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An Essay on Photographic Control

In Control

Photographers are control freaks. Everything we do seems to be about exercising control over our tools and processes. Shutter speeds, aperture, choice of film speed, focus, focal length... you get what I mean.

Each of these controls permits us to vary the way in which the image is recorded. Some of us relinquish the majority of these controls to the camera's automation systems, while for others deliberate settings are critical to achieving complete control and artistic expression.

Arno Dawn, Florence 2001

What Matters Most

I maintain though that regardless of the approach we choose to technical control of our images there are really only two controls that matter most — what you frame and when you press the shutter. In other words, location and timing.


The mantra of Real Estate agents when they are asked the three most important considerations about a new house are — "location, location and location". This is true for photographer as well, particularly landscape photographers. You can have the greatest cameras and lenses, and possess the finest technique, but if you're not able to shoot at an interesting location you're unlikely to be able to produce successful images.


Angel Boy, Toronto 1966

Timing means not just catching the exact moment to take an exposure, but also being on location and ready when all of the conditions of weather and locale have come together. In classic documentary photography, such as the work of Cartier-Bresson, there is the concept of "The Decisive Moment". This is that split second when all of the components come together to create a unique image — and you are there are ready to record them.

This "decisive moment" often exists in landscape photography as well, as illustrated in the photograph at the top of this page and in the one immediately below. In both cases the amazing confluence if light, subject and location lasted for perhaps seconds, and then was gone.

Clingmans Dome Sun. Great Smoky National Park. 2000

Location and timing. Ponder these two essential control elements the next time you plan on going out to do photography.

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Concepts: Photography, Shutter speed, F-number, Depth of field, Camera, Image, Science of photography, Optics

Entities: Florence, Real Estate agents, Michael Reichmann, Arno Dawn, Cartier-Bresson

Tags: image, decisive moment, Real Estate agents, essential control elements, classic documentary photography, control freaks, amazing confluence, Arno Dawn, focal length, film speed, technical control, interesting location, important considerations, exact moment, landscape photographers, artistic expression, finest technique, greatest cameras, complete control, automation systems, cameras, successful images, new house, landscape photography, unique image, Cartier-Bresson, aperture, speeds, locale, mantra, Florence, photographer, tools, documentary, essay