It seems lately that I’ve been assaulted with numerous mini challenges these days on my shoots. Whether it’s bad weather, disappointing locations or camera malfunctions–any seasoned photographer will tell you that coming home with keepers is about overcoming obstacles. Capturing memorable and moving imagery is never easy, which is why proper shooting technique and creative vision need to be second nature.
When the scenic shooting is best, light is fleeting. When the action is best, time is scarce. Seconds can make the difference between a 3-star and 5-star image. If you’re fumbling with equipment or second-guessing your composition, you will miss the shot. It’s that simple. Here are a couple of tips that may help in making your photography second nature.
1. Shoot often–this is perhaps the most important tip I can think of. Practice does make perfect. This is a proven fact. Know your camera controls, but more importantly–know when to do what. This can only come with repetitive practice. Your camera should be as familiar as your favorite spot on the couch. It should feel natural in your hands, and you should be able to react quickly when pressed. The more you have to guess, the greater chance you have of missing the shot.
2. Read your camera manual–and then read it again. A lot of the features on your camera may not apply to what you shoot, but you never know when you might discover a nugget that will make what you do ten times easier. Take it when you travel. Read it on the plane or sitting at the airport. Have your camera in hand as you read it so you can practice implementing what you read.
3. Previsualize your shot–this is a concept I discuss often. The better idea you have in your head of what you’d like to capture, the better you will be able to capture it when the image presents itself. If you’re shooting action, try to picture where you’d like your model/athlete to be in the frame for that perfect shot. If it’s a frame filler, decide exactly what part of the athlete to be in focus (most often the face) and make sure to put your pre-selected focus zone on that spot if you’re using autofocus.
If you’re shooting scenic, picture where the light needs to be to capture what you want to capture. Will it be backlit/front lit/side lit/not lit??? Are you going for the big picture, or will you be shooting something more intimate. What is required for each particular shot? When you know this, you can be taking a mental inventory as you hike or drive to your location. By the time you arrive at your destination, you will have a good idea of what type of shot will work best with the conditions given you.
4. Understand your histogram–much of the time, if a shot is botched it has to do with either blown focus or incorrect exposure. Understanding what your histogram is telling you about your image will allow you to make quick adjustments to get the right exposure. This can be done quickly with the exposure compensation feature (most all digital SLRs and even point and shoots have this feature).
5. Understand when to use which Grad ND Filters–mostly applicable to scenic shooters, this is also important for action and/or lifestyle shooters looking to separate themselves from the pack. Here’s a quick field guide: the greater the difference between shadow and highlight (or sky and FG most commonly), the stronger Grad ND you’ll need (i.e. 2-stop, 3-stop, etc.). Uneven horizon with trees or mountain peaks poking up? Soft step filter. Even horizon line? Hard step filter. Shooting into the sun at sunset or sunrise? Reverse ND Grad.
Hopefully this list will help you in being better prepared for those fleeting moments that can make or break you as a photographer. We all miss it sometimes, but the better prepared we are, the greater chance we have of tasting success!