f/8 and be there

Rajasthani Musicians

(Musicians from Rajasthan, India at f/8)

When I had started writing, I had selected ‘f/8 and be there’ as the title for the site itself. This was for a very important reason. Since the time, hand-held cameras started appearing, photographers have been trying to get the sharpest image possible with good depth of field. They also try to capture the moment. Henri Cartier Bresson called it the ‘Decisive Moment’. Press photographers occasionally call it the ‘Story in a photograph’. Those who miss this call it the ‘Photo that got away’.

For those who are new to photography, f/8 is a aperture value which is not too open and not small. It is small enough to provide a good depth of field (keeping many things in focus) and yet not so small so as to reduce the ambient light to an extent that shutter speed has to be reduced for getting correct exposure. (Let us not go into the high ISO films or camera settings now). f/8 also has the advantage of hiding many flaws of the lens that can become obvious at wide open apertures.

For capturing an image at the precise moment, it is very important to be able to press the shutter release button at the exact instance and get away with an image that is acceptable to the photographer. In normal daylight, a 100 ISO film/camera sensor, with a standard lens at f/8 aperture gives shutter speeds in the range of 1/125 to 1/500. Using Aperture Priority setting, helps in quickly getting an acceptably and quite often correctly exposed picture. The fast shutter speed and the depth of field also ensure that the subject is in focus (even if the focusing was not perfect) and the moment gets frozen. 1/125 shutter speed was also the fastest flash sync speed available on many cameras equipped with focal plane shutter and therefore was a no-brainer while using fill-flash too. Using manual mode with f/8 and one of the shutter speeds within the above range also worked fine.

f/8 and be there, impresses the importance of being at the right spot at the right time and not fiddling around with the settings.

There exists another variation of this saying. It’s called the Sunny 16 rule. Photographing at f/16 on a sunny day allows one to set the shutter speed at the nearest value to 1/ISO and get away with a good exposure. Sunny 16 was useful with cameras with mechanical shutter and when in need of a good approximation in the absence of a light meter. However with the digital age the Sunny 16 rule is now lost. The camera sensor requires power to capture images and the same power works on the shutter curtain and also on exposure meters. No power means no picture even if one if able to calculate the exact exposure using this rule.   f/16 means deep depth of field but with digital cameras the diffraction effects get enhanced too and so the resulting images are not as sharp as they should be.

Coming back to the f/8 saying, it is as practical as it was in the film era. Whenever in doubt, set your camera to f/8, aperture priority and start capturing the decisive moments.

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