The Best Photo Tip I Ever Got

The Atom Philosophy

By Bob Couey


Killer Whale and Trainer

Shooting from above turns this photo into a graphic interpretation.

Here we’re dealing with color, light and shadow. We don’t see the trainer’s expression but her obvious surprise is left to our imagination. It’s simple, calm, almost passive.

Try and view your subject from every angle, like an electron moving around an atom, before taking a photo.

Photo © 1999-2007 Sea World, Inc. Used with permission.

A world class photographer and college professor once said to me:

"Bad (or lackluster) photos are caused from laziness. Unfortunately, too many photographers, amateurs to professionals, will approach a photo assignment with a pre-conceived notion of attack — mostly from ‘history of style’ and wanting to play it safe. Rarely, will the photographer step back, put down the camera and size up the assignment before proceeding. Instead, many of us will execute the photo from the angle we initially approached the subject, never thinking to study the subject and its environment first.

"Look at it like this,” he continued. “The subject you wish to photograph is the nucleus of an atom. You, the photographer, are the electron spinning around the subject until you find just the right angle and distance. Not until then will you have successfully evaluated every aspect of that subject and its possibilities.” He added, “Just the slightest move to the right or left, up or down has the potential to make or break the photo. Don’t be in such a hurry to finish and leave.”

That observation affected how I look at photography more than any other instructor, class, course, seminar or guest speaker, before or since. In fact, long ago, I based my “photographic vision” on this wonderful tip.

But what’s more important; that professor suffered from the crippling effects of adult polio. And even with that affliction (and in his 60s), he still employed the “atom” philosophy with all the vigor of an athlete.


Bob Couey is the Photo Services Manager at SeaWorld San Diego. He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has received many awards for his corporate photography. Bob’s work has been published in PhotoSecrets San Diego, A Day In The Life of California, One Day, Popular Photography, People Weekly, and US Magazine. Send Bob an email.

This article is © copyright Bob Couey 1999-2007 for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. All rights reserved.


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