Photography, whether it’s photojournalism, documentary, sports, wildlife, or even landscapes, is largely about camera placement and timing. But there are fundamental mistakes that most of us photographers make that stand in the way of getting great photos.
Space-time is a beautiful idea. Three-dimensional space (up/down, left/right, and front/back) and one-dimensional time (it only moves in one direction, from past to future) are constituent parts of the same thing. Therefore, you can only be in one place at a time. An experienced photographer knows where to be and when to press the shutter. This skill is acquired not by chance but by planning.
Take, for example, my preparation to take a seascape photo at sunrise. I calculate where I need to be to see the sun appear above the horizon, and I time it so it’s there at the right time. If I went to the wrong place at the wrong time, I wouldn’t get the picture.
So the first mistake people make is not planning their shots correctly, therefore not being in the right place in spacetime. Misquoting a well-known military saying: “Good pre-planning prevents poor photographic performance”.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with walking around with your camera and hoping for the best; I do. In fact, all of the photos accompanying this article I took early on that dull, damp morning. They are okay, but not amazing. My planning usually includes knowing the position of the sun at any given time, the weather, the state of the tide, the subject I will be photographing, the equipment I need to take with me, the placement and settings of the camera. camera, and wearing appropriate clothing.
Because I lived here for 15 years, some of them have become second nature; historical planning is in my mind, so experience takes over. I was in the right place, I was wearing proper clothes, my camera was set correctly, and the tide was about right. However, the likelihood of me catching something mind-blowing would have been much higher had I planned for it. It would have made me leave an hour earlier on a brighter morning.
Having the right gear with me doesn’t mean packing a camera bag full of every lens I own, carrying all five spare batteries, and lugging a tripod everywhere with me. In fact, I no longer own a camera bag. They hinder and restrict movement. Also, I won’t change lenses on the spot because of the damage it can cause. Whether shooting landscapes, weddings, wildlife or street photography, all that unwanted extra kit is just a hindrance.
Photographers buy large amounts of equipment and feel compelled to carry it everywhere. They would get better photos and suffer less back pain if they just took what they needed for their planned photo. So I’ll probably carry my camera attached to the tripod, and an ND filter screwed to the lens for marine shooting. For bird photos, it’s just the camera and the strap. The battery will be fully charged, it will last me all day, and the SD card will be empty and in the camera.
Without that heavy burden of a kit bag, I can safely climb rocks or wade through the sea unhindered by it. I want my position in spacetime to be upright with my camera taking pictures and not in the water after losing my balance and falling. Also, I don’t want the rising tide to overwhelm my spare kit if I leave it in a bag on the beach; I saw this happen.
The next mistake may not be a mistake at all, but a different approach to photography, and it’s all about how to time the shot. It’s almost impossible to talk about timing in photography without giving Henri Cartier-Bresson a nod. So, now that that’s settled, let’s discuss the two approaches to capturing the decisive moment.
Historically, photographers would have studied their subjects. Thus, they would learn to anticipate the precise moment to press the shutter button. Then motorized winds were invented, allowing continuous shooting, but at a slower pace by today’s standards. My camera can trigger 120 raw frames per second and buffer images before the shutter button is fully pressed. Therefore, my chances of missing the shot are greatly reduced, as my reaction time is taken out of the equation.
Do you see the problem? This fast-paced approach to shooting means new photographers don’t learn to anticipate the action. Is it important ? They still get the shot, and if the result is all that matters to them, then the answer is no, it doesn’t. However, if photography also means learning how the subject behaves, then disabling those modes and learning how to take individual images makes that easier. The obvious topic I’m referring to here is wildlife, but it could be an airplane, a wave on the sea, a person on the street, or sunlight flickering through a leaf . All photos in this article were taken as single frames.
This quick approach with guaranteed results probably appeals to the modern mentality of having everything instantly without hard work. Yet I wonder if, by giving in so much to technology, we don’t lose the sense of accomplishment that was once the result of effort and learning.
The last mistake relating to time and space is the dogged pursuit of commonplace. Trends in photography usually start because a talented and inventive photographer finds their own style, placing their camera in a particular place at a specific time. People hail it as a success and then copy it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with emulating the styles and techniques of a photographer we admire, but it should just be a starting point for finding our own style.
Take, for example, studio portraits. Most come from a limited number of styles copied from Annie Leibovitz or David Bailey. Then search Google for images of the White House, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or St. Paul’s Basilica. Many of these photos are so similar that they have become cliché. The same goes for the images of birds on a stick, the forced perspectives, the black and white images of Yosemite, the newlyweds gazing out over the landscape towards a sunset, or the uncomfortably cropped frames. Adding to a shot doesn’t do much for photography or our growth in art, although it can be a great starting point for our photographic journey through space-time.
How much planning do you put into a plan? Do you rely on technology or do you go back to basics and film everything manually? It will be great to hear your thoughts in the comments.