I don't understand why it's "take a photo". Why take? Is there any rule for this?

  • 1
    @Drew machen (make, do).
    – Mr Lister
    Aug 14, 2014 at 17:37
  • 3
    Germans say aufnehmen for videos. Why would you take up or accept a video? At least English makes sense, see the answers below. (And of course the only honest answer, for any language, is: you have to use some verb, so for all you care you can use any verb at all as long as enough people agree that that's the verb to use. If we collectively settle for "cat a photo" and "dog a video", then that's what you get. No word really means anything in and of itself. It is but a collection of sounds, and has whatever meaning we assign to it.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 14, 2014 at 19:43
  • 1
    These collocations are pretty much arbitrary. You may as well ask why we "have" dreams and the Japanese "see" them, or why we think "of" someone but the Spanish think "in" them.
    – Casey
    Aug 14, 2014 at 21:07
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt: I disagree that "No word really means anything in and of itself", at least not in the sense that it seems that you've applied it arbitrarily to all languages. In Hebrew at least all words have a root, and one can know the verb by the root. For instance, לצלם a picture, the root is צלם which is the word for "image" as in "Man was created in the image of God". The root is ancient but in fact many roots can be found to have phonetic meanings, and almost certainly even those whose phonetic meanings are today not known, had them at some point in the past.
    – dotancohen
    Aug 14, 2014 at 21:21
  • 2
    @dotancohen roots don't matter one bit. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 14, 2014 at 22:19

7 Answers 7


It seems to be an extension of taking notes.

From "The Language of Photography" http://www.source.ie/issues/issues2140/issue22/is22artlanpho.html

To photograph exists alongside to take a photograph, to take a picture, and so on. This is an extension of a broad meaning of take 'to obtain or set down', as in taking notes or statements, 'to set down or get in writing'; more directly, it is an extension of a use recorded from the 17th century onwards in structures such as taking pictures, likenesses, or portraits 'to obtain or get a picture'. The specific photographic use seems to have driven out uses in relation to pictorial art - nowadays, we paint, draw, or produce portraits, and make or do drawings - so that taking a picture can only refer to photography.

  • 2
    Interestingly, "Notiz nehmen" is the correct German expression for "to take notice". Hence, one might as well ask why "machen" (to make) is used in German in connection with photography. Aug 14, 2014 at 18:02
  • 1
    @painfulenglish Maybe because "to take notes" is "Notizen machen"?
    – Raphael
    Aug 15, 2014 at 20:49
  • I always thought it was "take a photo" like physically taking a physical photo from a Polaroid. I know photos were much older, this just made sense to me.
    – Kaz Wolfe
    Aug 16, 2014 at 1:07

In addition to the point made by Ronan, I think take belongs to the group of verbs that are semantically empty and are often christened delexical verbs. We often like to represent actions as nouns, often for maintaining an easy rhythm in speech.

So we 'take a walk', 'have/take a bath', 'have a read', 'have a look', 'take a dip', 'give a shove', 'give a laugh', 'make a promise' and so on.

In other words, don't think too much of the meaning of the verbs there!

  • 1
    There's also clearly a lot of regional variation here, as take a look is equally common in the US as have a look, and I've never personally heard an AmE speaker use have a read.
    – KutuluMike
    Aug 14, 2014 at 18:26
  • 1
    Google: "have a read of this".
    – tobyink
    Aug 14, 2014 at 18:29
  • 1
    @tobyink Yeah, exactly. Which of those are US sources?
    – Casey
    Aug 14, 2014 at 21:05
  • 6
    One can also 'take a crap' (defecate) even though one is clearly leaving it and 'give a crap' means something altogether different...
    – GenericJam
    Aug 15, 2014 at 18:08
  • 1
    @emory Take your time. You may even want to take a seat so you can take this all in. All right, I'm spent. I'm gonna take off!
    – pyobum
    Jan 12, 2017 at 0:53

Photography is about capturing the state of some photons within a moment (well, a very brief period of time). Once captured, the information about that state can be taken with you and reproduced anywhere. "Taking a photo" amounts to collecting information from the environment and carrying it away, i.e. literally the act of taking.

Peter provides some good examples of how "take" can be used in other scenarios where such reasoning doesn't make sense (I certainly don't carry a tub around with me whenever I "take a bath") but I think in this case, a literal meaning can and should be inferred.

I think my answer might be similar to Ronan's, but not enough to be a comment on that answer.


You can actually make photos as well, although to take a photo is more prevalent.

Google NGram for make vs take

There are people on the Photography sub-site of StackExchange that determine their use based on what sort of action they are performing, noting subtle differences between to make and to take. See Does a photographer take pictures or make pictures?.

  • 1
    Wouldn't making pictures have existing long before photography though?
    – Ronan
    Aug 14, 2014 at 15:19
  • 1
    Ah, that does seem to be a fatal flaw in my reasoning! Hahaha
    – Spork
    Aug 14, 2014 at 15:23
  • Also making a picture could mean make a motion picture, as in producing a movie. This could also corrupt the results.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 14, 2014 at 19:11
  • 1
    Fine artists often refer to their work as "making" photographs, to de-emphasize the passive connotations of "taking" photographs. Aug 14, 2014 at 21:14
  • I think of take a picture or photo as the act of "capturing" the image, and to make a picture or photo as the act converting the stored image (digital or on film) to a printed photo. Aug 17, 2014 at 3:10

If we go back to painting we have words and expressions that offer the very same relationship between painter and subject. For example to 'capture a likeness'.

Then let's go back to earlier, to the word 'draw'. To draw means to pull. To draw a horse and cart. To take from one place to another. To withdraw money from one account to another.

This idea is the same in other languages. A portrait in Italian for example is 'ritratto', trarre (traere) means to pull/draw. The etymology of portrait would suggest it also means to take a likeness from where it is towards you now.

Interestingly how also photos were often initially viewed as 'stealing' part of you.

All in all, when we talk about reproducing what we see via pencil, paint or photo we are taking it from it is to where we are now.


There are only two verbs one can use in regards of using a camera to produce an image - 'take' and 'make'.

'Make' has am implied meaning of investing some effort - as in 'make dinner'. 'Take' feels more effortless.

Some years ago, photos were actually 'made' because it involved film processing, while now we just 'take' them.

  • Even then, we usually didn't make the photos ourselves, we hired someone to do it for us.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 14, 2014 at 19:09
  • 1
    You can also snap , shoot, capture or simply get a photo.
    – Neil W
    Aug 15, 2014 at 10:17
  • And the final paragraphis wrong too. People still 'make' pictures. This whole answer is decidedly wrong.
    – Spork
    Aug 15, 2014 at 11:39

A Chinese perspective:

In Chinese, one verb/noun can have totally different meanings. "take a photo" in Chinese is "拍照", "拍" means clap, "照" means "photo". In some province in China people say "捏一张" which also means "take a photo". "捏" means "pinch", "一张" means "one piece".

So, what I want to say is, sometimes an existing verb may be 'borrowed' to invent a new meaning. The existing meaning no longer suitable in new phrase.

Sometime the verb is not important, it just picked make a noun become a verb or action.

  • Something to clarify is that "拍照" is specific to Mandarin. In other branches of Chinese the word might be different, for example in Cantonese it is "影相" (lit. "shadow shape") not "拍照". Aug 15, 2014 at 19:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.