Take the Shot

You hike to the top of Mount Umanhum to see the sun rise. It is magnificent. What are the most important considerations in photographing that sunrise?  The most important thing is having a camera with you. Getting to the top of Mount Umanhum by sunrise was also critical. All else is detail.

To take good photographs, you must (1) be in a place that offers a good subject, (2) have a working camera, and (3) point the camera and shoot. This is not as obvious as it may seem. What constitutes a good subject?  Among the possibilities are subjects which:
  • remind you of what it was like to have been there
  • evoke the feeling of having been there to others
  • provide an artistic pattern that makes the viewer's mind work in pleasing ways
  • illustrate an interesting circumstance
  • lead to examination or contemplation, perhaps teaching about the subject
  • presents an element of a sequence that tells a story
  • presents an element of a collection that illustrates a theme

Take photos to remember your travels

Road to Waimea
Hilo Building
Tropical Fruit
Hilo Bay
There are many other purposes for photography. These include scientific and technical ones, showing a product attractively in an ad, or documenting an historical event. An outstanding news photograph may at once document an event, evoke the feeling of being there, and present an interesting artistic composition. Try this exercise: look at a collection of photographs and decide what notes each photograph is hitting, and which it is missing. This will help shape your ideas of what you want to do with photography.

Having a camera is important. That goes beyond remembering to pack one. If you buy an expensive camera with a lens that can fill the frame with Mars, will you take it with you to lunch?  Maybe nothing interesting will happen at lunch, but maybe something will. It might be that the sandwich you get strikes you as one of the best-looking sandwiches you have seen in a long time. I was in line at an airport ticket counter when a car crashed through the front of the terminal and drove through. My camera was neatly packed away in the luggage. Now I have a pocket camera.

If you have a camera, you must also point it. When I was young, I took pictures with a view camera, one of those great big things with a bellows, usually pictured with Ansel Adams behind it. After I married, my wife, for some strange reason, thought that twenty minutes to take a single photo was too much. After a time, I recognized she had a point.

Setting up a view camera is an extreme, but taking a picture can be burdensome. You must recognize that a subject is worthy of a picture. If you cannot do that mostly by instinct, it can diminish your experience by your having to think about photography rather than participating in being there. Not participating in the experience is at cross-purposes with wanting to recall the memory of the experience. If you find a subject, you then have to figure the exposure, composition, the zoom setting of your lens, and the exact moment to take the picture. Maybe it just isn't worth the trouble.

Current pocket cameras are automatic and a digital camera has no film costs.  (Those view camera photos were $2 each for film and processing, back when money was silver.) So what you should do is take the picture.  Do not worry if there is enough light, if you are facing towards the sun, if you are too close or too far away, or if the subject really qualifies as being interesting enough. (Okay, don't have the unblocked orb of the sun in the picture, or you may zap the camera.) Leave the zoom at wide angle.  Just take the picture. No amount of technical expertise or artistic mastery can compensate for failing to point the camera and shoot.

I am a very interested photographer, so I take a lot of photos. I don't expect many people to be as avid. Nonetheless, I'm amazed at how rarely I see other people taking photos. These days nearly everyone owns a camera, so we know they are potentially equipped. One of my favorite photo spots is a spectacular botanical garden in Hawaii. It abounds with variegated tropical foliage, exotic flowers, and strange trees. There are waterfalls, streams, and ponds, and it even has a magnificent sea coast.  I see few people taking pictures. Maybe a shot of the family in front of a waterfall, but that's about it. I suppose avid golfers wonder equally about people with no interest in golf.

This site will not convert a person with no interest in photography to one who takes pictures of lunch. Its goal is to help people who have an interest become better photographers. The greater part of that is in tips to make the process of taking pictures easier, without so much effort as to get in the way of enjoying the world as it is. We are willing to fuss later, at home, working with a photo editing software to polish the images.

This lesson is the most important one: carry a pocket camera, point it at interesting things, and press the shutter. That's what's important.

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