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In English we say "take a photograph" whereas in some other languages one would say "make a photograph".

The French say "take" even though they "make" far more often than we do in English, and Germans say "make". The Spanish are also in the "take" camp, so it seems to be related to romance/germanic distinction, further afield, Russians say "make" (I think).

Some say that cameras steal your soul. Saying that a camera removes (one Spanish verb is literally "remove") rather than constructs the photograph seems to betray a very different philosophy and attitude to photography as a creative process.

So, how did we end up using "take" rather than "make"?

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"Take a note, Miss Jones" –  FumbleFingers May 20 '13 at 14:01
    
Yup, that's similar. –  Lucas May 20 '13 at 14:07
    
The Spanish are in both camps since you can use tomar, sacar, or hacer una foto. –  terdon May 20 '13 at 14:53
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That wasn't a correction @Lukas, I was just intrigued by your point and thought I'd mention that the case of Spanis is even stranger! On a side note, (modern) Greek is also in the take camp. –  terdon May 20 '13 at 15:20
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'Screen capture' is a similar expression. If there ever was an allusion to misappropriation, it's been bleached out here. And with 'take notes', there is little sense of anything sinister. I think that there is a parallel with 'seize the opportunity' which again has few negative connotations. Nowadays, take in take a photo / walk / left / bath is delexical. –  Edwin Ashworth May 20 '13 at 17:02

3 Answers 3

Merriam-Webster Online gathers several related senses of take:

11 b (1) : to obtain as the result of a special procedure : ascertain <take the temperature> <take a census> (2) : to get in or as if in writing <take notes> <take an inventory> (3) : to get by drawing or painting or by photography <take a snapshot> (4) : to get by transference from one surface to another <take a proof> <take fingerprints>

The common meaning here is to record something by procedure or writing instrument.

I hadn't previously seen the uses take a painting or take a drawing, so I consulted Google books and found that taking a drawing was common in the 1800s, during the rise of photography. This sense of take appears to have arisen in the late 1700s; note this example from The New-York Magazine or, Literary Repository (1792):

Mr. Peale, we hear, is engaged to take a painting of this extraordinary person, to preserve to future time the features and form of a person furnished with nerves and constitution to exist to so surprising an age, on that ocean of time which has long ago swallowed up so many millions of his contemporaries.

While making a drawing was always more common than taking one, I suspect that the latter usage took hold for photographs because the process of capturing (taking) a photograph is distinct from printing (making) it, and the taking happens when you open the shutter.

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We definitely take, rather than make photos, but arguably it's not just a random idiomatic usage.

Semantically, you usually take something that already exists, whereas you make something new. Most of the time, most people don't see pressing a camera button as a particularly "creative" act. The image being recorded is already "out there"; you're just making/taking a copy of it.

Similar issues arise with taking/making notes (in a lecture, for example)...

listened and took notes (8390 hits in Google Books)
listened and made notes (2650 hits)

Note that with note-taking the bias isn't so strong. Personally, I think partly because on average note-taking is a more creative process. Perhaps I only think that because I'm trying to rationalise an established idiomatic usage that "makes sense" to me, but to the extent that I would ever speak of "making" a photo, it would be in some "artistically creative" context, not throwaway snapshots.

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"Taking a shit" is definitely in your favor. –  Lucas May 21 '13 at 2:21
    
@Lucas: Notes can be made or taken; shits are nearly always taken, but if someone made a shit you'd probably understand it to mean the same thing. It all depends on the noun though - when you take tea and make tea you're doing different things. –  FumbleFingers May 21 '13 at 3:22
    
@Lucas The general sense of take meaning “to make, obtain” comes from the late 14c.. The refinement of that to mean “make a picture” is later, possibly 1790s based on my Google Books searches. Whether to use take, make, or both seems idiomatic for each usage. –  Bradd Szonye May 21 '13 at 3:50

While I am sure you can use both, generally you take things that exist and you make things that do not exist. You can take a picture if the image exists (e.g. a photo) and you can make a picture if you are creating it from scratch (e.g. painting). Another way to put it is that a photo is taking an image that is there, but painting is creating a likeness (or not in many cases).

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