“If you’re out there, shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there shooting, you’ll only hear about it.”
“As people, we love pattern. But interrupted pattern is more interesting.”
“If the light is great in front of you, you should turn around and see what it is doing behind you.”
All three quotes by Jay Maisel. www.jaymaisel.com To me, and many others, Jay is perhaps one of the greatest commercial photographers of all time. Based in New York City, Jay is now 92 years old. I was fortunate to meet him in person at his studio back in the film days when he and a group of high-end photographers asked me to show my images of the Iditarod at one of their monthly gatherings. What a great and humbling experience that was.
“It’s Not About The F/Stop” is actually a book written by the aforementioned New York commercial photographer, Jay Maisel, published in 2015. I’ve never read the book. But just from the title, I know EXACTLY what he’s talking about. Too many up-and-coming, new to the photography world photographers seem to believe that the settings (Shutter speed, ISO, lens focal length and of course the F/Stop or “Aperture”) on the camera are what help make a good photograph.
While there are absolutely times when the settings may help make one photo better than the other, I would argue (and I believe so would Jay) that 90% of the time, it’s about the composition. It’s about being there. It’s about capturing the decisive moment. It’s about composing the image so that it draws in the viewer… even stopping them in their tracks to NEED to look at it. THAT’s what makes a compelling photograph.
What I tell my photo tour clients is that if YOU like the photo, it’s a good photo. Don’t let me or anyone else tell you differently.
Here’s two recent examples:
I very much like this photo. This image was taken in the Big Trees State Park in California on a recent trip. Did it matter what F/stop or settings I used? I don’t really think so. I like the image for the composition. So, in this case, it was a matter of seeing the potential of photo that might look good and making a composition that I like. This photo was made with my smart phone. And the settings happened to be: 33mm at f/1.8 at ISO 80 at 1/121th of a second.(Yes, smart phones use ISO and f-stops and shutter speed. Every camera on the planet does.) I don’t believe this image would have been any better if it was shot at some other settings or with a “real camera” as I like to call my DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are absolutely times when you need to use the “Science” of photography, like a smaller f/stop (f/16 or f/22) in order to get lots of depth of field and have EVERYTHING in focus. Like this:
Or a faster shutter speed (1/1000th second) in order to stop action like this:
One thing that is extremely important and necessary for every photographer to know is EXACTLY how the exposure triangle works in order to get proper exposure… Proper exposure is where the histogram is in the middle or to the right. You MUST must understand the correlation of the aperture and shutter speed, an ISO, and how they exactly relate to each other. I can’t stress that enough. I find the majority of photographers on my tour, don’t truly understand how those three variables interact and can modify a photo.
Often times when I’m photographing wildlife, I am indeed changing my f-stop and shutter speed in order to get more or less depth of field based on the focal length of the lens and the situation I’m in. HOWEVER…. by and large, a good image is a good image. No matter what camera settings you shoot it at.
So, as the great 1930’s and ‘40’s New York street photographer, Weegee would respond when asked about how he made such great photos it’s simply: “F8, and be there”.
I love that statement by Weegee.. aka Arthur Fellig. Read more about him on Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weegee
It’s basically the same thing as Jay Maisel’s “It’s not about the f-stop”. It’s about being there. It’s about seeing the light. Seeing the scene. Anticipating and waiting for the decisive moment. It’s about seeing the best image of ANY scene… knowing your equipment and how to use it.
Speaking of seeing & finding the best image of any scene– I believe because of our affluence this day and age; many photographers strive to go to those unique places around the world where they’ve seen other people make good photographs. And repeat the same or near same images. I contend I should be able to create a good image my backyard. Or nearly any place. I believe a good photographer can make a worthwhile photograph of the cracks in the sidewalk on any street corner. It’s about the composition.
One thing I very much prefer NOT to do is to go to the places everyone else goes. I like to go off the beaten path, and I like to photograph without others around. I don’t want to go photograph Horseshoe Bend (Arizona) or Half Dome (Yosemite) or those SAME waterfalls in Iceland that everyone and their brother has a photo of. What’s the point of that?! For sure I may want to visit these places for the experience, but I prefer to be a bit more creative and also a bit more adventurous to find my own places to photograph as best I can. Now, that said, when I do visit those places, I’ll still take a photograph but it will likely only be with my smart phone. And likely not the same exact place where everyone else’s is tripod legs have dug holes in the ground from past over-use. I would contend that there’s a myriad of places within 50 miles of where any of us live that will allow one to make great photos.
Back to the camera settings. What’s the POINT!!
I also teach my photo tour clients that the settings I do choose are based on what MY “end-game” is of the photo. What is the point of the image? Do I WANT a lot of depth of field to have everything sharp? Do I WANT less depth of field so the subject will stand out from the background? Do I want a Long Exposure in order to allow the clouds or water or foliage to show movement? or do I need to fast shutter speed in order to stop the action? My settings should ALWAYS be based on “what is the point of the photo”?! What do I want to show the viewer? How do I want to be creative in expressing the scene at hand?
Here’s some examples what I was thinking before I shot the photo. What was the point of the picture?
Depth of Field —–
Fast Shutter Speed
These two images below are exactly what I’m talking about when I say, what is the point of the photo. Take a look closely at the two images below, and especially the descriptions under each one.
Slow shutter speed AND Depth of field.
Settings don’t matter
Depth of Field AND Fast Shutter Speed —
No Depth of Field, Faster Slow Shutter Speed —
So I’m hopeful from this article and exercise that you can see the settings themselves don’t truly matter. It’s being at the right place at the right time and knowing how to use your equipment. It’s composing the photo in such a way that it creates a compelling image.
All the best —