One of the things I like least about my job is having to reject an article submitted for consideration for publication. Sometimes, the article is just not a good fit for the magazine; sometimes it is because a given topic has been covered very recently. Most frequently, though, it is because the photographs that accompany the article are just not any good.
Articles with bad photography are not rejected outright… at least, not if that is the sole reason the article is not a good fit for The Stained Glass Quarterly. I contact the person who submitted the article, explain the problem with the pictures, and invite them to submit new photographs so that the article can be considered again. Less than half of the people given such an option choose to take it. Most — slightly more than half — never respond. I wonder how many of them simply despair of being able to take good pictures of their work?
Interestingly, there are a few each year who try to convince me that I’m wrong and that the pictures are actually good. Their argument usually centers around either “Well, they look fine on my screen” or “They looked okay in the local newspaper.” And both statements may be very true; however, neither one qualifies as any sort of proof that the photograph is printable in a magazine.
The secrets to taking a good picture for publication really are very basic: know how to set your camera for high-resolution images and — this second one can never be stressed strongly enough — use a tripod.
The first one — knowing how to set your camera for high resolution — really is just having a basic knowledge of how your camera works. I am aware of two ways to successfully gain this knowledge: one, work with hundreds of different cameras over the course of three or four decades until you have seen so many different camera systems that you can look at a new camera and know intuitively how to operate it; or, two, read the owner’s manual. Some folks are surprised to learn that the second one actually does work.
The second one — use a tripod — applies to everyone in all circumstances everywhere. I don’t care if you have the newest supercomputer-based Nikon camera with lens gyroscopes and anti-grav. Use a tripod. I don’t care if you’ve done laboratory tests and discovered that you can take rock-solid handheld pictures down to an eighth of a second (and, yes, I did hear someone make that exact claim once.) Use a tripod. I don’t even care if your parents lived near a nuclear power plant and you were born with three legs and so can act as your own tripod…. Use a tripod.
Have you got another excuse for not using a tripod? I don’t want to hear it… unless it involves being born with three legs. That one would be worth hearing. Or if it’s really, really creative. Then I want to hear it, but it changes nothing: use a tripod.
When 100 people take a stained glass tour and many of them have cameras that are newer, nicer, and more expensive than mine and yet I consistently take better pictures, guess why that is….
I’m the only one who shows up with a tripod.
Seriously, use a tripod. When in Germany, Verwenden Sie ein Stativ. In Paris, Utilisez un trépied. On Kronos, tripod yIlo’. On the Internet: <tripod> srsly. use one lolz i’m srs </tripod>. I don’t want to sound like I’m flogging a dead horse, but I do want to make clear that, were I to do something like that, I would flog the poor, deceased creature with a tripod.
With the camera set on high resolution and firmly attached to a quality, solid tripod, more than half the battle is already won. I will be teaching a class this summer in Portland, Oregon, on taking pictures of stained glass windows. I hope to see you there.
Don’t forget to bring your tripod.