The greatest thing about photography to me is that it truly is an endless journey. To this day I still feel I have barely touched the surface of what potential lies ahead for me in this great medium. Like most photographers we often delve into what successes we have had. Not surprising this proud display of photographic success is what most of us see when we view each others web sites, online forum submissions or print portfolios. If you think of the photographic journey as an iceberg our successes are merely the tip of what is seen above the water. Below the water, what we normally keep private, is 90% or more of the journey that got us to that point… our failures.
Like many I’m all too proud to show off my photographic successes, but we all have bad habit that we have to keep in check. Photography, particularly digital photography, enables us to experiment and no doubt this accounts for a lot of our photographic failures, but there are other factors. Contributing factors to our failures can be technical in nature, circumstantial or even random bad luck. Still a good amount of our photographic failures can be limited with a little discipline.
Discipline is the solution, but what is this the solution to? For that we have to look with in to be honest with ourselves and identify our weaknesses… our bad habits. Over the years I’ve identified and worked through many bad habits, but still more than a few linger. Photography has always been meditative to me. My work flow behind the camera; my routine of seeing, subject/lighting evaluation, technical checks, alignment to what I see in my minds eye, etc. are all entrancing. As I work noise becomes silence, my field of view narrows and internally there is a sense of harmony that develops. This internal harmony is fleeting and it is a struggle to find let alone keep for long. Bad photographic habits are incredibly disruptive and only on the days they’re kept in check am I able to reach an internal harmony that allows me to achieve photographic success.
So what are my worst photographic habits? Before I tell you take a minute to pause and think to yourself what you battle with to achieve photographic success. More than likely they’ll be very similar to mine. The most humbling thing about photography is that we all make the same mistakes and often fight the same demons.
Not Using A Tripod
Using a tripod can be a bit of an embarrassment and hassle. It’s not required all the time, but odds are you’ll have greater success when using one. If you’re shooting at a shutter speed of 1/125 second or faster then you can likely get away with out one. If you’re particularly steady and lucky you might even be able to capture a 1/3 – 1 second exposure hand holding. The key words here are “likely” and “lucky”. Why take the chance of missing a photographic opportunity? If you’re going out of your way to photograph something take the extra effort to bring a tripod along and set your camera up on it. You’ll greatly increase the number of photographs you walk away with that are sharp.
Only in the past year or two can I say that I got past my tripod embarrassment. Now I travel most everywhere with my tripod. Still if I’m rushing around there are times that I’ll leave it behind and more times than not I end up wanting to kick myself over it having missed an opportunity to get as sharp an image as I’d have preferred.
Not Using A Cable Release
Building on the use of a tripod the next highly recommended piece of equipment to have and use is a cable release (see The Loss of My Most Valued Photographic Tool). Use of a cable release will help take out one key variable out of your photographs… you. Whether you realize it or not when you set up your camera and press the shutter release you’re moving your camera. Depending on how solid your tripod head is and how extended your tripod legs are you’ll get some degree of vibration. When you have a cable release attached you minimize the vibration you introduce by having your hands on your camera body. You can set a timer on your camera to achieve a similar result, but if you’re subject requires exact timing then a cable release is a must have.
Rushing around its easy to fall prey to being lazy and not using a cable release. Not every subject requires the use of a cable release and bright lighting conditions can make use of one unnecessary. Still I’m trying to get into the habit of not cutting corners and using one all the time to avoid missing that one killer shot that I should have used one for.
Not Using Mirror Lock Up
Sticking to the theme of image sharpness, this is an advanced step to remove the last variable out of the equation of achieving the sharpest image possible… your camera. A tripod and cable release take you out of the equation, but mechanically your camera still has moving parts that introduce vibration. The moving part introducing the greatest amount of vibration is the mirror that reflects the scene seen through your lens to your viewfinder. When you click the shutter release this mirror changes position to let the light your lens is focusing travel unimpeded through the shutter to your film or digital sensor rather than up through the viewfinder. Mirror Lock Up is a function that allows you to stabilize the mirror before making your exposure. Not all dSLRs/SLRs have this function to see if your camera has it check your manual.
