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ƒ/8 And Be There

Are your decisions in the field guided by fate or simply random choices you have to live with?

ƒ/8 And Be There

If you’ve been into photography for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with the expression ƒ/8 and be there. It originated back in the days of film and was coined by the famous street photographer Arthur Fellig, AKA Weegee. Simply stated, back when earlier cameras and lenses were manufactured, ƒ/8 provided the sharpest aperture at which a photo could be made, hence the ƒ/8 aspect. The “be there” part refers to the fact that potentially exciting events unfold constantly, but to capture them in a photo, one has to be there to make the image. In this week’s tip, I explore how the famous quote relates to a play on words: ƒ/8 = fate. 

Fate is defined as the development of uncontrollable events that are predetermined by a power beyond one’s control. It’s destined to happen in a given way. In simple terms, if it’s meant to be, it will be. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, once you make a choice and act upon it, given circumstances evolve. So, what does fate have to do with photography? I’ll provide some examples.

ƒ/8 And Be There

The Fork In The Road

When I run photo safaris to the Serengeti, we drive the roads looking for wildlife. Often, a single road leads to a fork. We look in the distance and the terrain is identical, the light is the same and both roads have ruts and bumps. Since the roads mirror each other, should we go left or right to find the best wildlife? If the road to the left is taken and we encounter fantastic wildlife situations, we revel in the right decision. If we go right and see nothing, we insist we made the wrong decision. The caveat is that regardless which road we choose, we don’t know what the other offers. Is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with?

The Early Riser

As photographers, the myriad decisions we make impact what we capture. The alarm goes off, we look outside and see heavy clouds to the east. We have a choice to either go back to bed or head into the field despite the weather. If we go out and get great images of dramatic light, we congratulate our determination. If we get skunked, we blame ourselves for wasting time, gas, effort and not getting sleep. What could have been if we did the opposite? Once again, is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with?

ƒ/8 And Be There

The Lens Dilemma

You’re in the Serengeti. In the seat next to you is your 600mm on one body and an 80-400mm on the other. Should you pick up the 600mm to get the portrait and miss the interaction or use the 80-400mm and miss the full-frame yawn with the tongue out? It’s a choice you have to make. Is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with?

Camera Settings

The sunrise near the acacia tree and sprawling plains is beautiful, as is the light. In the foreground is a regal male lion. Should you use ƒ/4 to blur the background on a tight crop of the lion or risk slow shutter camera blur if you stop down to ƒ/16 to put the background into focus for an environmental portrait? Depending on the outcome of either scenario, you may or may not get the best image. Is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with? 

ƒ/8 And Be There

Fill Flash

I love to use fill flash to augment the light, especially when a wildlife subject is back or side lit. But, should I take the time to set up the flash to add light to the shadow areas? Should I risk ghosting if the subject moves at the flash synch speed of 1/250 sec. or miss the frozen action if the animal lunges or makes a sudden quick move? Once again, is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with? 

Focus Point

Another situation where it comes into play is at the wintering grounds of snow geese. Two are in my viewfinder and I want to zero in on one for the flight shot. I decide to place my focus point on the one on the left, but the one on the right launches itself in dramatic fashion. The same scenario may occur if you place the focus point on the one on the right. We don’t know what the other offers. Is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with?

ƒ/8 And Be There

Subject Choice

Two herds of elephants appear along the Mara River and the light is gorgeous on both and each group contains a two-month-old baby. Should I aim my lens on the group on the left or right? I have to decide. Sometimes it will be right and sometimes it will be wrong. Is it fate, luck or simply a decision you have to live with?

The point I wish to share is to adhere to the “ƒ/8 and be there” guideline, but the choice you make is F+ 8 = FATE; or is it luck, an educated decision, guided by instinct or based on experience? Lions to the left of me, cheetahs to the right—here I am, stuck in the middle to make a decision. If you make the right choice, bravo, but if it doesn’t pan out, it wasn’t meant to be. If it’s meant to be, it will be—live with your decision.

Food for thought penned many years ago yet still holds true:

  1. Each player must accept the cards life deals them. But once they’re in hand, the player alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.
  2. How a person masters their fate is more important than what their fate is.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography safaris to Tanzania.