The view from above.
The view from above.


That’s the question. As I mentioned yesterday, a fellow blogger asked how I come up with my ideas. If you read some of the comments for yesterday’s post, especially those between Michelle and I, you know my answer.

I don’t know.

I’m not putting anybody off. Or, being secretive. All I know is that I always saw and thought in the way that I do. It wasn’t always as clear to me as it is today. But, clarity came with time, experience and practice.

Besides, telling you how I come up with something is assuming that my something is the same as yours. That can’t be correct. We are all different.


Instead, I’m going to talk about my rules. The ones inside of me.

I’m hesitant to do that because a year or so ago, WordPress asked new photographers to shoot a picture following The Rule of Thirds in one of their challenges. The response was loud and very noisy. “I’m not following any damn rules.” “I can do anything that I want.” “Who needs rules?”

Uh. Wait a minute. The Rule of Thirds is a mathematical concept based on some laws of nature. Human beings are more or less built in thirds. So are trees. Flowers. Bushes.

Lighten up. Read the concept. Learn the rule. Then break it.


My first rule is Robert Capa’s old saying. Capa was a famous war photographer who photographed World War II’s D-Day and managed to step on a land mine in the earliest days of the Vietnam War and blow himself up. He said, “If the picture isn’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.” Think about that. It doesn’t just mean physical distance. It means an emotional distance. Spiritual distance. It implies closeness with the subject.

My second rule. “Don’t take the picture. Let the picture take you.” I’ve heard that from a number of sources. Think about that. Wait, wait, wait. The picture will appear if you just work with the subject and take your time with it. Sometimes it’s a look. Or motion. Or light.

My third rule comes from National Geographic Society’s William Allard. I never look at pictures of a place to which I’m traveling. I research it. I read about it from a historical perspective and from a semi-fictional point of view. I prefer to find my own pictures. I do not want to duplicate somebody else’s work. I don’t want to find the place where 100,000 other photographers worked. I don’t want my tripod to be in their tripod holes.

My fourth rule comes from Jay Maisel. If you aren’t impressed with your own picture, how do you expect me to be impressed by it?

My last two rules also come from Mr. Maisel. Leave everything and everybody better off than when you found them. Make your subjects smile. Talk to them. Remember that your picture is their story. Tell it. With honor and dignity. That applies to scenics as well. Take nothing but pictures.

And finally, always carry a camera. You can’t take a picture without one. It is certain that the moment will not ever be the same. It’s not very hard these days to carry something with which to make a picture.

Which ones do I follow regularly?

All of them. They are deeply ingrained inside of me.

I’m going to add one more. My own rule. I’m old enough now that I can create rules too. Heh!

Don’t make every picture you take precious. You don’t have to go on some big trip to take pictures. Take pictures. At home. In your yard. While you are out and about. As a friend of mine says, some of the best pictures are the ones that you make photographing your world. Show us your world. You’ll be far better off for it. So will we.

These pictures. My world. My way. Christmas lights. Decorations. And, a bit of the tree. Why this way? I started out by shooting family pictures and the usual documentary things. Pretty soon I got bored and started looking at shape. And color. And light. I controlled everything. But, the ISO. I let that fall into auto because photographing directly into lights can get tricky. You can end up with a bunch of bright point of light and a bunch of silhouettes. And… I’m lazy.


Stars and lights.
Stars and lights.


      1. Most cameras are good to about -40 C. That said, some processing speeds and the reaction times of your camera’s LCD my slow down a little. You can keep your camera in a pocket or someplace close to you to help it stay warm. The biggest issue is batteries. Intense cold drain battery power very quickly. My best advice it to carry more than one spare battery.


      2. It’s just a suggestion. My winter coats have huge pockets. Wrap it in scarf or something. Or, just keep it in your camera bag. Plastic bags create condensation. Sealing a warm camera in a cold bag means the minute you take it out moisture forms.


  1. I agree with all your “rules” … I also use the “rule of thirds” as a good staring point.
    My goal is to shoot and publish for quality, not quantity. I usually just post one photo that I hope folks will find interesting with a suitable and maybe ironic caption and maybe a some description. I strongly agree about photographicly exploring the area where you live – it help to sharpen and discipline your awareness of crazy little details like reflections in puddles. Many times I will shoot something just to record it for an idea – kinda of like sketching. And I enjoy doing some post production editing to hopefully fully create an image that I really like.


    1. Those are my rules. Something else might work better for you. Me? I work the scene. It could one picture or 150. That doesn’t mean I have to show them all. That’s where editing experience comes into play. Keep in mind that in the film days NGS photographs shoot around 500 rolls of film on assignment. By the time those 18,000 frames were edited, 60 made it to the “show and tell.” And only a small percentage of that made it into the magazine.


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