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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