Real Photographers Take Their Camera Everywhere.

“F8 and be there.”

It’s the old mantra of news photographers.  It means that getting the photo, even if its out of focus and over exposed is far better than not getting the photo at all.  The history behind this was if you left your camera at F8 (decent depth of field) and with an film like Tri-X at ISO 400 that you could grab any photo of any breaking news as long as you were there “with your camera”.

I was engaged in a Twitter conversation with a local flickr photographer about this very subject.  The statement is “Real Photographers take their camera everyone” or “Real Photographers would not be caught dead without their camera” or some other phrase.

For a Photojournalist, your camera is a natural extension of your arm and eye and as a PJ, being sans-camera is like being naked.  Photojournalists who are passionate about their work and they never really go off the clock, always looking for a great feature/standalone photo.

Of course they have some downtime, but its a bet their gear isn’t far away.  During my days as a PJ I was very much this way.  Other photographers though are not as naked without their cameras.  A portrait photographer or studio photographers are just as real and they don’t live with their cameras.

But we also have a new class of photographers today who never travel sans-camera and those are your camera phone people.  I’ve seen a huge growth among people who have nice dSLR’s opt for their camera phone to document those moment’s in life.  From a mom in Ashville snapping pics of her kids showing off their activities to a pro in California snapping his surroundings.  These cameras are total garbage quality wise.  Even the touted iPhone’s camera looks like your shooting through fog, but yet hundreds of thousands of these flow through the net every day.

This phenomenon is creating a new type of photojournalist where the community is encouraged to submit their works to be published along side the staffers for the papers.  When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson River, the first photos of the accident came in from an iPhone via twitter.  This gives readers more eyes on scenes which translates to faster reportage.  We no longer have to wait on the news crews to arrive on the scene.  Of course the media outlets love it because they generally don’t have to play for these user submissions or pay their minimal stringer rates for unsolicited submissions (which is generally less than requested assignments).

This gets back to F8 and be there where getting the image (and in this case faster) is far more important than the quality.  As phone cameras improve so will the quality of this reportage and the reader wins.

As a former photojournalist, I hate it when I get caught out and see something I want to photograph and don’t have my camera.  There are days I wish I had a camera phone or a small point and shoot so I don’t have to lug my 20 pound camera bag around.  So for me personally, I feel that I am being less than a real photographer when I allow myself to be without camera.

I think many hobbyists are going to fall into this category as well.  They are passionate about their photography and want to shoot as many conditions and events as they can and so there would be a natural reaction to feel that your not real if you don’t have your camera.  My advice, pack your camera, keep the batteries hot and keep spare cards handy, you never know when your going to catch that important moment.

The twitter conversations moved to a discussion of are there times where its in appropriate to be shooting.  Of course there are, you probably don’t want to be randomly snapping photos in class or in church or situations where you need to be paying attention to the event.  The topic of shooting Funerals came up.  And while there are no rules against it, its certainly an uncomfortable event.  Unfortunately this was through twitter and its hard to have these conversations through a 140 character limit time delayed media.  It was that discussion which really lead to this post.

I’ve lost both of my parents.  My mom went first and the last time I saw her was a good three months before she passed and I never felt I got closure with her.  I got to see my Father about a week before he passed and it was apparent he was holding on long enough to reach closure and he passed quickly after our final time together.

Both funerals were different.  I took my camera to Mom’s viewing and I shot a few photos of her in her casket.  It was very weird feeling, but it wasn’t wrong feeling.  However during the funeral, I was such a wreck, there is no way I could even think about the camera, nor should I.  My father’s funeral was quite a bit different.  I wasn’t the wreck I was with Mom and I was even able to read my eulogy that I wrote for him (apparently that was abnormal as the survivors don’t do that).  Dad’s funeral was also a military funeral so there was a bit more ceremony to it.  I didn’t even think about my camera even during his viewing.  Perhaps it was because there was so much to deal with since we now had to handle all the arrangements and the estate.

But I can say this.  I wish I had a photographer at both.  I believe that family and invited friends should be there for the service and should be focused on what’s going on, but much like a wedding, having someone (and it could be a designated friend or more distant family member or in-law) record the event is as important as the wedding or birth or a high school graduation.

Even though I may have been crying uncontrollably during Mom’s photos I kinda wish I had photos from the event because as painful as the memories are, they are memories non the less.

I’m sure this will be a bit controversial, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this.  What do you think?  Should we shoot funerals?

Get a Trackback link

10 Comments

  1. Feb 25th 10:18pm

    I always have at least 2 cameras on me. First, of course, is the dreaded cell phone camera. Second is a bit more respectable: an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 camera which shoots 35mm film and goes everywhere I go because it is small and fits in a pouch on my belt. I’ve gotten some good pictures on it that I would have otherwise missed.

    The funeral question is a good one and not one that I have a good answer to. But then again, my wife has instructions to cremate my remains and have a big upbeat party at an Irish pub in lieu of a funeral. I don’t identify well with the solemn tone of conventional funerals but I can respect that this is what most people want.

