The Law of Pause and Effect
Pausing for a moment to double check everything before you shoot can have a tremendous effect on the quality of your results.
No matter how you approach things, you can't be shooting all the time. There's definitely a degree of waiting in nature photography. It's hard to gauge how long it will take to hike somewhere for sunrise or sunset, so in order make sure I get there in plenty of time, I invariably arrive early and have to wait. Even once the action does start, the sun moves only so fast. The light changes radically from the beginning to the end of the process, but only in the middle when the sun actually crosses the horizon do things progress that rapidly. Much of the time, I'm waiting. And if I'm shooting mid-morning or afternoon, I can comfortably sit on the ground admiring the scenery for quite a while in what seems like a timeless space with no appreciable change in lighting. A cloud crossing over the sun or a sudden breeze can break the spell of course, but there's nothing but time, much of the time.
So the question I want to delve into here is: how do you spend your pauses?
If I'm going to be out on location for the evening or the day, I generally pack a sandwich or other food. This not only staves off hunger, but it does allow me to make productive use of my down time while I get comfortable or wait for the light to change. I'm betting many of you have done likewise. At least here in the northwest, sunset in the summer comes awfully late to try and eat dinner after.
But this sort of thing clearly has limits. Much of the time out shooting, it's just me and my surroundings. I like it that way in fact. It's rather peaceful. If you've done much shooting in the wild, you probably feel the same way or else you wouldn't do it.
Even when actually shooting rather than explicitly waiting, there will still be time between shots. You simply can't shoot continuously. So do you shoot and then wait, or do you wait and then shoot? It's another case of the proverbial chicken and egg, in a sense. I mean, which comes first, the waiting or the shooting?
Often, I see photographers snapping an image when they see something they like, then waiting until something else catches their fancy and shooting again. In other words, they tend to pause after shooting rather than before. If you pause only after shooting, you're missing a huge opportunity. Knowing that there will be slack time during the proceedings, I'd suggest putting at least some of it to use before you shoot.
Only before you shoot can you take any actions that will affect the way that image will look. If there's a branch protruding into the edge of the frame, you can probably crop it out later in Photoshop, but if you want to get it right in camera, you'd better notice it before you shoot. If the horizon is a tad crooked, this too can be tweaked digitally later, but wouldn't it make sense to make the slight necessary adjustment before you press the shutter release?
And what about your composition? If you move your tripod three inches to the left, can you better frame things to avoid a merge? Two mountain wildflowers that overlap each other would be difficult though I guess not impossible to correct in Photoshop, but if you can get it right in camera with a simple change of tripod position, shouldn't you try to? You can only do this if you see the problem at the time of course. And you can only do this if you pause before you press the shutter release.
No matter how you make use of the pauses during shooting, your behavior will have an effect on your results. Shoot the moment you find something of interest and you'll end up with whatever you end up with. Pause before you shoot to double check what you're doing and you have a chance of improving the results. You'll spend the same amount of time either way. After all, you packed a lunch even. So you might as well put the pauses to good use.
It's what I call the "Law of Pause and Effect."