By Lane Erickson
F/8 and be there! It’s a popular quote among photographers. Where did it come from? It’s probably apocryphal but the saying is attributed to the celebrated journalist photographer Arthur Fellig a/k/a “Weegee”. Google his nickname and you will find an ocean of information and images.
Weegee was celebrated as a photographer because he had a knack for producing amazing images of everyday life and crime in New York city. As the story goes, Weegee was once asked how he consistently captured such amazing photos. His reply, “Simple. f/8 and be there.”
His answer represents a philosophy where action is more important than reflection.
In other words, quoting from Wikipedia, “the philosophy has been explained thus: Simplicity in the technical is equal to being present and prepared. No complicated photographic technique here: just a basic setting (f/8) with enough depth of field for most subjects. And then “being there” in the right place, right time, tuned in to your surroundings, ready to shoot the perfect moment when it unfolds in front of your lens. — Rich Underwood
For some reason I was reading about Weegee and out of curiosity I went back to some photos I’ve created recently to see if I had taken any at f/8. What I found astounded me. It was this photo.
The technical data for the photo is: Fuji X-T1 camera with the fantastic Fujifilm XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS lens. Exposure was ISO 200, 1/350 at f/8.
Why did it surprise me that I had taken this photo at f/8? It’s because I was “being there” when I created this image.
The photo is of dead trees in the water of Earthquake Lake. This lake is in Montana. Most people call it Quake Lake.
The lake appeared in August 1959, when with no warning a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake triggered a landslide where half a mountain came down and buried 28 people who were sleeping peacefully in a campground below. Some campers escaped, but most didn’t.
The landslide instantly blocked the Madison River; the water backed up and Quake Lake was formed. Trees that had once been on the mountainside became submerged. Only the trees closest to the bank of Quake Lake are partially visible.
My family and I went to Quake Lake, in August of this year (2019), which marked the 60th anniversary of this natural disaster. We spent time in the Visitor’s Center and watched the movie presented there. We also visited with the Park Rangers and we read many of the historical markers. So, when we finally looked out at the lake, we were already “there”.
When I looked my eyes were immediately drawn to the half submerged dead trees. The white trunks contrasted sharply against the dark water and the living forest on the shore. I knew I had my image because it perfectly captured both the awe I felt at the staggering power of nature; and the sorrow I felt for the people who lost their lives, and for their families who suffered afterwards.
Great photos really comes down to feeling. Do you “feel” something as you create your images? If not, then maybe you need to practice technique less and practice “being there” more. Once you really know how you feel about what you are looking at, you are “there”. When this happens your images will improve. This is how Weegee consistently created great photos. And, this is why Weegee said being there was the key.
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