As for bad habits around Mirror Lock Up, its only a useful function if you use it. With so many things to juggle and often with a tight schedule this is the one step that is easy to be lazy about and skip. Some days using Mirror Lock Up is almost second nature and other days it seems to be the easy step to skip. I’ve made improvements on this one, but I relapse from time to time.
Not Planning and Scouting Ahead of Time
Great photographic opportunities are often centered around spontaneous or fleeting moments, whether a quickly fading sunset or an athlete achieving the unthinkable, timing is key. Planning ahead and getting an idea of what your surroundings are will help you increase your odds of getting the photograph you’re after. It’s not always possible to scout out an event or location, but if you have the opportunity you should aim to do so. Knowledge about the environment in which you’re photographing goes a long way. If you’re interested in photographing something find out the soonest you can arrive, the latest you can leave, which direction is the lighting coming from, what access will you have to your subject, what is the most optimal position to take up for your shot, etc. Anything you can do to minimize unknown variables, distraction and focus on getting the shot will increase the odds you get the photograph you’re after.
More times than not the bad habit of not planning or scouting is behind me, but from time to time I’ll get lazy and my photographs pay the price. The majority of all the photos in my gallery I scoped out the location where I took the photo at least once either a day before or during a previous trip to the area. This extra effort makes a big difference.
Rushing Rather Than Absorbing
When you’re passionate about a subject its easy to let your emotions get the better of you. Emotion can cloud your thinking and contribute to missed steps critical to photographing a fleeting moment. In this regard passion can be a blessing and a curse. With out that passion or fire you’d never be in position to get the photograph, while on the other hand that passion can impede your ability to operate at your full potential. It’s tough to find the right balance and depending on the moment may require you to make different mental adjustments. More times than not when I see everything coming together for a great photo containing my enthusiasm and maintaining my composure is a tough thing to do, but so very critical. Personally I think this is the toughest of my bad habits to break. As you’d expect I’m pretty passionate about photography so when I have a great shot with in reach it takes a lot to stay composed.
Shooting For The Sake Of Shooting
Just because you have a digital camera and it’s easy to get a photo it doesn’t mean you should be taking photos. Since the introduction of digital photography one serious side effect has developed, photographers are now virtually unrestricted when and how much they shoot. This translates to photographers being far less discriminating in what they photograph. I’ve pretty much overcome this, but there are times I still succumb to the “I’ll take a few more photos because I can” mentality. Generally speaking the only thing this accomplishes is creating a lot more average photos for me to have to filter through, keeping me from more important photo projects.
Not Stopping To Take A Photo
As I go about my day I will invariably see something that I know would be perfect to photograph. The lighting is spot on, subjects are aligned and odds are the combination of these things will never come about again. The catch is that I can’t stop to get the shot or worse I think I can’t stop to get the shot. In these instances I feel as though I’m a prisoner to my schedule. My need to get from point A to B by a certain time trumps my ability to capture the photographic opportunity before me. Personally I think this is the worst feeling in the world. In many regards it’s just a part of life, but I’ve been finding that in some instances my schedule isn’t as concrete as I perceive it to be. With a little flexibility and having my gear ready to go at a moments notice I’m able to take advantage of these poorly timed opportunities. Most still go unrealized, but at least I’m finding a way to take advantage of a few poorly timed opportunities that I otherwise would not.
Not Taking The Time To Try New Photographic Techniques
One of the many things I’ve learned to do to avoid getting into a rut is to try new photographic techniques. To do this it takes time to research and experiment. Once getting a new technique down I then look to apply it in combination with other techniques I regularly employ. If I’m feeling rushed and/or distracted over time I’ll lose sight of doing this and it often takes me a little while to get back on track. Expanding ones knowledge and experience gives a photographer greater range in which to pursue his or her vision.
The Bind That Ties Most Of These Bad Habits Together
What ties all these bad habits together?
Time. Time is not a photographers best friend. If I had 48 hour days I’d likely still never have enough time to do everything I’d like. As a result time management is critical. I like to think I’m fairly efficient and use my time effectively, but that’s not always possible. Even with the best time management life has it’s way of being disruptive. In that regard I expect that I’ll always be battling some of these bad habits and my work is laid out before me to become a more disciplined photographer.
[tags]photography, photographer, bad, worst, habit, technique, best practices[/tags]