f/8 and be there and 4 other classic photography rules


There is a set of “rules” in photography that are considered classic rules. Not so much “rules” than “good guidelines”. Photography is about creativity after all, but you need to start on firm footing to learn about your creative space.

Digital Camera Reviews & Photography Tips lists these rules in a new article:

  1. f/8 and be there!
    This is about the aperture setting on your camera. It essentially says that f/8 is THE setting to use. I’m hesitant about this rule simply because I don’t follow it as much. I’m generally either going for good isolation with a larger aperture (small f-number), or maximum depth of field with a smaller aperture. One thing though about f/8 is that generally lenses are sharpest around this aperture setting; this and f/11. You need to be familiar with your equipment to know what your trade off between the depth-of-field and sharpness as you go from one end to the other end of the aperture range.
  2. The decisive moment
    If you don’t have the decisive moment — the exact time where something great happens — you may have missed your shot. This requires knowing your camera. Point & shoot cameras are bad for decisive moment photography. I’d had enough occasions when after hitting the shutter, the camera goes off thinking about where to focus, whether it liked my composition and colors, etc. and then finally snap, after the event had passed. And this is with pre-focusing. Even worse is when it doesn’t take anything at all. For this, a dSLR will give you an edge in shooting decisive moments.
  3. Go close
    You can go to the action and be close to the subject, or bring the action to you with a longer lens for better image isolation. Either way, you want the intimacy of the subject by isolating it from the clutter around it. I love wide angles, but need to ensure that I’m balancing the farther aspect of the image without something in the near field. I also love telephotos as I can isolate details from busy scenes in front of me.
  4. The rule of thirds
    This rule works. Following it will definitely help you in composing your shots. Some images just don’t look quite as “right” when they break this rule. Subjects just look too centered. Yet some images clearly benefit from breaking this, such as when symmetry is important to the image. There is much discussion about this rule on the web, and there is much history to it too (it originated from Greece). Here is a good read that expounds this in further detail.
  5. Use the light
    This is what photography is about: the light. The best photos balance light and shadow beautifully. For some types of photography, such as landscapes, there are the magical hours, which is the hour after dawn and the hour before dusk. It is then that the light is warm and pleasing to the eye, and just improves your photography by basking the subject in beautiful light. The worse time for outdoor photography is mid-day when the sun is burning down and casting harsh shadows on your subject. New technology such as Nikon’s D-Lighting and Adobe Lightroom’s fill light can help alleviate the problem of harsh shadows, but you’re better off seeking good light to begin with. This rule needs dedication to be out and shooting when I’d rather be sleeping or having dinner.

Following these rules won’t make your photos shine, there are too many other variables to that equation, but at least they’re a good place to start to understand what you’re taking and how you’re taking them.


13 Responses to “f/8 and be there and 4 other classic photography rules”

  1. 1 David Richerby

    I think you’ve rather missed the point of `f/8 and be there!’. It’s absolutely not saying that f/8 is the ultimate and best aperture for all work. As the article you link says, it’s saying that you should worry less about camera settings and more about finding interesting things to photograph.

    Taken more literally, it applies to street photography and that kind of photojournalism where the decisive moment is key but the photographer has no control over the action. You’re not going to capture the decisive moment if it happens while you’re fiddling with camera settings.

    So, what you want is a good `general-purpose’ setting that will allow you to get a reasonable photo by just composing and releasing the shutter. f/8 is a good compromise: it gives you reasonable depth of field and a reasonably short exposure. With something like a 35mm lens, the depth of field is usually enough that you can pre-focus at the sort of distance wbere you expect the action to happen and fire the shot off even faster.

    • 2 TopL

      You’re right David. “f/8 and be there” has two parts to it. The “f/8” part and the “be there” part, and the latter is much more important. The phrase should be more along the lines of “Be there, and oh, by the way, f/8 is not a bad aperture to start with…”, but that wouldn’ve been much less catchy. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Good clarification David – It’s really about being there. When friends ask me about “which camera is the best”, “am i doing it right”, “teach me how to be a photographer”, I always tell them – there is not “best” camera, no “right” way, and you already are a photographer. If what you have on you is a shitty cell phone camera, but you get the shot, you still got the shot, and the circumstances of getting that shot can only add to the reality of it. If I’m sitting at home watching tv with my SLR in my hands, I didn’t get the shot, no matter how “nice” my camera is.

    Anyway, to that effect – I have assigned one of the “custom” mode selectors on my SLR to be my “f/8 and be there” setting – dial in a medium F, boost up the ISO a bit, turn on auto focus, drive mode, no flash, Large JPEG and evaluative metering, and let it fly.



  3. Guys, let me help you a bit with “F8 and be there”. I’ve been a working photojournalist for over thirty years. The phrase originated in photojournalism and is another way to say “when you’re lucky be ready”. In other words, always keep a camera on your shoulder set at F8, yes the sharpest point in a lens, but also because it leaves enough room for a faster shutter speed in the event all you have time to do is lift your camera in the direction of a sudden news event without focusing. Hope this helps…kv

    • 6 TopL

      I did not know that. Good info on the history of that phrase! Cheers! — Top

  4. 7 JC

    I thought the point of F8 and be there was that on a 35 mm lens on a 35 mm camera, at F/8, anything that was in the range you’d want to be photographing at would already be in focus so you didn’t have to waste time focusing, you could just point and snap your shot. If you focus at about 17 feet under those circumstances, anything that’s at least 8 feet away from you will be in focus

    • 8 Lilianna

      As I understand this quote is from Arthur Felling, aka ‘WeeGee’
      He used a large format Speed Graphic press camera. Likely with a roughly 5 inch focal length lens (127-135mm 35mm EFL). With the larger negative and minimal enlargement need this gave good depth of field and long flash range. Most of his work was flash bulb work…very powerful bulbs.
      He was interested in speed, catching the image, the moment etc.
      His alias came from the rumor he used a Ouija board top make it to crime scenes so fast, in reality he seems to have a police band radio. A rarity in those days.

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