Quick Tip: Jeff Jacobson on the Structure Behind Good Photographs

Posted by on Monday August 20, 2018 | Fine Art

"Shanghai, China" from Jeff Jacobson's book Melting Point. ©Jeff Jacobson

Photographer Jeff Jacobson has built a distinguished career—and published three books— by following his instincts, and by pursuing personal projects without preconceived ideas about where the projects might lead. But good photographs don’t just happen, of course. Jacobson explains his method for making photographs, and how he teaches it to workshop students, in a PDN interview, “Jeff Jacobson on Making Pictures for Yourself”:

“I try to teach students very specifically how to get to a good photograph. [Magnum Photographer] David Hurn always said that there are only two questions in photography: Where do you stand, and when do you press the shutter? One’s a question of space, one’s a question of time. It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s a really good structure. The question of when do you press the shutter is pretty easy. And you know right away. You either did it or you didn’t. But the question of where do you stand becomes a really helpful way to think about it, because people don’t understand when you’re first starting to take pictures, especially working with a small camera, that it’s all about moving. You want to be moving. And you’ve got to know when to move and how to move and where to move.

“But then that question of where do you stand becomes a much broader philosophical question. Where do you stand politically with your work? Where do you stand economically with your photography? Where do you stand in your life vis a vis photography? It’s a structure to help students very physically understand how to get to a picture. And a photograph is just a set of graphics. And I say, for the moment, forget about content, forget about subject matter, we’re just going to talk about photography in a graphic sense. Because when you boil it down, it’s a set of graphics on a piece of paper, or projected on a wall or on a computer screen, whatever. It’s not the world; it’s an abstraction of the world.

“But people don’t learn that. They think subject matter, subject matter, subject matter, and they never understand.”

Jeff Jacobson on Beauty, Ambiguity and Mortality
Joseph Koudelka on Motivation, Humanity and What Makes a Good Photograph
Emmet Gowin: A Photographer’s Path to Seeing
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