Friday, April 29, 2011

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot Some More

The secret to great photography is....

Take a lot of pictures. Period.

OK, so maybe there is a little more to it than that, but I am completely convinced that spending quality time with and behind your camera is one of, if not THE most important, keys to success.

Like most things in life, it takes practice and perseverance to master the skills necessary to take great photos.  According to Malcom Gladwell in "Outliers: The Story of Success", it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to achieve "expert" status in ANYTHING.  While most of us will be hard pressed to invest 10,000 hours in photography without making it your full time career, it is only through experience that are you able to obtain a level of familiarity and comfort that allows you react and adjust on the fly. Understanding exposure, composition, the capabilities and settings of your camera... are all important parts of what can be a rather complex process.  Being able to react without having to stop and think about it is a whole different ballgame.  This photo of the bald eagle is a prime example.

While driving past a small pond on the outskirts of town one early evening, I noticed this bald eagle circling over head.  As I had my camera sitting on the seat right next to me, I eased the car over to the side of the road and stepped out to grab a few shots of this magnificent raptor.  Even standing only a few feet from the car, I could tell by how the eagle was circling that it was going to pass within 30 yards of me or so and offer a great photo opportunity.  Still set to my "Wildlife" custom settings, my aperture was wide open, shutter speed cranked up to 1/1000th of a second... all good as the bird began to glide right past me just as closely as I had anticipated. Camera, eye, viewfinder, focus, shutter release... click, click, click, click (actually sounds more like a quiet machine gun at 7 fps, but you get the idea).  Wooo Hoo!!!!!  These should be great!

And then I looked down at the LCD as the bird kept on flying.  These sure are dark. What's the deal?  The deal was that it never entered my mind that I was shooting toward the general direction of the sun and my camera was still in matrix metering mode.  The dial is within easy reach of my thumb even with the camera to my eye, but as I haven't been shooting much lately, the thought never even entered my mind... until the opportunity had passed.  I was "rusty".

So how do you combat the "rustys"?  Here are a few tips to help you (and me) out:
  1. DO Keep your camera close.  You can't capitalize on a photo opportunity if you don't have a camera.  As illustrated in my above story, however, just having your camera at hand isn't enough.
  2. DO Take pictures. Duh? Maybe commit to a "photo a day" project to keep yourself going.  How about starting your own photoblog?  There are tons of ideas on the web if you need help.  All you need to do is look.
  3. DO Focus on your sticky points.  If you find you're routinely getting burned in a particular area, like changing your metering mode, take an afternoon and put your full attention into that specific area until it becomes second nature.
  4. DON'T pressure yourself.  Not every photo you take is going to be a masterpiece.  I still contend that only 1 or 2 percent of the images I capture even earn the right to stay out of my Recycle Bin.  That's not to say that they don't still have value, however.  Use that other 98-99% of your images to learn.  They will be responsible for ensuring that when the opportunities for great photos come your way, you will be prepared. 
What other tips do you find helpful in keeping your photography skills tack sharp?


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