(This is what the match needle metering system looked like in the old Nikkormat cameras.)
As we all get a chance to turn the page and start fresh, I am reminded of the first lesson my first photography teacher (a man named Jack Russell) taught me.
He was a photojournalist who worked for a big newspaper and spent more than 30 years of his life at the same job. He never wrote any books or made any appearances on the teaching circuit. He never had a big social media following and never attended the big photo trade shows. (Most of the aforementioned things simply weren’t available when he was a working pro in the 50s, 60s and 70s.)
All Jack Russell did was love photography and the ability to capture important moments. He did that very well. Well enough to support a family, send kids to college and help a young idiot named Scott recognize the value of keeping, protecting and sharing photographic memories.
Back to that first lesson. When I asked old Jack Russell what the secret to being a great photographer was. He simply said The big secret to becoming a better photographer is to pay attention to small details.
He then gave me my first real camera. It was a Nikkormat (My memory is faulty these days but I think it was a Nikkormat FTn.) Ive spent more than four decades trying to pay attention to small details and I still have room for improvement. But when I have paid attention to the small details, I have made successful photographs.
I am sharing this lesson with all of you in the hopes that it will serve you as well as it served me. I am about the age now that old Jack Russell was when he taught me this lesson. Me passing it on to you is the ultimate way to pay Jack back for spending a few hours with a pesky kid who mostly just wanted to date his daughter, but who also thought it would be pretty cool to walk around with a camera on your neck, documenting the world as it passes by.
The next time you make a photograph, right before you press the shutter, pause a moment and look around. Look at all four corners of the viewfinder. Is there any small detail you can eliminate from the photo because its too distracting? Is there anything creeping into the sides, top or bottom of the frame (like a tree limb or a road sign) that might draw the attention of the viewer away from your intended subject? Is there a way to drill down and zoom in on one simple, but important thing that tells the story you want to tell as a photographer?
Think like Jack Russell used to think. Think about the small details. Fight for the last two percent (2%) of the image. Finding out how to get that last drop out of every image – finding out how to work a scene so that you really protect the right memory of it – thats the stuff that great photos are made of. I am sure old Jack Russell would be proud of you if you could do that.
Happy New Year.