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History of Photography - "f8 and be there"?

JDM von Weinberg , Sep 04, 2008; 10:23 p.m.

Note: back when some of us were looking to have a history of photography forum we were told that such posts could be done in the philosophy forum. That is why this is posted here.

In a recent PBS documentary on the Roosevelt-era FSA and Stryker and the photographers working for him, "f/11 and hold it steady" was the advice that Walker Evans finally gave to the painter Ben Shahn (also employed by the FSA) when pressed for advice on how to shoot.

There have been a few discussions here on Photo.net about the phrase "f8 and be there." It's been attributed to Weegee (Arthur Fellig) in the late 40's. Others have said Robert Capa, and other more recent editors and photographers have been suggested. Most of these are probably later than the Evans statement.

I've tried to Googleâ„¢ the quotation, but it's mostly unattributed or simply presented as "an old editor's advice" or other indeterminate source.

Does anyone know the actual source of the statement? Is it an alteration of Walker Evan's advice, or is it the other way around?


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David Cunningham , Sep 04, 2008; 11:20 p.m.

my understanding that is attributed to weegee.

Dave S , Sep 04, 2008; 11:43 p.m.

I first heard of this as ascribed to some newspaper editor, no doubt complete with cheap cigar and eyeshade. Who knows-- lost in the sands of time.

Howard Vrankin , Sep 04, 2008; 11:44 p.m.

I heard it was said to news photographers with old Crown Graphic press cameras and flash bulbs.

Robert Chura , Sep 04, 2008; 11:55 p.m.

If you find that then look for the "Sunny 16 rule"

I think the source is not as important as the easily remembered rule

Ellis Vener , Sep 05, 2008; 09:56 a.m.

the most important part of "f/8 and be there" was always the "be there " point.

f.8 (or f/11) was to ensure enough depth of field so that the subject was likely to be pretty much in focus.

These days pay more attention to the "be there" part.

William John Smith , Sep 05, 2008; 10:37 a.m.

Allen Hopkins

John Kelly , Sep 05, 2008; 11:18 a.m.

Fun question.

Interesting to think of Weegee, shooting a press camera (with an f7,7 or even f5.6 lens). F8 would serve up-close, scale-focused with flash (like most of his famous shots), but wouldn't work in daylight because of depth of field issues...try it and see.

Unlikely to have come from Capa, whose native languages were (I think) Polish, French and Yiddish...

JDM von Weinberg , Sep 05, 2008; 06:14 p.m.


Allen Hopkins may have said it, but _when_ did he do so? I found out that he died in 1997. He is credited by a number of places on the WWW for the f8 statement, but no one seems to talk about dates. I'm intrigued by the little I've found out about him, but that's not much. Do you know any more about him?

The phrase certainly seems to have been in use as early as Weegee's time in the late 40s. And Walker Evans similar statement is sometime in the late 30s probably.

Is the late 1940s a little early for Hopkins?

"Being at the right place at the right time. F8 and be there, is how Allen Hopkins used to put it. He was a successful photographer based here for about ten years before he died in April 1997." from a web site on him.

He also may have shot in Laos? (there are a lot of people named Allen Hopkins -- soccer stars and all.)

Philip Partridge , Oct 08, 2008; 02:10 a.m.

I like Galen Rowell's comment on that one: 'more like f16 and be there'. He shot mountain landscapes and nature for those not familiar with the guy. F8 just won't do for anything other than distant vistas, sadly.

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