Spontaneous moments are often the most exciting and most difficult to photograph. Over the years I’ve developed habits that have enabled me to more consistently photograph the unexpected. While out in the field recently I made an effort to note what I now do unconsciously as habit, so that I might share a few tips to help you better photograph the unexpected whether your subject of choice is wildlife, weddings (some might say they’re the same thing as wildlife), children, landscapes or any other subject.
1. Never Fill A CF Card to Capacity
It’s of course a best practice to have extra CF cards with you, but to photograph the unexpected you have to have space on a card in camera ready to go. It is very easy to go crazy with digital photography taking photographs to the point of filling ones compact flash cards to capacity. If you have your camera in hand you should always have the storage capacity to take more photos. At a minimum you should always be aware of how many more photos you can capture before filling your card. Plan or take an educated guess as to when there might be a lull to quickly replace a full card with an empty one so as to not miss any action. If you’re like me when in the field and get to a point where you’ve exhausted all free space on your compact flash cards and have yet to back them up… at a minimum always leave space for 3 to 12 more images for surprise encounters. This tactic has worked exceptionally well for me enabling me to head off Murphy’s Law to capture subjects I’d otherwise have missed.
2. Revert to a Consistent Camera Setting
Nothing is worse than being presented with a great photography opportunity and taking the photograph with the wrong or less than ideal settings on your camera. I highly recommend finding a relatively universal camera setting for the subjects you plan on or typically photograph to revert your camera to at the conclusion of each photographic session. For myself I have the established habit of setting my camera to the base setting of ISO 400, f/8 on Aperture Priority mode. If I’m looking to photograph a fast moving subject at a moments notice I’m almost always assured of getting a workable photograph. While this setting is not ideal for every subject and lighting condition its a starting point that enables me to quickly adjust for slower settings when using a tripod or faster camera setting when hand holding.
3. Have the Right Lens on Your Camera
This may seem obvious but for many it is often an oversight, have the right lens on your camera in anticipation of surprise photographic opportunities. If you’re looking for wildlife that is almost guaranteed to be in the distance then opt for keeping a telephoto lens on your camera. If you’re in an area where a variety of subjects could come at you from various distances then choose a zoom lens that will best meet your needs. It may not be possible to have the perfect lens with you, but choose one that is as close as possible and embrace it. Don’t fret and distract yourself worrying about your lens if it’s not the ideal. Focus on the overall experience of where you are and what you’re photographing.
4. Pack Consistently
While Ralph Waldo Emerson noted “…consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”, consistency in regard to how your camera gear is packed can make the difference between getting a shot and not. There is a lot to be said for being so intimately aware of where you can find your camera gear (lens filters, lenses, cable release, etc.) that you could even find it in the dark. If you’re going to attempt to make any quick adjustments in a rush to capture a photo you’re going to be as good as in the dark while you keep your eye on your subject and fumble through your gear to find what you need. Ideally you should have the right lens/filter set up on your camera so as to avoid this, but in practical terms that’s not always possible. For those situations being able to visualize and find gear by touch or without a clear line of sight could make the difference.
5. Keep Your Camera in Hand
When idle, whether walking, hiking, or even in a vehicle always have your camera in hand or in reach. If your camera is in a bag you’re not going to be able to dig it out in time if you have seconds to take a photo. If you expect to make quick work of a fleeting photographic opportunity you’ll need to have your camera in hand or for some subjects on a tripod ready to go in a seconds notice. Carrying a camera with lens for an extended period of time can be fatiguing so be sure you have the stamina necessary so as to not increase the risk of damaging your gear.
6. Keep Your Camera On & Ready
Always keep your camera on, so you’re never stuck waiting for your camera to start up. It should also be said that you’ll want to conserve power so that you always have battery life to last you the entire time you’re out taking photographs. If you’re battery is low and you know its not enough to last to the end of the day don’t wait for it to run out before replacing it with a fresh battery. It’s better to have uninterrupted power than have to deal with Murphy’s Law of your battery dying when you need it most.
7. Be Mentally Prepared
Staying mentally sharp and focused will enable you to move at a moments notice. Evaluating your surroundings to think in terms of composition and possible locations your subject may be or come from will keep your mind’s eye working. Think creatively imagining images with your surroundings in your Mind’s Eye so as to capture a visually interesting photo that goes beyond a quick snapshot if an opportunity presents itself.
8. Photograph with Both Eyes Open
One of the most common mistakes I see photographers make is to get lost looking solely through the camera viewfinder. If you are only seeing the world through your viewfinder you in essence suffer from tunnel vision… literally. Rather than only looking through your viewfinder be sure to use your other eye to survey your surroundings. Is anyone on the fringe of your photo that will either detract or add to your photo? Being aware and flexible to quickly adjust, so as to capture a fleeting moment is the key to photographing the unexpected. The perfect example of this being my “Reflected Art” photograph highlighted in my past blog post Photography: The Art Of Being Prepared.
9. Time Emancipation
Unfortunately we all suffer from time pressures. Succumbing to time pressures is one of the top reasons so many of us miss photographic opportunities. If you’re looking to photograph something unexpected be prepared to commit the time. People, animals, events, etc. often do not follow a schedule. Life happens and as such one needs to free oneself from the bonds of time to witness it.
10. Put Yourself In The Right Place
While its certainly possible to be graced with an unexpected moment to photograph as we go about our business, increase your odds of capturing an unexpected moment by being in the right place. Photographing the unexpected will never happen if you’re not making an effort to put yourself in a place where you can intersect the timeline of your presence with that of your subject. For some subjects a little research will go a long way (ex. when Caribou migrate across regions of Alaska) and for others its a matter of identifying the life of the party and waiting for something to happen in relation to this person at an event. In either case be where the action is or will be, in order to photograph it.
[tags]Photography, Tips & Tricks[/tags]