Don’t Shoot!

Raw From The Road, July 26, 2016

Don’t Shoot!

The camera is the least important element in photography.
Julius Shulman



Photo: Luna and Grass Mountain, Taken with an Iphone

Ten years ago, while I working at the Getty Villa Museum, I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with photographer extraordinaire Julius Shulman.

He came to take some photographs and I was asked to accompany the crew to where the photo session was taking place.

Did you notice I called it a photo ‘session’ and not a photo ‘shoot?”

That is because in the 20 or 30 minutes that I had to speak with Mr. Shulman, he mentioned that he never uses the word “shoot” in exchange for ‘photograph’.

He went on to say that he “makes” photographs or “takes” photographs, but never ‘shoots’ photographs.

That conversation left such a great impression that I never used the word, “shoot” again in regard to photographing.

I love his quote about the camera being the least important element in photography.

He started out taking photographs with a Vest Pocket Kodak camera and the images from that camera were incredible and some of his favorite, not to mention extremely well-known.

We all take photographs with our iphones, our ipads, our retro instamatics and polaroids.

Why? Because the image we are focused on means something to us.

It’s a moment or a person that we desire to hold, stop in time and have forever, not only in our minds.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Julius Shulman.*

…Now I remember Douglas Caby. He was a physics teacher. He would occasionally call over to me and say, “Julius, if you could tear yourself away from looking at the mountains”–because he knew of my hiking and all that–“I’d like to have you answer the question that I just asked the class.” [laughs] Of course I didn’t hear the question; I was busy daydreaming. This was inherent in my personality from day one. I was always meditating, if you will. I was always thinking of other things, quietly, peacefully. The beauty of nature. I was looking at the mountains. I could identify all… I’ve been hiking all my life, and I think I’ve hiked to the top of every mountain in the San Gabriel range.

As Mr. Shulman articulates so succinctly, it is the love of and thinking about beauty that fuels a good photograph.

It is the conversation, the relationship between the photographer and the subject, for that minute, or hour, which is intimate and meaningful.

The photograph itself eternalizes that relationship, one that is untouchable by any other.

I hope you find eternal beauty today, wherever you are… and make a photograph from it.

Tread lightly,


*Oral history interview with Julius Shulman, 1990 January 12-February 3, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


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