Me & F8

Years ago, when I first started in photography, I had this little camera I purchased used from my brother, a Polaroid PDC 640. Now, don't raise your hand if you had one of those, but actually, I was rather fond of it. It was simple. Snap. Snap. Snap. One button to press. One result, no matter what you were doing.

Eventually, I graduated to better things, but I stayed a bit stuck in that pattern. Photography without thought. Auto this. Auto that. Auto everything. I was happy letting the camera make all the decisions.

You're thinking this is a post about how I woke up one day and said to myself, "I want control. I want to learn things." Not really, but maybe in a way. I did have that moment. I did learn things and adapt myself to creating photographs through decision-making, instead of being a robot. I resisted longer than most, too. It took me until a few years ago to buy a DSLR, and even then, though I used many manual settings, I still resisted getting out of Program mode. Then I don't know what happened, if it was one particular photograph that caused it, but one day I slipped into F8.

"F8?" you ask.

Yeah. Every photographer has their quirk. My brother uses only wide angle lenses. I use a telephoto almost exclusively. My husband prefers vertical shots to horizontal ones. None of that is wrong, just personal taste. And lately, my quirk is F8. It's like the perfect happy medium. Sort-of blurs the background. Picks up some detail. I tell myself to get out of F8. Try F12. But when I take the shot, I'm like, "This would be so much better in F8."

Which leads me to my next observation. Ruts. I do many things in my spare time. I write books, devotionals, and photography articles. I also do graphic design. Most of that takes the form of book covers for independent authors. Circulating through the ranks of other book cover artists, I've noticed a trend. Actually, I'd noticed it before. Anytime someone is learning to use Photoshop, or any other graphics program, they have this time of epiphany, when they discover a technique that is "just so cool."

Framing is a biggie. People who first learn framing will frame things to death. What follows framing is often the digital filter years. It's kind of like watching your kids grow up. I remember when my daughter would go through these stages, and I'd be on the sidelines praying to God she'd grow out of it. The digital filter years are a huge stage.

"Oh, look, Mom, purple people." Yeah, no. Stop doing that.

A stage I've noticed in graphic design is what I call "floating heads." Frankly, I hate floating heads. Two unconnected faces removed from the actual photograph and slapped together on a book cover. They're not attached to anything but rising out of water, off mountain tops, or in the middle of some ranch. Again, stop it.

Because they come in the I-can-do-gradient-masking stage. (Hang with me here, I'm working my way back to photography.) There are those who are stuck, s-t-u-c-k, stuck in the gradient masking stage. It has become their digital filter years. Every book cover they design has a pair of floating heads or something faded into something else. And don't get me wrong, gradient is a wonderful technique, a legitimate one. But it's not the only one out there.

Like me and F8.

Life is full of ruts. Some are good. They bring comfort, consistency. They help us be faithful. They help us learn things, become good at a craft or a project. But some are bad - bondages. Things we're rather escape from but find ourselves locked into. Habits. And habits can drag you down to a place you don't want to be, make you less of your full potential.

Applying this to photography and my F8 problem, I have to ask if that photo really needed F8. Because need and habit are two different things. It could be F5 would have worked better, softened the background more. Or F18. Maybe I needed more detail, a certain crispness to the shot. I can't allow my rut of F8 to keep me where I am, but must use it to push me forward.

Because the best photographs are made when I have all these options at hand and use the correct one. When I let go of convenience and stretch myself a bit further out there than I ever have before. Maybe my future only starts with F8. Maybe after F8 comes F15 and the most amazing shot ever. How will I know that unless I try?

"This sounds like more than a photography lesson," you say.

Maybe it is. Maybe I'm preaching to myself because I'm the biggest habit-maker, rut-sitter-inner there is. Or maybe it's for you. Maybe you've done nothing but create floating heads. There isn't anything wrong with being good at one thing, but there's something wrong when that one thing holds you back. Besides, it's the best feeling ever to step out past it and see you've succeeded in an area you thought you'd fail.

I'd love to do people photography. Frankly, I feel insufficient at it and like it'd be complete bunk. But how will I know until I try? Until I step out of F8 and set my sights on something higher. Until I fumble through a graphics tutorial and get a new technique down. Until I say, "I'm going to do this no matter what." Not until then will I ever be more than a middle-aged housewife slash writer slash cover artist slash photographer who publishes books in her spare time.

I like to think there's more in me than that. In fact, I know there is. Wouldn't it be fun to find out?

Suzanne Williams | Blog

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.