Just the Facts, Jack

I started working on a new article (which I would submit to ezines.com to help my google ranking).  The idea was to write an extremely simple set of  rules about the basics of photography.  You know.  Cover the idea of the F-Stop, the Shutter Speed, how the light meter works; and how different sized lenses effect the image.

It was sort of an idiotic idea since the web and the bookstores are filled with this information, but I wanted to do a very short crib sheet where I could succinctly explain these basics,  sort of like the laws of physics.

At first it all seemed simple enough, but I kept coming up with exceptions to the rules I was explaining, and it is just getting longer and longer so that what I thought would be a consice two page piece is now up to ten pages.

You know how it is, don’t you?  At first I was just explaining (not technically at all) what the f-stop represented, but that lead me into the concept of Depth of Field (DOF) which lead to things like the length of the lens being used, and it all just kept getting more and more verbose as even this post gets more verbose trying to explain the problem of being non-verbose.

Besides the ezines.com submission, I had the grandiose idea of enlightening the world of point and shooters.  I guess it’s the educator streak in my genes since all my relatives are or have been teachers.  I thought I could do the world a bit of good and maybe one person could benefit from this knowledge if it was presented in a palatable and simple way.  I never liked the Whatever for Dummies Series, (Brain Surgery for Dummies)  since I didn’t see any reason for demeaning the reader.  But to repeat, the idea of a crib sheet for shooting seemed worthwhile.

So the crib sheet is around ten pages right now, and I still haven’t covered ASA / ISO or how light readings are measured.

But I am determined to finish it up since I’ve already spent a few mornings at it, and that’s longer than I’ve spent on any recent piece of writing.  I don’t expect there will be anything in it that you don’t know – but I’ll post it any way and open it up for comments before submitting it to ezine.com so long as you can put yourself into the head of the person I’m aiming this at, uhm everyone I know with a point and shoot who doesn’t know what a point-and-shoot is.  Or people who’ve seen that funny F-Stop thingy but have no idea what it is,  but are curious to know.

Every time I tried to write some genera definition, I could always think of an exception. I wanted to say: every camera has a lens, a shutter and some method of recording the light which enters the camera.   But it got me to wondering, what are the properties of a lens? Does it need to have glass elements? No, since lenses are made of plastic, and who knows what else.  Is it anything that focuses light?  Is the opening in a pinhole camera a lens?  Is the piece of cardboard or whatever you put over the pinhole a shutter?  Or should I just forget about these sorts of exceptions and stick to that point-and-shoot.

I remember writing that the longer the lens, the closer the object appears.  Even a simple idea like this isn’t true, since a normal lens on a 4×5 camera might be what – 150mm?  And the normal lens on a cell phone would be what – a couple of mms.  The only way that I could make it simple enough for the average person to understand – was to pick a particular sized camera, a typical point-and-shoot and talk about these ideas in terms of this generalized / specific camera.

I’m going to boil this thing down to basic concepts of photography.  I can do it – but it was harder than I thought it’d be.


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My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.

7 thoughts on “Just the Facts, Jack”

  1. Well, the Royal Society, the foundational scientists in England in the 17th century, demanded simple words and simple language. What they hardly meant to say, I think, was how beautiful such simple and plain rhetoric, about plain and simple things, could be.

  2. Hi Dave,
    You asked for comments. Here’s mine.
    Do you actually OWN a Point & Shoot. Or, in fact, have you actually ever even USED a Digital Point & Shoot?
    I don’t think you’re talking about a crib sheet for Point and Essers.
    Don’t overcomplicate it. You’re thinking of a relatively sophisticated camera (with most of the bells and whistles) which can be used as a P&S. They’re two different species.


  3. Bill – of course I’ve used a point and shoot. In fact, I own three of them, starting with the Canon A75 and going to the A640. These are point and shoots aren’t they? Though they are fairly sophisticated. I wasn’t looking for comments on this post but when I do put up the finished article – but always glad to hear from you. There was a time when I hoped that I could replace my SLRs with a P/S but I always found faults with them: shutter lag, noisy images once you went over 400 etc. What I really liked about the P/S that I had was flipping down the LCD. It had a tic-tac-toe grid on it, and reminded me of the old Rollei TLR. I always found it easier to shoot looking down and not directly at the subject – whether it was a person or a piece of wood – because it gave me an extra mental distance from the subject (if you know what I mean.)

    Michael: Simple it is. E=MC Squared. Can’t get much simpler than that.

  4. Dave,

    You mentioned that the article’s target audience is the masses using point and shoot cameras. Therefore, you should aim the writing at them as well, no need to go into all the exceptions, as that audience probably doesn’t even know what a 4×5 camera is. I would keep it simple, and only list exceptions that will be meaningful to that target audience, plus I would probably not complicate the writing by including the exceptions in the main text, I’d probably put those in a sidebar or something of the like.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to read it, I’m sure it will work out well.


  5. I did something similar several years back. I had a number of friends asking about the basic operation of a camera so I sat down and wrote it out. Just about exactly what you’re talking about, boil the operation of a camera down to its most basic things. I chose to focus on aperture, shutter speed and iso. I had intended to go back and write more “lessons” detailing things like how a camera meter reads a scene and the effect that focal length has etc but I haven’t yet.

    I posted the results on a blog and tonight I went through google and found it’s still up: http://pjnicksphoto101.blogspot.com/. I don’t have access to that account anymore so I can’t change the few typos I’ve found, maybe I’ll have to copy it down and re-post it somewhere else.

    Good luck with your writing, I too am eagerly waiting to see it when it comes out.

  6. Nick
    That is an excellent series of basic lessons. I wonder how many people would do your exercises on their own.
    My target audience either has a p/s digital, or a cellphone.

    They’re not going to do exercises that involve getting off the couch. In fact, it’s sort of like a troubleshooting guide for a moderately intelligent 10 year old.

    Can you help them solve the most common problems, without getting technical? And can it all fit on no more than two pages? It just seemed like an interesting challenge for me. But I don’t know if it’s feasible. So far – not really. But I’m continuing to futz with it. My audience is really the people I know who constantly return from vacations with the most crappy pictures, and they are aware that they haven’t managed to capture any part of their wonderful time – but they don’t understand what they did wrong. For the most part, they blame the camera and believe that with a better camera they’d take better pictures.

    But I thought that for the more serious student – your lessons – especially if there was someone there to guide them a bit – would work well.

    Ezines doesn’t support embedded images, so that makes this project even more difficult.


  7. Thank you.

    I didn’t clue in that you were targeting folks with a point and shoot. That would bring up a whole set of issues.

    As to my little course, I haven’t ever really gotten any feedback on it. I had one of the aforementioned friends tell me she was doing the exercises and I told her I’d love to follow up and see what she was doing with it and answer any other questions. But I never did really hear anything from her about it again.

    I am teaching a “photo 101” class at the library this fall for which I’m using basically that same format. It’ll be about the same thing without the “exercise” part. Just classroom instruction with me showing examples on a screen.

    But you’ve put the bug back in me, I think I’m going to have to update my little “course” make the pictures I’d always intended to go along with the lessons. 😉

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