Setting is Key, But so is Knowing How to Work it

There’s an old adage in photography – widely attributed to photojournalist Arthur “Weegee” Fellig – that goes “f8 and be there.” It’s a fine piece of advice but it doesn’t tell you much about what to do when you’re “there,” wherever “there” may be.

Roger Durfee has been “there” and pressed the shutter release button thousands of times. To say that Roger is just another guy who likes to make photographic images of trains is akin to saying that the Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives are just 20 more entries on the NS motive power roster.

I had been anticipating Roger’s program last March at the Akron Railroad club meeting because his topic suggested that he was going to share some of the “secrets” to his success.

But the thought nagged at me that, perhaps, I already knew most of Roger’s “secrets.” And that turned out to be the case. Roger didn’t say much that I had not heard before.

A case in point was his admonition to add interest to an ordinary photograph. He illustrated this point with images of people standing next to the tracks as a train rolled by. In another image, he worked a decrepit boat into a water scene involving a CSX train crossing a bridge.

I’ve seen photographers do this sort of thing before and I’ve done it myself at times. Yet there was something instructive about Roger’s explanation combined with his examples.

It wasn’t so much what he taught but what he reinforced by giving voice to it. Make the ordinary interesting.

When Roger creates an image, he is aware of and pays attention to dozens of details involving composition and lighting. He has spent much time learning those intricacies and that has resulted in his having a greater presence of mind about them when making images.

It takes dedication to get to that point and a willingness to do a lot of homework involving studying the craft, internalizing the lessons learned, and then putting them into practice in the field.

Some photographers never evolve beyond basic picture taking. It is easy to criticize those guys, but we shouldn’t. They enjoyed their day out and capturing what passed before their lens was accomplishment enough for them. They just have a narrower sense of purpose.

Anyone can make a photograph of a passing train. The best photographers, though, understand and have the presence of mind to pay attention to the details, some of them subtle, that result in very good or great photographs.

The setting is important, yes, but so is knowing what to do with it.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Setting is Key, But so is Knowing How to Work it”

  1. Chiefbear Long Says:

    Craig you are so right about Roger Durfee and his photography. Roger’s passion is railroad photography. He makes every picture tell a story. Chiefbear Long

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: