The “10-10-10-30-40 rule”

How do you make a truly great and memorable photo? How do the great photographers do it? We hear these questions at some point during every photo workshop. To answer them, we eventually came up with “the rule of 10-10-10-30-40”.

The sailfish sardine run off the coast of Mexico, Isla Mujeres.
The sailfish sardine run off the coast of Mexico, Isla Mujeres.

The equipment is not as important as some people think

With the advent of digital technology, camera manufacturers immediately understood that people were always interested in the newest model. But the problem with this is that people who constantly race for the newest, “best” model are never satisfied. When the marketing is effective, we end up believing that we must have the new gadget to take good pictures. People buy the thing believing that it will solve all their problems. The equipment is important, but it cannot make you into a photographer. We have met many people who thought that they could take the photo of the century just because they had new equipment. Big mistake!

Once you have a good camera, there is no need to get another one for quite a long time. Photographers who know how to use their camera properly have no problem can take good pictures with any reasonably good-quality camera. In 2004, the American photographer Doug Perrine won the scuba class of the prestigious BBC World Life contest with a simple Canon EOS 60D that he had owned for several years.

Developing your own photographic approach

When they spend too much time looking at others’ work, many photographers forget their personal style and try to copy what they have seen. Although we often recommend this approach as a starting point for finding inspiration, it is not where you should stop. Everyone should develop a style which reflects their own interests and motivations. In short, everyone needs a personal photographic approach.

Once you know the basic techniques of composition, managing depth of field, setting the exposure, and managing light, you can begin to develop your own style. You can begin to show other people aspects of the world that they have not seen. That style is the one that will allow your to be recognized by others. Choose themes that you like, and don’t try to make your photos perfect. For example, you can focus on close up photography in general, or taking pictures of species living in cold countries. Most photographers move in the same universe, and they often face the same issues in choosing their specialty. Sometimes, what you think you want may not be what you actually like to do: why try to specialize in Asian photography when you take 90% of your photos in Brittany?

Post-processing is essential

We believe that it is now essential to know how to use specialized software to develop photos. This software can adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, and lighting, remove particles, crop the photo if necessary, saturate the colors a little, and adjust the sharpness ... All these techniques are designed to correct imperfections caused by digital cameras that are not calibrated to take a particular type of photographs. Each subject has its own unique mood, and sometimes what the camera sees is a little different from what we see. Post-processing simply allows us to make sure that the photograph portrays what we actually saw during the shoot.

Our intention is not to defend or use the technique of photo composition as many people do. We are not interested in creating imaginary scenes cobbled together from multiple photographs. For us, this is not “photography” in the strict sense but “photographic art”. Composition is an art form that was born with the advent of image processing software. Computer post-processing, however, uses the same techniques used in the laboratory before the digital age. New technologies have made it simple and accessible to everyone.

Hummingbird in flight foraging a flower.
Hummingbird in flight foraging a flower.

Luck, chance, destiny: the holy grail of photography

This is the only factor that cannot be quantified or programmed, and therefore it is essential for the creation of a great picture. Luck, destiny, chance, call it what you will, but no one, not even the best photographers in the world, can do without it. It is the unexpected moment when an extraordinary scene will appear in front of the lens and we will capture it. It is this memorable moment that we have often waited for years to see. These are the moments that we call “magical". On many of our trips, we do not take any really good pictures, simply because the evasive luck was not there. Other times, our patience has been rewarded and we have taken wonderful, beautiful photos.

All great photos happened in part because the photographer had "luck", but we always remind our students of the truism so well known by gamers: "100% of winners have tried." Keep this maxim in mind, and sooner or later you will find luck. Imagine you have a simple point and shoot camera and you happen to find a pair of rare sharks mating while one of your friends is photographing nudibranchs in Lembeh Strait, with the last generation SLR camera. Which one will take the great photo? Without this factor of chance, it is impossible to take a picture worthy of winning a contest or becoming well-known.

Our 10-10-10-30-40 rule in photography

Create a great photograph takes:

  • 10% technical skills,
  • 10% mastery of the camera,
  • 10% mastery of software,
  • 30% photographic vision,
  • 40 % luck.

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Article published on Friday, December 13, 2013 . Written by
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