Dec 12, 2007

Photography 001

The planets have aligned in such a way as to make people ask me a lot of photo advice this past month... mostly people at work, which makes me worry for my job a little.

Here is a smorgasbord of what I know about photography. Note: there is a heaping tray of stolen advice at this buffet.

First off... you must own a Nikon. All other cameras are forged from steel that was recovered from Hiroshima, Oklahoma City and Mount Doom. The plastic is coagulated artery plaque from the Mayo Clinic and the glass is made of evil.

1) Seriously, it doesn't matter what camera you own. Ken Rockwell explains. Ken is one of those 'love him or hate him' guys. One thing for sure, this guy has no time for armchair photographers.

2) There is no excuse to not experiment with your digital camera. It's f*cking free, man! Don't Google... Shoot!

3) The secret to great photographs is this: unusual light. I don't mean weird, I mean not usual. There's a reason back-lit portraits and dusty light beams coming through a stained glass window look cool. It's because you normally never see this. Contrasty is eye-catching and eye-catching is interesting. Flat is flat.

4) Good outdoor photographs are not shot between 10AM and 3PM. Refer to above. Everybody takes photos between 10 and 3. That's why you shouldn't. They call it magic hour for a reason.

5) Never buy what you can rent (or borrow). If you've rented it 3 times, then maybe it's time to think about buying. I always wanted to own a 300mm f2.8; then I rented one. Fuggedaboudit. $20 spent; $700 saved. If you rent from Vistek, that's okay by me, but you are going to Hell. And by Hell, I mean Vistek.

6) If you see something old/vintage/run-down that is begging to be shot, shoot it soon, otherwise it will be torn down or renovated - I guarantee it. There are about a dozen personal examples I could cite.

7) There is no shame in setting your $1000 camera to "Auto-Everything". I say this only because I used to do this all the time, and it makes me feel better. Eventually, I was dragged kicking and screaming back to manual. But if you're shooting kids, 'M' will make you want to kill your children, and that's no good. New cameras are smarter than most of us when it comes to exposure.

8) The "Rule of Thirds" is a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. Use it.

9) Bonus: "photographers" in a photo scrum on TV are extras who have no idea what they're doing. They are not taking photos, they are triggering the flash with their left hand. Also, in old movies, there is usually no film in the camera (or tape in the recorder). Note: if you're bored enough to consciously look for this, then the movie you are watching sucks.

10) Back up your photos, or your wife will eventually flay your arm with a carrot peeler when you lose them. NEVER delete anything, even completely black pictures. Your skin is worth it.

11) Move in close. The worst thing you can do is take family photos where you can't see faces. Nobody cares that your aunt is wearing Manolo Blahniks. (If your fat uncle is wearing Crocs, you might want to save that.)

12) It doesn't matter if the lighting's better, never make people squint into the damn sun, especially kids. You will be marked for death and I will help.

13) If you take a photo of a sunset, it better have a UFO, the Ark of the Covenant and the Grassy Knoll sniper in it, otherwise you're wasting your time. Know any famous sunset photos? Me neither.

14) Nobody. Nobody. Nobody... gives a shit about your pet. Even you. Take the shot, if you must, but don't show me.

15) New rule: no more posed social photos. John and I can only surreptitiously give you the finger so many times.

16) Alter your photos after the fact. How much? 'Til they look cool, that's how much. You want to be a purist? Work for the New York Times. Whoops! Never mind.

17) When the camera store weenie says you need a UV filter for your new lens, this is the only time they are not bullshitting you, and it has nothing to do with UV light. A cracked filter beats a cracked lens. Then buy online - it's way cheaper.

I guess that's about it. I'm starting to get ranty.



David said...

Funny... I just backed up my photos from Picassa the other day... first time in... hmm... two kids?

Why was I flirting with death?

David said...

By the way, I read the article at and I have to say:

1) for somebody saying it's not all about the equipment, he sure talks alot about all the equipment he's had.

2) He sure likes to repeat himself.

MikeM said...

"NEVER delete anything, even completely black pictures."

Theriouthly? You can't be. If you are... je disagree.

My experience wading through the overgrown trove of my negs, slides and digital photos, and photos taken by various anscestors has taught me to prune heavily. Particularly considering how much we now shoot with digital.

Purge. Edit. Repeat.

I have yet to look for a "nifty shot" only to discover it went into the circular file.

I have searched for the same "nifty shot" and been annoyed/enraged at the amount of c4ap I had to sift through to find it.

At least the bottom 10% has got to go. Got. To.

JS said...

I should have explained this better. I'm generally with you, but if your photography workflow includes immediately saving all camera files to a new CD, this should never trouble you. Archive all immediately. Edit only the stuff that you bring into your computer. That's the time to be merciless.