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Tuesday, 06 October 2015


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I suspect that you and Kirk Tuck are in cahoots today. (See his post today)

I think that sums up photographic technique quite well. To me the technical side of photography is something that is easy to state and almost trivial in its content, and also does you not much good if you are thinking about it in the heat of the moment ... instead it just has to be in your subconscious, so you get it almost right in real time and then can fix it up where you need to, within reasonable windows of latitude.

I think the David Vestal books made this point repeatedly. Don't think too much while taking pictures. Do what you can get away with.

Jack Douglas, in his book "Huckleberry Hashimoto" titled Chapter 19 "To hell with Chapter 19..."
Seems apropos, non?
mi dos pesos

Well put. Technically we are not photographing subjects, we are photographing the light reflecting off of it. Without light, subjects would be like a tree falling in a forest.....EXCEPT with the new high ISO capable cameras I have taken photos where I could not see a visually see subject and at extreme high ISO the camera captured one.

That's the sort of minimalist book I love. Can't wait for chapter two.

When I teach, I always say, "We don't photograph stuff. We photograph the light on stuff." Definitely an eye-opener. (Ha-ha--see what I did there.)

"Pay more attention to the light. It's all you ever photograph."
This may seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be drummed into my head, at least.
I look at light a lot, but I'm not always sure how much attention I am really paying to it, if that makes any sense.
So yes, I'm glad we got you started :-).

Wasn't the 'book part'' supposed to be about um.... editing?

So it appears we haven't actually 'gotten you started.'

And if you submitted the above two sentence chapter to yourself as an editor what would your comment be?

Might it be something like "Chapters, generally fill up more than a T-shirt" .. But then, that's just a guess on my part as I'm not an Editor.

But keep up the good work.

WOW. I'm going to steal that chapter one of yours.

Only kidding :)


It's been said before, but you need a "Like" button somewheres...

I don't know. it seems too simplistic. are you sure that "OMG!!1!, it's the awesome light you must pay attention to photograph!" does not make for a better, action-packed, chapter? more modern for L'internets, perhaps?

in terms of a companion book on not mastering technique photographing, then its title can be borrowed from « In Praise of Shadows » by Junichiro Tanizaki.

A concise answer requires a clearer understanding of a subject than a verbose one.

Great chapter. I look forward to re-reading it. Very enlightening.


Actually, I'd say that my fascination for light came first, and with photography second, in part as a means to record good or interesting light and it's effects. My problem is that I notice little else, so I eagerly await Chapter 2!

If I were your editor, I'd be saying that chapter is way too long. Cut it down to "pay attention!"

Whenever I get home and look at the images I've taken, I find that where I have paid attention to the light, I haven't paid attention to the framing. Or the depth of field. Or the exposure compensation I've left set from the last shot. Or that tree that absolutely wasn't there when I took the picture and is now growing out of the subject's carefully framed head.

You have to pay attention to everything, all the time. It's hard.

Maybe that's chapter two: "It's harder than you think."

You can't help but pay attention to the light...It's all you ever see.

Ah, Mike's book of photographic aphorisms, I can see it now. Get to work!

It would be an excellent book with ten or so equally concise chapters, and a few photographs in each chapter to illustrate the point.
Most books have too much text, too much explanation. And then some books even start to explain it all wrong, or explain simple things in a very complicated manner as if to show how clever the author is and how stupid the readers must be when they can't understand the muddle minded explanation.

It seems after reading the comments some people are waiting for you to expose some hidden centuries old esoteric secret. It's nothing of the sort. Most of it is patiently waiting right in front of us ALL...

"I shoot everyday with no theme . Themes usually come from shooting."
David Alan Harvey

I guess it's true.... most writers tend to write an overly long first chapter. Do you really need the word "more"?

I am beginning to see the light! Hallelujah brother!

Oooh . That's enLIGHTening. 8~) So true though. I have all 3 of Joe Mcnally's books on the subject. Sketching Light, is highly recomended, I have learned a ton from him and his books are a fun read.

I think I have memorized chapter one by now. Waiting for the next.

"Wasn't the 'book part'' supposed to be about um.... editing?'

so chapter two would be

Photographing is just editing away all the light you don't want.

which is literally true of course

[I never said anything about the book being about editing. That's a misreading. --Mike]

Of course light's important. Beyond it's fundamental role as PHOTOgraphy's medium it's nuanced application can dramatically amplify your image's message.

But that would be chapter two in my book. Chapter one would be Pay Attention to Your Frame!. A well-lit incoherent frame is crap. Coherence of construction is where most amateurs (and even many "pros") are very weak. Lesson one in my chapter one: Keep Your Viewfinder Uncluttered!, whether the lcd or evf. Display only what's absolutely essential and view that viewfinder scene as if it's already the finished picture. How does it look?

Well, just my 2¢.

I'm sold! Looking forward for Chapter 2...

Very embiggening.

Chapter Two: Point the camera at something interesting.


Light is the one element in photography often given little thought to, yet as your chapter makes clear, essential.

Can't wait for the second chapter!

Dear Mike,
Allow me to 'comment' on your today's post with a link to one of the pages on my website: <http://www.photoeil.be/the_making_of.html>
I hope this will somehow show that I completely agree with your statement...

Yes. Well, we all know that of course, don't we? But the results of actually understanding it could be quite transformative. Big chapter, then. Don't rush us with Chapter Two . . .

