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Smudged Notes from Pocket

This morning I found a scrap of clean paper in an alley and took some notes as I tried to make pictures (didn’t really make any). Here they are:

  • If you’re out walking, and it’s early or late and the light’s good, walk with the light. Meaning, if you have a limited amount of time, make sure that you’re walking with the light to your back, so you can go slow and let it all unroll in front of you. Otherwise, you’re like a three-year old salmon, bucking the sun stream.
  • Travel light - even if you’re only out for an afternoon. Keep your gear simple. Leave the camera bag at home, even. Free things up, see how it feels.
  • A few times this weekend (like always) I saw great pictures that I didn’t take, or chose not to take, or failed to take, or whatever. And it felt really good to let them go. If you pick everything, there won’t be any fruit next year. It’s corny, I know.
  • If you’re not having fun taking pictures, at least enjoy the fact that you’re outside and walking a few miles and being active under the ozone hole. Say hi just because. Meet some people. If you see someone twisting a map this way and that, offer help.
  • If, in your thoughts, you ask yourself “should I take this picture?” and the subject is inert, like a building or a plant or something that will be there tomorrow or the next day, say “no” and walk away. If you’re asking, it’s probably not going to be something that you’ll miss. Inert can be good, second guessing yourself isn’t.
  • Construction zones. If you’re looking to take more pictures of people, but find it difficult, look for scaffolding. You might find one of those sidewalk skirters, where there’s a divider and a place for pedestrians to walk. If the light’s good, you can stand on the other side of the divider, and photograph people as they funnel through. I’ve never tried this, but it looks like a good idea. Sure, this is cheating a bit, but it helps to start somewhere. Walker Evans made his photographs on the subway with a camera hidden in the folds of his coat and a cable release threaded down his sleeve.
  • Photo 101: 1/1000th@f2.8 = 1/500th@f4 = 1/250th@f5.6 = 1/125th@f8. And the difference between shade and sunlight is usually four stops. This stuff is simple, but it’s taken me a long time to know it, unflinchingly. It’s finally starting to sink in.
  • One more thing: If you’re in a spot where you’re photographing people who happen to be walking, and you’re in that river, be sure to look for eddies where the flow spins back and settles. Simply, if you’re photographing one kind of motion (people walking) keep your eyes out for people who have slowed, and are still, or for people who are running. Extremes provide contrast.

Tag: How To, Tidbits