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The Three L's and P's
Of Photography

Strange Title? What Does it Mean?

We all learned the 3 "R"s in grade school. Readin, writin and 'rithmatic. But what are the 3 L's and the 3 P's of photography? Taking a photograph with today's equipment is simplicity itself, but truly good photography is exceedingly difficult to do well.

As photographers we need to think about our art and craft as well as perform it. We should give some analysis to why we do what we do. What are the drives that motivate us, and how can we be mentally best equipped for the challenges of producing high quality work?

Because we sometimes learn and remember best through the use of mnemonics I have created (with the help of Chris Sanderson) the following mental touchstones. I hope they provide you with some food for thought.

The Three P's of Photography

Clingmans Dome Sun. Great Smoky Mountains NP. September, 2000
Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and 300mm Schneider lens on Provia 100F.


Great photographs don't just happen. Sling a camera over your shoulder and head out the door to take photographs and you'll likely best return with the newspaper and a loaf of bread. You're not likely to stumble on a great image on the way to the Mall. 

You need to know what you're going to shoot, where and how. Not exactly, and not in every detail, but enough so that like a hunter, you've identified your quarry, know where to find it and how you're going to deal with it when you encounter it. 

Naturally, you also need to have the necessary equipment, and the skill and experience to use it.


You need to know how to "see" photographic images. I describe photography as the art of extraction. You have to identify those things in your field of view that contribute to the image, and those that don't. Learning to see is the hardest part of photography, and one that can't be easily taught. It can be learned though, and looking at images — paintings, drawing and especially the great photography of others is the best method.

Look — actually look at and study images that you admire, and try and figure out why they work; why they appeal. This is the surest road to developing perception.


Ansel Adams is said to have commented that if he got one good image a month he'd be happy. This is from a photographer who shot literally hundreds of thousands of images during his lifetime. 

I recently published a Monograph of my work — my best images from a 5 year period. It has 26 plates. Just 26 portfolio-grade images from a 60 month period. Less than one every two months. Yet during that time I shot more than 15,000 frames. This is a success rate of 0.002%. How much do you shoot, and what are your expectations of success?

The Three L's of Photography

Big Horn Ram #1, Grand Canyon — May, 2000
Photographed with a Canon EOS 1V and 100~400mm IS lens on Provia 100F.


Light is everything. Without light there are no images. But it's the quality of light that makes the difference between the mundane and the magical. Light has texture. Light has emotion. Become a student of light. 


Whatever specialty of photography that you pursue, especially outdoor work like landscape, nature and wildlife photography, location is of paramount importance. You know the old aphorism — F/8 and be there. The F/8 part is part of Planning — you need to have the equipment and skills necessary. The "be there" part means that you have to go where the shots — of the type that you want — are to be found.

The bank robber Willy Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. His answer was, "Because that's where the money is". You have to be where the images are, and they're usually not found in your den. Get out there and find them!


Luck has been described as "preparedness in the face of opportunity". Experienced photographers are often told by viewers, "Boy, you were really lucky to get that one". Not! Almost every time, the great shot exists because the photographer had the right tools, the skill, was at the right place at the right time, and knew how to "see".

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Concepts: Photography, Image, Photograph, Learning, Optics, Photographer, Skill, Canon EOS

Entities: Canon, Mall, Michael Reichmann, Ansel Adams, Willy Sutton, Chris Sanderson

Tags: images, photography, following mental touchstones, robber willy sutton, Canon EOS 1V, high quality work, skill, equipment, good photography, grade school, Chris Sanderson, old aphorism, surest road, best return, great photography, best method, best images, portfolio-grade images, photographic images, paramount importance, Ansel Adams, success rate, wildlife photography, Experienced photographers, Great photographs, necessary equipment, great image, great shot, right place, good image, right tools, outdoor work, right time, photographer, admire, stumble, simplicity, motivate, loaf, Less than