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Shooting Quickly versus Thinking More

Digital cameras make it easy to take lots of pictures quickly. But should you?

Photographs are sometimes referred to as snapshots. I'm not much of a fan of the term as it implies a hurried approach to taking pictures, as if doing so doesn't require much effort or even attention. But the word is descriptive of how some people approach the use of their camera. How many of you haven't seen something like this before: a car stops at a scenic overlook. Someone gets out and walks over to the railing (some folks shorten this further by merely rolling down the window and leaving the engine running). They fire off the shutter a few times and before you know it, they're back on the road in search of the next sign telling them to point their camera somewhere. A few of you may on occasion have been guilty of this yourself. If you have, go ahead and admit it. You're not alone. The age of fully automatic wonder cameras makes this easy. Photography has become efficient, but at the expense of what?

Some years ago, I had a girlfriend who couldn't understand why it would take me so long to take pictures. I tend to walk around and look at things a lot before I ever even get the camera out. Even once I have it mounted on a tripod and aimed in the right general direction it could take me ten minutes or more to press the shutter release. I'll look over the entire frame and then start making adjustments. If the composition isn't as balanced as I'd like, I might lower the tripod an inch or two, or move to the left or right by some small amount. I could zoom in or out some to frame things differently, or move my entire setup forward or back to tweak the perspective between foreground and background. And of course there are aperture and shutter speed to be considered. You get the idea. Thankfully, once my girlfriend saw the results of my slow maneuverings she usually realized there was a method to my seeming madness. We're not together anymore, but at least I don't think the need to wait on my photographic timetable was the cause. But I digress.

People who shoot quickly but are dissatisfied with their results sometimes misdiagnose the cause. In an effort to get better pictures they instead settle for taking more pictures. Digital cameras make that particularly easy. But apart from upping the odds of chance, more rarely leads to better. It might seem that shooting a lot doesn't really cost anything with digital, but that isn't entirely so. The very moment itself is slipping by if you aren't fully engaged with it.

One of the things that drew me to nature photography in the first place is how it affords an opportunity to get more in touch with nature. I rather like sitting in a field on a mountainside just seeing what there is to see. When I'm shooting, I don't want to feel rushed, and taking my time sometimes leads to seeing things I might have otherwise missed. The sense of discovery is no small part of what I enjoy about photography. When the sun begins to peek over the horizon things can change quickly. At times like this I do my best to keep up with the action of course, but when I have the luxury of working more slowly I avail myself of it.

My point is that you can approach the process of photography in more than one way. Perhaps it depends on what you want to get out of it, or perhaps you fell into a particular mindset about your photography through habit or happenstance. Basically, you can work either quickly or more slowly and purposefully. You can shoot either casually with your mind focused mainly on other matters, or you can shoot more methodically with what approaches a single-minded attention to the task at hand. It's your choice.

Digital cameras also make it easy to try new things in the field. This too can lead to taking large numbers of pictures, but this is a different kind of excess. Thoughtful experiments stem from a different mindset than do rapid fire snapshots. The degree of engagement on the part of the photographer is of an entirely different order.

Does the way you shoot match what you want to get out of your photography? Every time you go out with your camera you get to decide how you want to approach the process.

Date posted: October 17, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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