    I suppose that if I have a problem with photographers being at a funeral, it is because a funeral is a private affair and a time for people to be able to grieve without the public eye upon them. So my concern is more out of respect for the mourners than for the deceased.

  2. Feb 26th 1:14am

    The funeral question is a good one, and I think it’s really a matter of personal taste and one’s sense of reverence or privacy. For me, I’m delighted to document a significant portion of my life and that of my family. But I’d not want such at a funeral.

    But that’s just me. For others, it would be wrong not to have it shot.

    (I still recoil at the memory of a friend who once asked, “Want to see photos of my newborn child?” He then pulled out a stack of prints of the child emerging from the mother’s womb.)

  3. Feb 26th 1:57am

    What an interesting topic and question you have posed! I suppose the answer is a matter of personal preference. Like Magnus I suppose I understand that a funeral is a time for people to be able to grieve without the public eye on them, and before meeting my husband I thought the entire idea disrespectful and in poor taste. But right before we were married I attended the funeral of one of his extended family members and to my horror and disbelief he took out a camera and began taking photos.

    After wards, I brought up the subject and my feelings on the matter and he explained very eloquently that it was a long standing tradition in their family. His father passed away when he was in his teens and the body was shipped out of country for the burial. Since his family was rather large (he’s among the oldest of 10) there was only enough money for the body to be sent so those photos are all that remained of the memories of the final days spent with his father, there is no tomb nearby to visit.

    Late last year my grandmother passed away, my father was a little upset that one of his family members had taken photos during the funeral. Thanks to the conversation I had with my husband many years ago I understood that there might be a variety of personal reasons someone would take photos. I don’t think I would ever do it, but I no longer think it odd or disrespectful. What’s that saying about “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes?”

    Hugs & Blessings!

  4. Feb 26th 9:07am

    Rob, I just found your blog through the gals at I Heart Faces and I’m so glad I did. I love this post, very well done.

    I’m excited to read more into your blog. Thanks for sharing with us.

    B Dad

  5. Feb 26th 4:13pm

    Wow Rob – first of all, you are so very right about taking one’s camera with them. I miss so many photo’s because I don’t have my camera!

    Now, on to the meat of the post… I am not sure how I feel about this sensitive subject. We brought pictures of my Nana to her funeral – making dozens of “story boards” but no one took pictures of her – but really, she was not “there” any longer.

    I know that I do not want anyone taking pictures of me at my funeral, but I guess it won’t matter what my opinion is.

    An interesting topic!

    Thanks or sharing!

  6. Feb 26th 5:37pm

    I actually took some pictures for a friend’s family by request after the funeral of their father. They are a far-flung bunch and they don’t get everyone together often. I didn’t take any pics during the actual service though.

  7. Feb 26th 6:43pm

    Rob, first I’ve found the Panasonic DMC-LX3 a great carry around all the time camera. It’s not a D300… but I tell ya, it could be a D80 (or a D90 as it does video).

    As for the funeral… well, that’s tough.

  8. Dave
    Feb 27th 9:11pm

    I bought a Canon S5-IS not too long ago that pretty much goes with me everywhere I go. It’s allowed me to get some shots that I would have otherwise missed. It’s also just a fun little camera to have around.

    As for a funeral, I there are a number of reasons for photography. The funeral of a dignitary or celebrity would almost demand coverage as a newsworthy event. I’ve seen police photographers at the funeral of a motorcylce club member, taking shots of the attendees. As stated above, there are a multitude of personal reasons for wanting photographs. I guess I have no objections to funeral photography as long as the photographers are respectful and unobtrusive.

  9. Apr 16th 8:55pm

    I have my Canon S3IS with me often… my Canon Point and Shot all the time (at least that is before the bird got to the lens – errr) and depending on where I am going.. I will always have my Rebel XSi with me and my 300mm lens is pretty much on there all the time… I could NOT live without my camera with me… I would truly be lost… you can never have to many cameras… oh and there is the cell phone camera…
    When my turn comes… I want everyone there with a camera and my camera in with me… 🙂

  10. Jun 23rd 12:40am

    first part:
    Of course there are several frameworks and/or reasons for defining “Real Photographer”.
    (That Term strikes me as SO Funny! since many a photographer has been asked, “When are you going to get a Real Job?” )
    My favorite framework, however, for defining the term, comes from the principles stated at the beginning of a weekly gathering I used to attend, years ago, with fellow artists. For the purposes of that group, the “Traits” of an artist included “You’re an artist if you say you are.”
    Even if I don’t find that I “like” photos I see someone else make, I still say his/her declaration, “I am a photographer”, is enough for me.

    As for funerals:
    I was asked by my Mom to photograph her father’s funeral, but at later funerals of other relatives, she only asked me to document the floral arrangements, so that those who sent them from out of town could see what was delivered, and so she could acknowledge their “respects” more specifically. So while there are some pros and cons about photographing the whole service, there could be a good case for documenting some aspects.
    Finally, if a photographer approaches photographing such important and emotional times with sensitivity and compassion, not to mention “service”, there’s probably less concern and more acceptance. Later, if the family decides they just don’t Want to look at the photos again, that’s an option, where there Is no option if if wasn’t photographed/video’d.

Leave a comment