f/8, and be there


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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f/8, and be there

19 May 2020 7:52AM   Views : 426 Unique : 285


Anyone with more than the most passing interest in photography starts to get interested in technique. We learn about the way that aperture affects depth of field, how quality varies as you alter the ISO setting.

This can get very precious and exclusive (in the sense of excluding people) – the brand ambassador who extols the unique virtues of this or that product, the club judge who insists on a specific technical approach. All of it drives a lively market in new and used equipment, and shelves full of once-trendy accessories accumulate in many photographic households. I can't claim any degree of innocence whatsoever…


Alongside this is a similar degree of artistic preciousness. Without limiting themselves to one brand, many photographers make their images dependent – in their own minds, at least – on particular approaches. My tendency is to use an 85mm lens for most things, working out from the way that a lens of around that focal length is very suited to portrait pictures on a full-frame camera.
But just because I (or anyone else) finds a particular bit of kit, a specific approach or a type of processing useful doesn’t mean that you can’t do things a different way. It doesn’t even mean that I couldn’t take equally good, albeit slightly different images with a 90mm, a 105mm, or even a 50mm lens. And if push comes to shove, I will, of course.

Similarly, there’s a dogma for landscapers that a wideangle lens, a moderately small aperture (not too small, to avoid diffraction spoiling the sharpness) and a tripod are essential. But it’s not the only way – the late Chris Joyce, a professional photographer who wrote for one or two magazines a good while ago, advocated fast film and a 70-210 zoom for landscapes. The results will be different, and can be beautiful…


All of this means that many people believe that there’s only one way to do it, for any given ‘it’ – in a very few cases, this may be true, but in general it’s not. On the other hand, it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of learning how to work in a genre by copying what someone else does carefully, then experimenting with variations.

And then there’s a big category of pictures for which the only requirement is to not mess the content up with incompetent technical work. Where Program mode would probably do. Where avoiding any extremes gives ‘headroom’ – a margin for technical errors of various sorts without spoiling the result.

Family snapshots are obviously in this category. You don’t need to show off your technical skills, just make a competent record. Indeed, spending the time on sophisticated shooting will cause impatience, and vignetting granny out of the corner of the picture will not be a positive move.


The same, generally, applies to genres like street photography, and photojournalism. The content is what matters, and while you may sometimes need to use extreme technical measures to get a result at all, at others you only need to get it reasonably right.

Some people are appalled by the idea that good enough is good enough, but really, it is. And part of real technical mastery is the ability to recognise when this applies, when you can check that things are in the right area, and relax.

Some people extend this to having a standard ‘walking about’ setup for their camera – a default that they move to after taking a particular shot, so that they are less likely to be caught out by circumstances that require a fast response.


My title today is a well-known saying, though the origin is a bit obscure. It’s satisfying to think, though, that it was coined by Weegee, Arthur Fellig, a New York press photographer, known for getting the shot every time. He sat in his car, listening to the police wavelength on the radio, so he was always first on the scene for gangland killings and other tragedies. ‘Weegee’ came from the idea that he used a Ouija board and occult means to be in the right place at the right time.

So go on: think when the picture you want to take will happen. Dawn? Set the alarm clock VERY early, and be up in time. Whether you use f/8 or not.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
19 May 2020 7:56AM
You may think I'm cheating with pictures of models 'illustrating' the need to be ready to take the shot. I claim otherwise...

The image of Roswell Ivory was shot on an internal fire escape at SS Creative Studios which is no longer accessible (without breaking the emergency glass). Kay23 up near the Roaches in Staffordshire? She retired from modelling shortly afterwards. And Stephanie Dubois on the landing stage? Well, actually I didn't take the opportunity that time: there were hundreds of dragonflies (or something like that) hovering near the water - but I lacked a macro lens... The ones that got away: but I did get the shot of Stephanie...
nellacphoto Avatar
19 May 2020 8:50AM
Sorry but that foliage was playing havoc with my OCD! Grin

dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
19 May 2020 12:16PM
It's always good to consider different methods. For example I've always advocated telephoto focal lengths for landscape shots, or rather not to ignore their possibilities.
Some settle into a way of working that works for them. They may or may not consider alternatives but the danfer is accepting that 'way' as gospel (by them or those wanting to learn).
I've used some unconventional setups for macro work, maybe I should describe those in a blog.
mistere Avatar
mistere Plus
10 37 8 England
19 May 2020 12:44PM
"You may think I'm cheating with pictures of models 'illustrating' the need to be ready to take the shot."
Not at all John, the unplanned, spontaneous, make it up as you go along approach. Thats my kind of shoot SmileSmile
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
19 May 2020 12:46PM
Keith - definitely! More blogs is good!

Dave - mine too. But then, you know that...
pink Avatar
pink Plus
20 7.4k 11 England
19 May 2020 4:45PM
I find a good approach to 'mix it up' is to go out with one camera and one lens, and vary the lens every time, I am amazed at how it makes you work for an image rather than just switching lenses, yes I appreciate you will get a different perspective but I think that' s a good thing.
I often go out with a supertelephoto and get some really pleasing images, or a macro and get a landscape.
Its also easier on the back!

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