What if?

The question “what if?” is often used to refer to things or events that are hypothetical. It could be as simple as: “what if I turned right instead of left?” Or it could be more philosophical: “what if you could go back in time and keep your parents from ever meeting (then how could you have been born to go back in time in the first place)?”

(3/24/20) Shot from a low angle. A cyclist rides around Lodi Lake as storm clouds roll in over Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

In photography, “what if” can be used to help to improve your photos. In almost any photographic situation, whether it’s sports, portraits, nature or news photography, the words “what if” should come into your head.

(4/25/20) Shot from overhead by performing a “Hail Mary” technique.. Seven-year-old Leah Sass of Lodi, touches up a chalk obstacle course that her parents Anna and Aaron Sass created at Vinewood Church at Vine Street and Mills Avenue in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

It could be as simple as “what if I took a step closer or a step back?” “What if I got down low and shot from a low angle or found a higher position for more of a bird’s-eye view?” I often shoot from a kneeling position. It’s the easiest way to get a low shot. You can also place the camera on the ground to get even lower. Conversely, I’ll get up high by doing what’s known in the business as a “Hail Mary,” by holding up the camera well over my head. Now, the ground level and overhead shots pretty much dictate that you can’t look through the camera and shoot at the same time. They require practice, some estimation and a little luck, but they can be mastered over time

(5/14/10) Shot with a wide-angle lens from a low angle. Competitors clear the first hurdle in the varsity boys 110-meter high hurdles at the SJAA Track meet at Bear Creek High School in Stockton.
(4/28/11) Shot from above with a telephoto lens. Runners leap over the first hurdle in the boys varsity 110-meter hurdles during a track and field meet between McNair, Edison and West high schools at Stagg High track in Stockton.

You can apply it when you should shoot. In photography timing is very important. “What if I came back late in the afternoon or early in the morning?” Would the light be different? Most certainly. Better? Probably so. Maybe you can come back later to a picturesque spot when there are fewer people in the background or foreground.

(3/30/20) TOP: An overall shot using a wide-angle lens. A hillside along Highway 49 near Electra Road just outside of Jackson are covered in golden poppies. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE
RECORD]
(3/30/20) A tighter shot using a telephoto lens. A hillside along Highway 49 near Electra Road just outside of Jackson are covered in golden poppies. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]
(3/30/20) A close-up shot using a telephoto lens. Golden poppies grown on a hillside along Electra Road just off of Highway 49 outside of Jackson. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]


“What if” could be applied to lighting. What if I moved a studio light from the left side to the right? Or added one or two more? Most studio lights have what are known as modeling lamps. They are constant light bulbs that are separate from the ones that flash so when you move the lights you can actually see the changes that occur.

(11/14/13) Shot with a telephoto lens (200mm) the scene includes very little of the pool in the background. Joe Dietrich, a former swimmer and water polo player at UOP, is being inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame shown here at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]
(11/14/13) Shot with a wide-angle lens (24mm) the scene includes much of the pool and the surrounding area in the background. Joe Dietrich, a former swimmer and water polo player at UOP, is being inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame shown here at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

“What if” can be practiced with lens choice. One of the biggest factors in determining the look of your photo is which lens you decide to use. A telephoto lens will compress things in your photo so that foreground subject and background elements will appear closer together. A wide angle will do just the opposite and include more of the background in the photo. By exercising a “what if” mentality you can explore the capabilities of each kind of lens.

(4/16/20) Stockton Christian Academy boys varsity basketball assistant coach Robin Hong videos himself doing a ball-handling drill at the basketball courts at Grupe Park in Stockton. Hong was recording the drills to be available for any student or athlete at the K-12 school, who wants to work on their skills. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD] Shot with a wide angle lens.
(4/16/20) Stockton Christian Academy boys varsity basketball assistant coach Robin Hong videos himself doing a ball-handling drill at the basketball courts at Grupe Park in Stockton. Hong was recording the drills to be available for any student or athlete at the K-12 school, who wants to work on their skills. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD] Shot with a telephoto lens.


“What if” can be a very important tool. For the beginner it should be a mantra running though your brain (“what if…what if..,what if”). It may not work all the time or even most of the time, but if you do it enough times you’ll likely come across something that works for you.

(05/24/16) Shot with a wide-angle lens from a low angle. Bear Creek’s Rydell Donato will be competing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Track and Field meet in Elk Grove on Thursday. {CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD}

As you get more experience, you may not need to repeat the phrase in your head as the practice of looking for all the possibilities in a situation becomes second nature to you and you will have an answer to the question of “what if.”

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