Photography To Die For

Fakesister once gave me a book on photography from National Geographic.  In it there was a quote by some photographer who said that the secret to taking a good picture was “F-8 and be there”.  And truer words were never spoken.  Especially the be there part. 

For the camera-challenged among you, the F-stop is a ratio of the focal length divided by the diameter of the aperture.  Got that?  Yeah, me neither.  In practical terms, however, the diameter of the aperture is possibly the most important factor in taking a decent picture.  Not counting lens speed and focus, but we won’t go into that.  Let’s just say that F-8 is right in the middle of the scale, and if you set your camera there, you’ll be lucky more often than not if you’re at the right place at the right time. 

One of the most fun things I ever did was take a photography class, and I absolutely poured myself into the subject.  It has forever changed the way I see things.  At the time, I became so obsessed that I started seeing things in terms of whether or not it would make a good picture. 

My photography teacher was not an especially nice guy, to put it mildly, but he gave everyone fair warning about that.  His philosophy was, I’m going to teach you some things, and your job is to use them.  If you ignore me, I will smush you like a bug.  To be fair to him, he didn’t expect you to become an expert.  He just expected you to try, and to get better.  Needless to say, by the end of the class, which started with maybe 30 people, there were two left, including me. 

I was still there because he loved me, or more accurately, my pictures.  He could see that I was working at it, and he actually told me that I had a talent for taking pictures of, of all things, buildings, even though my main interest was taking pictures of wildlife.  Hint:  it’s a lot easier to take pictures of dead things.  But seriously, I discovered that I have a knack for composition, as long as the things I’m taking pictures of stand still long enough. 

So many things he said are etched in my brain now.  One of them is, if it won’t be a good picture, don’t take the picture.  You may come upon the most amazing sight you’ve ever witnessed, say you’re seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time.  That’s all well and good, but if the light is wrong or your camera has the wrong film in it, just don’t bother.  The other thing he preached religiously was, Guard against taking a picture where something other than your intended target becomes the subject of the picture.  To that end, he said, never take a picture of anything where the background is a chain link fence!  The eye works in such a way that it will be drawn to the fence. 

I will never forget the class where one of the students turned in a photo of a train winding around a mountain, but she took it through the window of a car.  You could see the window frame and the rear-view mirror.  I was inwardly groaning just looking at it.  The teacher was brutal.  He said, “What is the subject of this picture?”  (The rear-view mirror.)  “Why”, he said, “didn’t you get out of the car?”  She said, “It was raining.”  And he replied…as you can guess…”Then you should not have taken the picture”.  She proceeded to melt into a puddle. 

The occasion for this post is the amazing photograph in today’s NY Times of a Syracuse player dunking the ball.  I didn’t so much admire the player, I admired the photographer.  The wonderful thing about photography is that it always captures a single moment in time.  You could take a picture of the same object over and over, but it would never be the same picture.  And this photographer captured a moment that will never be repeated.  The player looks like he is flying.  There is F-8 and be there.


8 responses to “Photography To Die For

  1. Okay I will interject race into this. Had that been a white player, would you have felt any different towards the player? Oh forget it, we all know that white men can’t jump! Seriously though it is an outstanding photo. How did you manage to stand your teacher?

  2. ee, I am shocked that you would interject race 🙂 Shocked!
    The teacher was always very gentle with me, because he could see that I was trying and that also I was getting better. That doesn’t mean he didn’t critique me, which is good, because otherwise I would never have gotten better. Also I respected him, which was very important to him…he was sort of prickly.

  3. It is true that most lenses are softest wide open or stopped down all the way, but your main consideration should ALWAYS be the subject. “F/8 and be there” is a painful oversimplification. I like to think my hands are steady, but f/8 rarely cuts it in most situations. Even though I have a tripod I love and use, my best shots have been handheld, and that’s the way it’ll always be.

    But, yes, in an ideal world, where I can make myself a statue anytime I want, I’d shoot everything at between f/8 and f/11.


  4. I doubt that photo was taken at F8.

    In another life, this anarchist learned a lot about the technical aspects of photography, which is why I insist on a camera that allows both shutter and aperture control.

    But, having an eye is not something easily “taught.”

  5. You argue against your own argument, Chris! In fact, while it is a gross oversimplification, it works more often than not. The “being there” is the most important part of the equation.
    And I agree with you Anarchist, I seriously doubt that F8 was involved in this photo. Quite cool to learn that you too spent some time learning about photography. Sadly, I’ve migrated to the digital camera world, which my teacher warned would be the death of us.

  6. Be forewarned before touring with Fakename armed with a camera. She will pose you before a picturesque lighthouse, lie on her stomach to get just the right composition, get compliments from passersby on the lengths to which she will go to get the picture — and have no film in the camera. 🙂

    But just before that, we got to live a National Geographic moment. While stopped to take their picture, the thousands of migrating snow geese resting on the ground in front of us all left at once. A rustle of wings started somewhere across the way and flight by flight every one of the snow geese lifted away, off over our heads, streaming north.

    Absolute, heart-stopping, magic.

  7. Lol, Fakesister, I had forgotten that embarassing little moment in photography. The flight of the snow geese was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  8. Just because you went digital doesn’t mean you have a trashy “auto” camera. I have an older digital Canon that has auto, shutter and aperture control. Also, white light control, over/under exposure control, and a lot of other stuff that I hardly use…. But I sure enjoy the “snob” appeal of what I *could* be doing… 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s