What does F8 and be there mean to me? I ask that question because it came up in a discussion thread on http://www.shutterpoint.com, a stock photography web site I belong to. A new member was introducing himself and getting some advice about camera shake and other technical issues in photography. So I thought I’d give the new guy my take on the photographic middle way. Here is what I wrote:

“F8 and be there” means that one of the most important ideas in photography is to have your camera with you when you see something that would make a good photo.

F8 is a mediocre setting — or at least some people think that way. Its not wide open to create bokeh — the artsy blurring of a background that makes an object (flower, butterfly or person) stand out; nor is it stopped down to create seemingly limitless depth of field as in a landscape where everything in the image seems to be in focus. No, F8 is useful because it is a compromise between these two extremes. Its a simple setting for simply capturing reality. Or for simply capturing reality.

But being there — being wherever you would like to be to capture a ‘decisive moment’ — being there is the most important thing of all. Oh except that you need to have a camera with you.

There have been photo contests called the best camera contest or words to that effect. The idea is that the best camera is the one you have with you, so many entry’s (or maybe all of them) in the best camera contests are cell phone cameras.

The idea is that if your gear is so bulky and complicated that it sometimes prevents you for getting out and getting the shot or if you find that you can’t take a photo you’d like to because you left your bulky, complicated camera home — remember “F8 and be there!”

(I think the term F8 and be there” is an old one dating back to the days when Ansel Adams and others formed a group called F64 — it was dedicated to maximum depth of field. Some people reacted to this with an F8 and be there way of thinking. In reality, as Buddha taught, the middle way is best. Sometimes you want maximum depth of field — sometimes you can be quite happy with an F8 and be there attitude. My advice is not to be doctrinaire about either idea.)

Of course if you want bokeh or endless depth of field F8 will usually not do it for you. Until recently most point and shoot cameras (cameras without interchangeable lenses and with some ‘idiot proof settings that automate photographic decisions) had F8 as the smallest aperture. That’s changing but it symbolizes or embodies the F8 and be there esthetic, I think. Funny thing is because of the geometry of small sensors found in P&S cameras, F8 yields good depth of field when using these cameras. bokeh is more difficult to achieve because of this, but it can be done at least to a degree.

Really fine images can be made with your P&S or even with your SLR set on F8 — maybe with a walking around lens attached — for many this is a 28 to 105 zoom — kinda like the range of the whole Leica rangefinder kit many well heeled photographers of 50 years ago used. But that’s another story.