Making a photograph

One of the great sayings of photography is that one should make photographs, not take photographs.

A famous quote, attributed to Ansel Adams, is that “a good photograph is knowing where to stand”.

Often, the general public thinks that great photographs are the result of the photographer being lucky, or being in the right place at the right time.  Occasionally that is true, especially with press or documentary photography.  However, even here, luck favors the prepared.  (another one …)

Couple “being in the right place at the right time” with the advertising of modern cameras as doing most of the work for you, and we live in a photographic culture that convinces folks that all they need is the right gear and to go to the right places.  I know many photographers that feel they have to travel (some extensively) in order to make pictures.

Here is a video (podcast) from the George Eastman House that explains the concept of making a photograph through one picture, better than I can with 1000 words.



Frequently Asked Questions

After 10+ years of participating on internet photography forums, it is obvious that 90-95% of the content is repetitive and falls into a small group of categories:

  1. frequently asked questions (basic, repetitive and easily researched by the asker)
  2. bragging about the camera one owns
  3. bitching about the cameras other people own
  4. bitching about the amount of money someone else sold a photograph for
  5. Kodak bashing
  6. complaints about Ebay, Craigslist, the USPS, UPS, FedEx and KEH Camera
  7. endless arguments about whether photography is art
  8. totally irrelevant political nonsense

I cannot do anything about # 2-8, but for efficiency, I have attempted to address the FAQs that are asked periodically and incessantly.

I just bought a darkroom off Craigslist.  How do I develop and print pictures?

Read a book. Take a class. Find a teacher. (pick one or more)

What is the best film for 35mm (or) medium format (or) 4×5?


What is the best developer?


What film and developer will give me that “old-time” look.

Any of them.  Just have your photos printed half-tone on newsprint.

What is the best 35mm slr?


Why is Leica so expensive?

Because they’re special, and if you don’t understand that, you’re not worthy.

Why large format?

Larger negative, more detail, wider tonal scale, contact printing; and judging from watching several friends, a certain amount of masochism.

Why are my negatives bad?

Because you did it wrong.  Read the directions.

What is the development time for (fill in the blank)?

Read the directions.

I’m going on a trip to X, what is the best film to use?

Film is not geographically specific.

I’m going on a trip to X, which camera should I take?

The one that takes the film we told you to use in your prior thread.

Can I build my own safelight from red light bulbs or LEDs?

Yes, but why would you when proper safelights are so cheap?

Which is better: steel or plastic reels?

Steel is better if you don’t drop them. Plastic is better if you keep them clean.

What can I use for developing trays besides actual developing trays?

Any number of things, but why, when proper trays are so cheap?

My darkroom is in the basement with the laundry, furnace and where the cats sleep.  Why is there dust on my negatives?


Is 10 seconds the right amount of exposure for prints?


I found a 40 year old roll of film, how do I develop it?

(sigh …)

I’ve been “into” photography for 47 days and I’m really getting fed up with digital.  I just bought a 35mm 3 hours ago.  Should I get into large format?


Hope this helps …

Book announcement

The British photography forum Film and Darkroom User has published a yearbook for 2014 and I am pleased that they accepted 3 photographs from this Yank.

All 3 are work from calendar year 2014, and were, in fact, taken during my trip through California and the Southwest in May of this year.

The book is available here: