugh Alison said, on June 7, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Cartier-Bresson earnt his living as a big game hunter in Africa in his earlier days – “shoot” would seem more appropriate for his style of photography – especially when you have seen him interviewed.

    Some people make pictures, some take pictures, and some do a mixture.

  2. Graham said, on June 7, 2009 at 7:43 am

    For my SoFoBoMo project, “Airport,” I became extremely sensitive to the word “shoot.” When I would talk with others about the activity for a photo session, I used terms such as “photographing” or “taking photos.” Note too it wasn’t a photo shoot but a photo session.

    Since you went to the Mac dictionary (New Oxford American), I went to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed, the Big One (in compact form)). The definition for shoot spans 8 pages, and the sense for photography occupies two definitions (1.i and 22.f). The first use of shoot as it relates to photography in the OED was from 1890, in the context of snapshot and shutter. While not the longest definition (“set” spans 25 pages), “shoot” is a rather loaded word. 😉

  3. Amy Sakurai said, on June 7, 2009 at 7:57 am

    It makes a lot of sense to avoid using the word shoot, as it has multiple meanings, some negative. So I don’t think there’s anything “weird” about banishing the word from your photography vocabulary.

    I use a lot of colloquialisms in my journaling, so shoot makes its way in frequently. Some of that, I think, is due to my early conditioning by my English teachers that using the same adjective or verb over and over in an essay is bad. It’s not that I can’t ignore such simple rules, but I definitely have a feeling of wrongness when a word is used repetitively in something I write. My mind automatically searches for alternates. We need more synonyms for the verb photograph.

    And, shoot, I’m just too lazy to change my ways. (^_~)

  4. Markus Spring said, on June 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    The weirdest usage of the term “to shoot” for “to photograph” was in the signature of the first post on photoclub alpha, which reads “Shoot babies to fight infant eye cancer”.

    English is not my mother tongue, so I had to actively get used to this term. But the usage of “shoot” for photographing leaves a certain strange and displeasing connotation, and for this reason I too try to avoid it. The primary sense of this word is simply negative for me. The more so if you travel to areas of unrest, where suddenly shooting has a very unequivocal meaning. And it doesn’t help that even in the german photographic scene ‘shooting’ now is a common word. But I too admit to use it sometimes…

  5. Eric Jeschke said, on June 7, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I have to admit a certain distaste for the term as well. However, as it seems to be THE vernacular for “to photograph” it is difficult to avoid falling into using it.

    “picturing” sounds better, but as I think the word “picture” is a rather poor substitute for “photograph”, I find it lacking as well.

    “capturing” also has negative connotations, even though it is probably the most accurate. “imaging” is rather generic.

    Basically, we lack a good, uncomplicated word to describe the action of taking a photograph.

  6. Oren Grad said, on June 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Fifteen or twenty years ago, Al Blaker had a piece in the old Darkroom Photography magazine explaining his distaste for the term “shoot”. As I recall, he was especially exercised about the analogy to weapons-related usages.

  7. Andreas Manessinger said, on June 8, 2009 at 1:56 am

    I am aware of the problem, I positively feel better when I write “photograph”, but shoot is so much easier to type, that I more often than not fall to the sin.

    I guess there is no easy way out. I mean, Steinbeck’s protagonists use the word “nigger” quite freely, thus it must have been in widely common use in pre-WWII California, and we certainly know that this has changed. It took quite some time though, and the background issue was certainly more severe and loaded.

    Actually I think we can’t simply take dictionary entries and judge a word by that. Words have fuzzy meanings. A word does not denote one meaning for all people at all times, it always comprises different sets of meanings for different people at the same time, and also for the same people at different times.

    Between us, “shoot” as “photograph” is probably the main meaning, because that’s the meaning that we encounter most often. For me it certainly is. For a soldier that may be very different, and so it may be for the average person on the street.

    My bad feeling about “shooting” does not come with every use, it comes only when I get aware that there are other meanings conneted to the word. But anyway, when an idea on a blog can get hundreds of people make books, maybe it can create the impulse that changes the meaning of words.

    So now: what is the alternative? “Photograph” is it not. Too much of a finger twister. “Take a picture”? I use it often, especially because it works well with the “take/make” dichotomy. Anything shorter?

  8. Anita Jesse said, on June 9, 2009 at 8:17 am

    I haven’t thought about this nearly as much as you obviously have (that statement would apply to any number of topics!). I do notice that while I often fall into the easy-to-type and lazy term, in certain situations I am stopped short. “Shooting” landscapes will work for me, but “shooting” people or animals doesn’t feel right. I identify with Amy’s observation regarding the discipline of watching for repetitions of certain words. I suppose we simply have to face the fact that we have only one truly satisfactory and accurate word to work with. (Yikes. Talking about rules and I end a sentence with a preposition.)

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