3 Rules for Photography

It’s easy to take shots at someone else’s photography editorial, it’s much harder to offer something useful of one’s own. And I’m at a particular disadvantage because I’m not much of a photographer. Whatever that instinctual knack for effective composition is that marks really good photographers, I ain’t got it. Yet I’ve still managed to take a few photos that I find satisfying, and I occasionally get asked how I get photos to “look like that”. I won’t answer that how-to question in this post, because I think what people are typically asking is for technical specifics around image quality. I can address technical stuff in a latter post — it’s actually a pretty standard set of camera settings and processing steps. What I want to do here is address how it is that, as a photographic middler, I still sometimes get nice overall photos.

There are 3 rules that work for me. In order from most to least important, they are:

  1. Go interesting places.

    This includes interesting people. I suppose you can take pleasant macro shots which decontextualize commonplace objects in playful and startling ways without even leaving the house. But I don’t like that kind of photography. I like photographs that aggressively contextualize interesting things and people in interesting contexts. I like photos that tell a sudden story, but only if it’s an interesting story. Those stories are almost exclusively in interesting places, or at least around interesting people.

    lost balloon at Fuera Lucio protest in Quito

  2. Have a camera with you.

    On average, bigger more expensive cameras tend to take better photos under a wider range of conditions. So take the biggest camera you can carry easily enough, and the most expensive camera you can afford to lose. Don’t take a camera which will slow you down, or which you’ll keep packed away for fear of loss or damage or theft. If that means taking a rinky dink little compact, great. I’ve had some success with disposables carried in zip loc bags. Sure, this would be a better photo if I’d had a better camera, but if I’d held out for a better camera, I wouldn’t have had one with me.

    Brett giving directions to the helicopter over his head

  3. Take a photo.

    This rule is probably obsolete now — there was a time when people were reticent about pressing the shutter button, but we’re so far post-film that whatever fear folks had of committing to a shot, it’s mostly gone. Hooray! And there’s far more forgettable photographs surging along the fiber optic pipelines now because of that digital flamboyance. And there’s far more genius there too, because of it. People take risks, get immediate feedback, and learn faster because they photograph more. Except my dad, but he’s coming along. Super technically competent photographers know almost exactly how a photo is going to turn out before they shoot, but you’re not super techically competent, so take a flyer on what’s in front of you. Don’t take a photo if you think it will alienate your subject, or get in between you and the experience of being in an interesting place. Otherwise, do.

    Never got around to submitting this to The Express.

Of course I don’t follow those rules, I just find that I get results when I do happen to be following them.

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