Skip to content

Ted Grant’s photography wisdom

Ted Grant is a national treasure in Canada. He has been a photojournalist for 56 years, and has produced many iconic images, such as the one of the late Premier Pierre Trudeau sliding down a banister. In the course of his career, Ted has covered many world events and countless major sporting events such as the Olympics.

Ted is now semi-retired. In the last few years, he has produced some outstanding personal projects, especially the two books “This is Our Work” and “Women in Medicine”, both of which document the medical profession in exquisite black & white photographs. You can see some examples here. There is also an interview with Ted from the Victoria Times-Colonist from 13th February 2016, on the occasion of meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pierre Trudeau’s son.

Ted has been a member of the Leica Users Group for several years, and he has entertained all of us with his many “war stories” from his long career (which include dangerous situations but also funny ones, such as the legendary story of being on the wrong end of a constipated cow whose constipation suddenly was relieved…). Ted has also been a source of photographic wisdom, most of the time centred on the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid).

During the past week (July 2006), Ted has posted three sets of what he labels “suggestions” on the Leica Users Group. I am reproducing them here with Ted’s permission to ensure that they have a permanent web presence beyond the archives of the mailing list. Here they are, reproduced verbatim in the order Ted posted them.

Please note that all the material published on this page and the other Ted Grant pages on this blog is the intellectual property of Ted Grant and may not be copied or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Ted Grant.

Photographer suggestions 1.

1/ While you consider the best angle to photograph a person, it is preferable to continue shooting even though a number of frames are rejects. If you hesitate, you may make your subject uneasy, thinking you do not know what you are doing.

2/ Good photojournalists master the art of portrait lighting, allowing them to use available light to their advantage. It sharpens their appreciation for the changing mood of light.3/ The best way to make an informal portrait, is to allow your subject to go about their business, finding your pictures during the activity.

4/ Do not direct your subject with “look this way, hold it or point there” and finally “look in the camera and smile.” This type of direction makes your subject stop living and start posing.

5/ SLR cameras when used in low light, are usually difficult to focus. To improve accuracy, turn the focusing ring to its closest focus point. Then bring your subject into sharp focus in the viewfinder. Using this method the eye recognises the sharpest image quicker than focusing from the infinity point.

6/ Events where news photographers hang together as flys at a feeding, take a few obvious frames; break away and using a long lens reach back to the subject for a totally different photograph.

7/ When shooting sunrise or sunset, most people look in the direction of the sun. The sunlight doesn’t stop where you stand, turn around and see what it is shining on. Maybe a marvellous photograph is beautifully lit.

8/ Light is just as important as the subject, in many cases the light is the subject. If you do not understand the magic of light, you will produce uninspiring photographs.

9/ The on location portrait can often produce a superior likeness to one taken under studio lights. People are more at ease in their own surroundings.

10/ Shoot field sports from a kneeling or sitting position. A lower angle increases the impact of the photograph, athletes appear bigger and background clutter is eliminated.

Photographer Suggestions 2

1. Never carry more equipment than you can run with.

2. Don’t drink too much before going on an assignment where you may miss your picture if nature calls.

3. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before an assignment, your reaction time will be slower.

4. Don’t drink too much alcoholic beverages == hangovers are hell through a viewfinder.

5. Carry a compass in your equipment bag, you may need to know where the sun sets.

6. If you can see it == you can shoot it.

7.Quantity of light for exposure == Quality of light for mood.

8. Daylight is immovable == set your subject to the main source.

9. Understanding light, breaths’ life into your pictures.

10. To learn the magic of light, get up before sunrise and watch.

Photographer suggestions 3

1. Practice until your equipment becomes second nature.2. Keep your equipment in excellent working order. Do not forget batteries.

3. After selecting your camera and film, master them thoroughly.

4. Pack more film than you think you will need.

5. Prepare thoroughly for the assignment, you will produce stronger pictures because of better research.

6. On assignment, dress well, appear competent, sound confident.

7. Cover the assignment from all possible angles. Take the obvious picture first then look for completely different angles.

8. Be nice to your subject, you only need them happy for 1/125th of a second!

9. A small freezer bag of raisins will keep away hunger pains one handful at a time.

10. Each assignment is as important as the last. Make each one a challenge to your ability.

Addendum: Success – the 3 C’s (19th July 2006)

Some photographers believe they have to be the world’s “greatest photographer” to be successful. This is a myth and for many an unattainable goal.

The formula for success is very simple.

If you are a competent photographer to start with, the ingredient for achieving success is knowing the 3 C’s.


Do only those assignments that allow you to Concentrate, be Consistent, and maintain your Credibility. This in turn will make you a dependable successful photographer.

When an editor or client knows you are dependable, in that, when he or she gives you an assignment, come hell or high water you are going to come back with usable material. And with any kind of luck, a few diamonds in the exposed film.

Being dependable through the 3 C’s, almost guarantees you will have all the assignments you can manage successfully.

  1. Dave O'Haire permalink

    Boy am I lucky. Clicking through the channels, I never use the guide- I leave that for my girlfriend,wow a story about a photographer. Not only Canadian but great and alive. What photographs! What insights both about shooting and life. I have been behind the lens since Expo 67 and Mr. Grants’ technique of shooting from the shadow side of light is the most inspirational lesson I have ever garnered.
    From a new and much inspired fan. Thanks Ted. Dave O’Haire

  2. Joseph Low permalink

    Hello Nathan

    Many thanks for sharing the wisdom of the great Dr Ted – these are priceless advice

    On the same note – just want you to know I have always enjoyed your “trips” and photographic stories

    Best wishes from Singapore

  3. Bernard DEGAUTE permalink

    Thank you very much for this text – I never met Ted face to face but often took advantage of his tips through private mails. “This is Our Work” is a must. To underline suggestion 1-8 HCB (I think) stated :”Le sujet n’est rien, la lumière est tout”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: