Think Before You Shoot

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, the availability of low priced memory cards at one’s fingertips and explosive shutter speeds can lead to rapid-firing of photos by loads of photographers. The concept is this - the more image captures I make, the higher chance there is that I come back with a prize winner. And this may ring true for some, but not for me.

I tend to subscribe to the school of thought that it’s important to take a little time to set up a shot. Now, when I’m talking about this process, I’m mostly referring to shooting nature photography, since setting up for a portrait involves thinking through things like off camera lighting. But, when I’m in the field shooting nature, I spend a lot more time with my camera at my side just looking and envisioning shots than I do hammering away at my shutter. I take the time to frame out a shot and think through what I want out of it. Now, when I settle on a shot I like, I do experiment with bracketing, ISOs and depth of field. In other words, I don’t limit myself to one or two exposures. But, at the end of the day, I generally come back with a series of "scenes" that I’ve chosen instead of thousands of disparate images.

One of the best ideas I’ve heard was from a photography professor who, for an assignment, challenged his class to go out and shoot, but only take 5 photos. This forced his students to be judicious with each capture - making each one count. And there are other ways to encourage constraint,  including only venturing out with a small memory card. Personally, I think anything that forces you to stop and think is worthwhile.

Anyhow, that’s my preferred method. Your mileage may vary.

22-October-2009 | Techniques & Tips



I have to admit that hearing the alarm go off for an early morning shoot isn’t always easy, even when you know that you’ll be rewarded by the solitude of a world just waking up. Almost every early rise is worth the effort, but some provide that little cherry on top that life throws your way every so often.  Last Wednesday was one of those mornings for me.

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:45 am, on vacation no less, to make an early morning visit to Botany Bay, a 4,700 acre refuge on Edisto Island in South Carolina where two plantations once stood. In the pre-dawn glow, I made my way down the long dirt road to the entrance through tunnels of live oaks and spanish moss.

After about ten minutes of winding and weaving though maritime forests and marshes, intermixed with fields of summer corn, I made it to the parking area for the beach walk just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. I parked, lathered myself up with bug spray and sunscreen and began down the path to the beach crossing some of the most expansive marsh I’ve ever seen. Imagine miles and miles of vibrant green marsh grasses bisected by tidal guts filled with scurrying fiddler crabs and oysters exposed by a low tide.

I continued down the path into a small section of forest so thick and lush that I could have just as easily been in a Hawaiian tropical rainforest instead of South Carolina. I observed a great egret perched high up on the branch of a tree, preening itself. Off to each side of the trail and overhead were spiderwebs with golden-silk spiders. Eventually, I emerged onto a undeveloped, wide white sand beach covered with thousands and thousands of shells. This was reward enough for getting out of bed early, right? Things got better.

As I started hiking up the coastline, I noticed a group of people just up ahead occupied by something on the sand. As I got closer, I began to realize that I was about to observe one of nature’s rare gifts - sea turtle hatchlings making the trek from their nest out into the ocean. Five small loggerhead turtles slowly inched down the beach towards the surf. Typically, this journey can be full of many dangers from predators such as shorebirds, foxes and racoons who are looking for an easy meal to impediments such as deep trenches from tire tracks. These five turtles were lucky to have a group of guardians to watch over them.


Eventually, the turtles made it to the surf and slipped away one by one into the sea. I wish them the very best on their continued journey. With a lot of luck, some will make it back to Botany Bay one day to lay eggs. The odds are heavily stacked against them. Seeing their struggle, which only begins with this perilous beach crossing, made me appreciate just how easy we (humans) have it. Getting up early? Well, it’s really no hardship after all.

Note: many kudos to the legions of folks, mostly volunteers, that get up early morning after morning to check on nests and help these little guys safely make their way to the ocean.

16-August-2009 | Photo ShootsTechniques & Tips


Some Sage Advice

A blog I regularly frequent, Photofocus, has a recent post that has some really great advice.  In the post, titled "Improve Your Images", Scott Bourne relays that a colleague he used to know (and who critiques photos for a living) once told him to study 10,000 photos before he came back to her. 

This is a mantra I subscribe to as well.  I try to study as many photos as I can, mostly online at sites like photo.net and fredmiranda.com. I take time to look for the little things I like and dislike about each image. As Scott mentions, the more you can learn and apply to your photography, the more improvement you will see over time.

And really the take home is this - you can never stop learning - regardless how many years you’ve been shooting.

14-September-2008 | Techniques & Tips


Be Willing to Pause, Part II

My previous entry focused on the practice of taking time to slow down and observe the little things that make this world   an amazing place. A recent article in the Washington Post further illustrates this basic point.

Writers from the Post asked world class musician Joshua Bell to set up outside a Metro stop in DC and play music, much as any street performer, or busker, would. They wanted to find out if commuters on their way to work would stop to listen to or even recognize the difference between an average street performer and a professional musician, who by the way was playing a 3.5 million dollar violin. He set up at a station near the Capitol building at nearly 8 a.m. (in the middle of rush hour) on a Friday morning and began playing extremely technical pieces, as commuters exited the Metro stop.

So what happened? As you might guess, nearly everyone who passed by didn’t even acknowledge that he was even there. A few people donated money in passing, one or two stopped for a second and only one recognized him as the same musician that she had paid good money to see perform a few nights previous. Most hurried by, completely oblivious to his performance.

Surprised? Not me. What does this say about the perception of the average commuter? Hard to say, but it does point out that we’re typically so focused on a task or destination, that we don’t take time to notice and appreciate our surroundings. Would there have been a different result if the experiment was tried in a different setting, say, in a park or plaza? Most likely. Context is very important.

However, what it does underscore to me is that we need to learn to observe. As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s a vital skill in photography - and one of the reasons I became involved in shooting photos in the first place. It’s as important while in the concrete jungle as it is out in nature.

To read the article in its entirety, visit "Pearls Before Breakfast" on the Washington Post website.

15-April-2007 | Techniques & Tips