Learn my philosophy of picture taking

A place for beginners to start, and experts to evolve

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Half Moon Bay (Rubin, 2017)

There is absolutely no doubt that it’s important to understand how your camera works if you want to take consistently great photos. Even with the powerful automatic (and artificial intelligence) built in, I would still say a photographer should understand the three branches of photographic government: shutter speed, f-stop and ISO. They form checks and balances, and work together, to achieve your photographic vision.

But then there are the pesky “rules” of composition. I won’t argue here (but I will argue) that they are bogus — not that they are just inappropriate, but that they make learning to take photos harder, not easier. Every photographer ever (and I say that without hyperbole) will tell you that “you learn the rules, and then you can ignore them” and “they’re just a starting place”; I’m simply going a little farther and suggesting you discard them from the start. …

The odds of being hit by a tornado, even in “Tornado Alley” are 1 in 4 million. Never tell me the odds.

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6:30am, Gainesville, Florida, May 8, 1979 (Photo by Rubin) It’s still raining here.

My parents did an addition to our home in late 1978. The extension made their bedroom a little bigger and created a new exterior wall that was mostly glass with a vaulted ceiling. Work continued into the next year, and even as it was mostly done, it was driving my parents crazy that the workers simply wouldn’t do those last few items that would allow the project to complete and the city to sign off of the construction. …

A book is a very small startup company.

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A sobering afternoon with my kid.

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It’s a year of gross.

My daughter needed to go to the doctor. Among other things, she needed a blood test, and she hates blood tests. “I’m not sure if it’s the needle… or the pin-prick…or just touching my inner arm…” I get it. I’m not a lot better. But I’ve been hospitalized before. I’ve given blood. There was a time I thought I’d be a doctor. I coached her into the car, and I kept her calm as we drove to the clinic.

She asked if I could keep her company for the taking of blood. The phlebotomist politely permitted it. Leelee sat in the padded chair. I stood behind her and stroked her hair. She closed her eyes and reluctantly extended her arm. I enjoyed the game of keeping her distracted, telling her stories about whatever, laughing, her head was turned toward me but her eyes held tightly shut. I watched the nurse skillfully fill the vials with blood. There were a bunch. …

For the people who intersect with your life and affect you, without ever knowing it.

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Kathleen photomosaic (Rubin, 1987)

In 1987 when I was 23 I fell hard for this sophisticated older woman: she was 27.

She was smart and focused, with beautiful short black hair with flecks of grey, and a magical spirit that was just — just what I had always wanted in a girl. We spent maybe a month together, driving around Napa and Marin and having picnics in Palo Alto. I was pining for her, but she always remained a little distant. She told me she was moving away and she told me not to get attached. Inspired by David Hockney’s work I had recently seen in Pasadena, I was experimenting with large photomosaics and asked her if she’d sit for one. She didn’t like being photographed, but acquiesced. I worked on the composition for weeks. …

and the dawn of online virality.

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The (almost) first viral video (Rubin, 2005)

After landing at JFK, I headed directly for Washington Square Park to have tea with an old friend, an editor I hadn’t seen in 15 years. It was October 2005 and I was in town to get ready for the release of my book Droidmaker. Along with my suitcase, I had my camcorder at my side. …

14 little things I’ve picked up along the way.

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The tech startup Price.com in super early days. (Rubin, 2016)

Danny, my screenwriting brother, has long maintained his Rubrics of Writing. I’ve always admired that. This week I’ve found myself talking a lot about how I develop products, how I start projects, and what I’ve learned in my career. This list fell out of that work. I hope it helps someone.

  1. Simple works. Every time. Never underestimate the public’s unnaturally short attention span.
  2. Cheaper and easier tends to trump high-quality and powerful.
  3. Find what everyone else is doing and don’t do it.
  4. It’s all storytelling. And it’s better if it’s funny. (And way better if it’s sexy.)
  5. Always Be Closing

This has only happened to me once.

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My grandmother, Sara, 1921… one hundred years ago… wow.

In my second year of college, I was a resident counselor in a freshman dorm. The room was single; I enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm with new students. It was finals week, which was unfortunately after the Christmas break, and I was sitting at my desk, pounding out a term paper when the phone rang.

I was distracted, but answered. It was my grandmother.

“Hello, darling,” she said. “How are finals going?”

I turned off the electric typewriter for a moment to chat. “Fine, fine… I’m in the middle of a term paper.” I explained the topic and she feigned interest and I told her other things about my school year. I wasn’t that close with my grandparents, my mom’s parents, but happy to hear from her. “Your mom is here. …

A lesson in metamorphosis.

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Me at 27, trying to offset the thinning temples with longer hair. (1989)

I distinctly remember sitting in my little apartment in San Rafael, at 22, and noticing that my hair was thinning at my temples. I had long felt my hair — black and dense and often long — was one of my defining characteristics and key to whatever attractiveness I had. Thinning hair sucked. You notice that stuff on yourself long before anyone else notices or cares, but I could see the writing on the wall. My maternal grandfather, as folk wisdom warns, was reasonably bald when I met him, so I had that to look forward to.

Danny, my older brother, started losing hair young, maybe college, and we all thought he’d be bald by 25. But he wasn’t. It stopped. Maybe these things stop on their own. He’s over 60 now and his hair has hardly changed. When I got engaged I said “thank god I found someone who will remember me with hair,” as it was definitely on it’s last moments at my wedding, at age 30, and it would be hard to pretend any longer. …


M. H. Rubin

Living a creative life, a student of high magic, and hopefully growing wiser as I age. • Ex-Lucasfilm, Netflix, Adobe. • Here are my stories and photos.

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