By E. David Luria, Founder and Director, Washington Photo Safari
You’re attending a photography workshop when you look around. You have the impression that everybody else has a bigger, better camera than yours--longer lens, newer, more expensive, more features. You have Lens Envy! You feel inadequate! Tail between your legs, you slink back home to engage in your other hobby—cooking. You prepare a great meal and serve it to your friends. They love the food, and one of them says, “Gee, that was delicious! How did you do that? You must have a great OVEN.” You pause for a moment, thinking, “A great oven?” As politely as possible, you say, “It’s not the oven. It’s me. I just know what I’m doing. It’s the cook who makes a great meal, not the oven.” What’s true for cooking is also true for photography.
If telephoto zooms and wide-angle lenses are so important, why did Henri Cartier Bresson capture all his most famous images with a simple 50mm lens? If autofocus and matrix metering and six-frame-per-second shutters are so important, why is it that Joe Rosenthal caught his famous Marine Corps flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in perfect alignment with one push of the button on an old Speed Graphic? If color quality is so important, why are the classic photographs that are most seared in our memory mainly in black and white?
As a photography instructor, I’ve trained several thousand people how to take better pictures with any kind of camera--film or digital. One of my favorite clients arrived on a photo safari loaded down with about $4,000 worth of expensive camera gear draped around his neck. He explained, “I just looked at what the professional photographers use and got myself the same stuff.” He figured the equipment would help him take better pictures. It didn’t. Bigger, better cameras give you more options. They give you longer zooms, wider angles, faster and slower shutter speeds, more control over exposure and color filtration--but not necessarily better pictures.
The first step in taking good pictures is, of course, defining the subject. What’s the point of this picture? Why are you taking it? What are you trying to show? Who is the “client” for this picture? An architect? A nature-lover? The child’s parents? A magazine editor? If you’re your own client, what use do you have in mind for the picture? A family album? An e-mail to friends? You need to have a clear purpose. Next, pick a time of day when you have the best light. For outdoor pictures, this is generally an hour on either side of sunrise or sunset and never any time in between. After determining the purpose, get close to your subject. Eliminate any distraction in the background, so who or what the picture is about is clear to the viewer.
Ready to take the picture? Make sure you’re holding the camera correctly, resting the body of the camera on the palm of your left hand, wrapping your left hand’s fingers underneath and around the lens, holding it very tightly to reduce camera shake. Better yet, use a tripod.Wait! Before you push the button, make sure you like what you see. What you see in the viewfinder is the way your image is going to look. Do you like it? Okay, push the button. More importantly, if you don’t like it, DON’T push the button! Lastly, look at all the pictures you’ve taken and remember that your worst pictures are your best teachers. Learn from your mistakes, so you won’t repeat them.
- First, I urge my clients to adopt my official position on photography--which is to lie on the ground where all the good pictures are.
- Second, I tell them that in the Luria Administration, we are opposed to “Faith-Based Photography,” that can be expressed as “I will take 500 pictures on this trip and pray that ten of them come out.” That wing-and-a-prayer approach to photography results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only ten pictures come out.