How to Take Good Photographs

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Every photographer who wants to move from taking snapshots to real photographs asks this question: How can I take good photographs? Entire libraries of books have been written on this subject but it really comes down to two things: Know your camera, at least a little; and develop an eye for the interesting. Or, as documentary photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig said, “f/8 and be there.”

What Fellig meant was, know your camera, both its limitations and what are the best settings; and be where good pictures happen. The first is a technical statement; the second is more philosophical.

By “f/8” Fellig was referring to the fact that most documentary photography, and this includes street photography, photojournalism, travel, nature, wildlife — anything done outside a studio and without setup — is best shot in 35 mm format. This means a 35 mm focal length lens, not 35 mm film. The 35 mm focal length lens gives enough room in the frame to include elements that give perspective and interpretation to the photo. “f/8” refers to the lens aperture. The size of the aperture controls how much light enters the lens and therefore how much light is available to make the image, whether on film or digitally. The size of the aperture also affects the depth of field, or the portions of the photograph, from near to far, and how much of that is in focus. An aperture of f/8 gives a decent depth of field. Generally with f/8, anything between 9 feet in front of the lens to infinity in reasonably sharp focus. From a technical aspect, Fellig was saying, assuming you’re shooting a 35 mm format, set the aperture to f/8 and you won’t have to worry about focus.

By “be there” Fellig is expressing a philosophical or artistic viewpoint to go with the technical. Don’t be satisfied with the standard pinkish-orange sunset reflecting off the lake or the stiff family standing in front of Old Faithful as it goes off. Look for whatever interest you, what moves you, what makes you think “what am I looking at?” What’s interesting to you might not be interesting to everyone, but chances are a lot of people will think your choice is interesting. For example, I like to include people in my photos, but I cut them off occasionally.

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The single foot in this photograph adds a splash of color and humanity to these cobblestones in Boston. Otherwise, it’s just a nice close-up of ….. what? A wall? A street? Indoors? Out?

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This one is a nice close-up of sand toys at the beach. The slightly out-of-focus headless guy walking along the beach again adds humanity to the picture without making him the focus of the photo.

I also think that by “be there” Fellig was saying, just go somewhere and wait for something to happen. Photography, like hunting, requires patience. Sometimes you come home skunked, but occasionally you get a trophy.

So there you have it. All you need to know to take great photographs in one simple sentence: f/8 and be there.

Cold, wet, muddy — perfect day to shoot

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Saturday in mid-May evokes springtime images of green grass, flowers blooming, blue skies and warm temperatures. That’s what the 2800+ registered participants in the South Jordan Terrain Race were expecting at 8:00 a.m. when the first wave was to start this 5k obstacle race, clambering up cargo nets, splashing into a mud pit, crawling through barrels and otherwise getting dirty. Instead they got 40 degree temps, wind, rain, clouds and even a bit of hail. Everyone agreed the hail made the race special.

I was there from 7:30 until 3:00, taking pictures of each racer as he or she crossed the finish line. Mostly there were smiles, a few chattering teeth and lots of mud and water. The folks at Angry Monkey did a great job hosting this.

First place

Kiss cam

Waiting for my partner

Even ballerinas get dirty

The Photo Shoot

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We recently took a trip to southern California. Of course we went to the beach. It was a little cool, so there weren’t hordes of people. There was one group that was having a photo shoot. It looked like a family shoot without a professional photographer, but it was definitely a planned shoot. So I did a photo shoot of the photo shoot. Here are some of the pictures.

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Street Photography

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I’ve had this website for a few years, posting only pictures to pages. I decided it was time to start blogging about photography.

I’ve bounced around quite a bit in trying to decide what type of photography I want to do. After a couple of years I know I don’t want to do portraits or fashion/glamour except occasionally. I prefer the more gritty work that is called street photography. Street photography is a photographic genre that attempts to capture life as it happens, good or bad. One of the best definitions is in this blog post by Eric Kim.

Many of the iconic photographs that everyone knows are examples of street photography. These include Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange; the Afghan girl from the cover of National Geographic; and the napalm girl from the cover of Time Magazine.

There’s a story behind every street photograph. Some stories are monumental, like the stories behind these three shots. Some are not. But the story is as important as the photo.

Afghan girl. Photographer Steve McCurry

 

 

Photographer Dorothea Lange