"Pay more attention to the light. It's all you ever photograph."

Hideously wrong. Shooting in good light is cheating - everything looks great in good light.

If you are a digital photographer, own your craft proudly. Your craft includes Photoshop.

Taking the right shot of the right subject in lousy light, and using Photoshop to make it real art is every bit as valid and takes twice the effort and four times the skill of craft as getting it right in camera.

I've been in kind of a rut lately and sensing this my son sent me this book.
Just the thing to jump start some dozing chops.
Highly recommended.


I am tempted to add "and pay attention to the shadows," but I suppose that's implicit.

Reading your post and the comments, I think you have hit it. If the book you talk about could be written I suspect it could be written best in 500 words or less.

Chapter Two: Don't forget to remove your lens cap? ;)

Crap! All this time I've been photographing the dark spaces in the light. Sort of like the "silence between the notes." (Claude Debussy)


What about shadows?!?!?

Just Google "Light and photography" --Amazing!

Yes, it's all due to the light, and yes, you can 'photograph the light', and the depicted light is often what is most evocative about a given photograph.
However, photographing the light, especially the beautiful light, is itself a cliché.
I've tried experiments where I photographed by ugly or uninteresting light. So far, the cliché still wins.

You really did bring this on yourself. I'm eagerly awaiting the practicum...

Interesting. "Pay attention to the light." I will make a presumption that the only people that truly understand the meaning of that are people who have spent years discovering and watching the light on a daily basis. Today I walk around all day looking at the photographic quality of the light in all directions, at almost all times. To the point of giving myself a headache. I am primarily an available light photographer and live and die by this recognition.

But I can also vividly remember during my first few years of shooting, upon hearing advice like, "pay attention to the light", I truly had no idea what that meant. I do agree that it is the number one most important piece of advice. But I also think you have to be proficient in that process and language of seeing and watching to even be able to pay attention to it.

I think it needs the 'more'. That is the advice the book gives. Without it, it is just a statement of facts or aphorisms. Instructional photo books sell 50:1 over photo monographs.

Pay total attention to the moment. It's all you ever photograph.

Oh, but Kenneth, I cannot keep the viewfinder of either my GX7 or Fuji x100 uncluttered due to the great design by folks whose origins appear to have been in video games.

Teaching photography via books can be abstract to a lot of folks. The best way to make progress IMO is with a teacher and a structured learning program. I see most students make leaps in progress within a year, and most dedicated students do become good photographers. Check out local community colleges and vo-tech schools for programs. Just my 2 cents.

Today while having my tech news read I stumbled upon a new concept of array camera. Yes, the one Ctein and you discussed every once in a while here.

And they named it... Light.

Otherwise it is of course Lighting which trumps any other element in the chain. I've been enjoying a few days of Nordic semiclear skies and yesterday night I had a show of Northern Lights (unusual for my current latitude).

Chapter 2 should be entitled "Patience," which is required to wait for Chapter 1.

Please don't rush chapter two. i'm only halfway through chapter one.

To paraphrase Winogrand: light on surface, that's all there is. All you ever know (from a photograph).

"A well-lit incoherent frame is crap. Coherence of construction is where most amateurs (and even many "pros") are very weak."

What he said.

Mike, I get that you can only do what you can do. How about building the book one blog post at a time as you can. I'm sure that those of us who would like to have your insights into whatever technique you wish to write about would be delighted whenever you can put them out there. Then maybe after a few years you'll have the material right here and with a bit of editing, viola! You've got a book!

To paraphrase from "The Devil's DP Dictionary"

The least interesting photograph becomes interesting because it is the least interesting.

And don't worry guys, I already created the least interesting photograph about 5 years ago.

Study the great photgraphers and artists in other media too. You can learn a lot from classic paintings. Also when you watch movies note the cinematography. Many of them are artists too!

Learn from the greats and then go your own way.

Oh and buy the best tripod you can afford too!

Here is one of my better recent photos for your C&C. https://www.flickr.com/photos/10025089@N05/21738771300/in/dateposted-public/

This reminded me of one of my favorite photography quotes. It's from one of Brooks Jensen's podcasts (written down, I think, in the first Single Exposures), and which I hope I'm not excerpting too much of:

"...I once attended a workshop in which a very famous workshop instructor said the photography is "about light". I couldn't help but be thunderstruck by how silly that statement is. That's the functional equivalent of saying that novel-writing is about words. ... Good art, meaningful art, the creation of meaningful art, is always about life. ...

But it's not about light because it's not about technique and it's not about tools. There's no doubt about it, light is the important tool, but photography is no more about light than painting is about pigments..."

I've shared that with people who thought I was saying that light doesn't matter, which couldn't be further from the truth. They aren't really contradictory, and both the Jensen quote and Chapter One above have a lot of truth to them.

Just musing aloud, as usual...

[I think I'll have to diverge from Brooks here. Writing is very much about words, in all kinds of ways. They're the sensuous surface of any great novel. And writers who have tin ears for words are exceptionally annoying to me. I won't read them. The idiosyncratic and particular "way with words" characteristic of great writers is part of what defines them--from Melville to Hemingway to Anne Tyler. Even Stephen King. Compare JM Coetzee to Hilary Mantel or Joseph Conrad to Raymond Carver and tell me words don't matter. To imply that novel-writing is not about words makes me shake my head. --Mike]

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