The production of electron-positron pairs from light is a famous prediction of quantum electrodynamics. Yet it is often emphasised that the number of produced pairs has no physical meaning until the driving electromagnetic fields are switched off, as otherwise its definition is basis-dependent. The common adiabatic definition, in particular, can predict the `creation' of a number of pairs orders of magnitude larger than the final yield. We show here, by clarifying exactly what is being counted, that the adiabatic number of pairs has an unambiguous and physical interpretation. As a result, and perhaps contrary to expectation, the large numbers of pairs seen at non-asymptotic times become, in principle, physically accessible.