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Everything Ventured, Something May (Or May Not) Be Gained

Sometimes everything just seems to work out perfectly. Other times, not so much. When things aren't going well, frustrated photographers try all sorts of strategies.

One common strategy employed by some photographers is go somewhere else, or to come back some other time. Surely, they reason, the problem is no fault of their own. It has to be the weather, or the circumstances, or something else. This may be valid, but it's of little consequence to their current predicament. It might prove fruitful in that other time or place, but not so much right now, where and when they currently are. What makes a good photographer truly good is their ability to adapt and make use of whatever circumstances they may find themselves in. Growth as a photographer sometimes requires an unexpected challenge.

I can't profess this to be advice I always remember myself of course. Believing that the grass is always greener (figuratively or perhaps even literally) somewhere else is tempting indeed. Sometimes it is, which is why this saying exists, but you can't count on it. It's only later on when you realize you've spent your whole day driving around looking for that perfect combination of place and circumstances and have virtually no shots to show for it, good ones or bad. Not that I've ever done that. Of course not.

An extreme version of this strategy is the belief that you need new camera gear to get better shots. It's not enough for some to look for better images somewhere else or some other time. When that fails to work a few times, some will come to feel they need a new lens or a new camera to get those really good shots. This can get expensive fast. Although some new gear may indeed help, it's rarely your best option unless and until you've put some serious thought into the actual nature of the problem you are trying to solve. If you buy new gear, there should be a specific reason why, not just a general dissatisfaction with what you can do with your current setup.

Another common strategy is to adopt a heavy finger on the shutter release, taking more and more shots in an attempt to up the chances of a winner. The line of reasoning here is one of probabilities. If the chances of a good shot are low, taking more shots should up your odds. This actually can work to some extent, but if you find yourself benefiting from it, you might ask yourself whether doing so makes you a better photographer or not. I mean, apart from exercising you shutter release finger, does pressing that button more often help you compose better images? If you find you get more good images this way, you basically remain beholden to this technique in the future. It never really was you who improved, it was just that probability thing. You'll almost certainly get more good and bad images, with the average being no better than before.

Way back in the days of film photography, if I wanted to make sure I got the shot I could often find myself burning an entire roll of 36 exposures on a given subject and composition with only minor variations between frames. Once the digital era began, I found that I might end up with close to a hundred shots under similar circumstances. It's easy to keep firing away with digital. Perhaps all too easy.

That's not to say that if you find yourself in front of the shot of a lifetime you won't be well served by shooting as many frames as you can from every possible angle and with every possible exposure. You may never have that opportunity again and would be a fool not to go at it with every tool in your arsenal. But this isn't the same thing as what we're discussing here. Thoroughly covering a good subject is a different matter from trying to make up for being dealt a bad one.

Not that I've ever tried to use it for this reason myself of course. At least not that I'll admit to here at least. One nice thing about digital is that you can try most anything and then delete all evidence of your foibles afterwards. That can come in very handy indeed.

But this brings me to a strategy that I do find useful and will admit to. Digital photography provides the ideal set of tools for experimentation and learning. If there's a technique you've heard about, or perhaps one you dreamed up on your own just to see what might happen, being confronted with otherwise unpromising circumstances might be just the perfect time to give it a try. Go ahead. Position the camera right up on top of, or underneath, your subject. Or shoot from far away with a longer lens. Push your exposure to the longest shutter speed you can muster. Or try whatever clever or wacky idea you may have, just to see what you end up with.

After you fire off a few frames, take a look at the results. If you like what you see, congratulations. If you don't, change something and continue your experimentation. You never know what you might come up with. This type of iterative experimentation can be a great way to learn and improve your skills. Rather than relying on probability in the hopes of getting a better shot, it makes more sense to rely on your own skill and ingenuity to increase your odds. And the best part is, whatever you figure out, you can put to use in the future because it was you doing it, not just the laws of probability.

Date posted: September 13, 2015


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