Monday, 6 June 2016

Before You Shoot

My son Aaron, tired but happy after his first ever race win, originally shot on film 1996

Ask Yourself Why

Is there one little piece of wisdom I can impart to help you elevate your photographic results, something that just might make it a bit easier?

Yes I think there is one little photographic morsel that may help.

Before you shoot, ask yourself a simple question:  "Why am I shooting this"?

Simple enough, but how is this going to help, bear with me, let’s look at a few other questions and ultimately the answers that may flow from this initial self question.

In the world of professional photography, the question of why is usually pretty obvious, you have a client and  brief with a final result in mind as part of the process, but for the casual shooter the camera is simply carried around and used whenever the desire arises, normally casual shooting does not involve you leaving home with a load of gear and a plan in place,  well really otherwise it wouldn’t be casual in nature.

Thing is, people fall into the default mode of just shooting with little thought involved, snap shooting in other words, with all that that implies - instant decision, instant settings on the camera, no user control, instant composition.  In other words everything done in a very perfunctory manner.

Now the usual response a snap-shooters to the idea of taking a little more deliberate approach is that it will be slow and tedious and they will miss the moment, but I feel this is a misguided belief.  Choosing the right camera settings should only take a few seconds, framing more carefully a few seconds more and checking your results better on the cameras screen just 15 secs maximum.  We are not really talking about huge time investments here and in fact you will be getting a huge saving in frustration and editing time once the results are put on your computer.

Just to see how a simple question may prod you into productive action lets take an example:

 You are at a family birthday party and you decide to take some shots of your young nephew who is the subject of the party.  So to the question, Why am I taking this photo?  The answer, birthdays are special and in years to come it will be great to remember this point in his life, which marks a stepping-stone along the way and anyway kids are normally very happy on their birthday.

OK so that is the reason, now then what then are the ramifications that flow from that answer?  Well they could be:
  1. A birthday being a special day needs to be recorded somehow in a way that shows it was actually a birthday?
  2. We will have several birthdays in our life (we hope) so how can we make it clear that this is his 10th birthday?
  3. Birthday parties are about friends being gathered together, how can I show that in the photo, and who in particular should be in the photo for future reference?
  4. Kids should look happy on birthdays so what is the best way to capture the happiness of the moment?
  5. What is not important in this photo and is best left out?
  6. What sort of lighting is going to work best, natural, flash, mixed?

There may well be a whole bunch of other questions that may flow from the decision to take these shots but the above will do for our discussion.  Now taking those questions what may the answers be and how will that translate to the photograph.

  1. To make it clear, this is a birthday so we need to include some things that are obviously the trappings of a birthday, this could include the cake, a wall banner, present wrappings, food on the table.
  2. A banner that actually says 10th birthday or the candles on the cake, a birthday card held up, all of these things would give the right chronological context.
  3. Friends are important but they are not the core element of the shot so somehow they need to be included but in the background, recognisable but not dominant.
  4. Kids are always happy opening presents, cutting the cake, munching on lollies etc, these moments will occur naturally, they don’t need to be set up, you just need to see them coming first.
  5. Who is the kids best friend, in years to come that will have great sentimental value, make sure that child is more dominant than the others but less than the subject.
  6. Flash ruins most shots and badly effects emotion in photos so natural light is a better choice, the trick is to make sure you have enough light and the camera is set to the correct settings.

Having resolved the above how are we going to set the camera.  

  1. It is best to use available light so the flash is going to be killed and if needed the ISO raised, this might make for a grainy image but that is better than blurred photos due to camera movement or subject movement.
  2. Cool skin tones are not good if we want folks to look happy, so the white balance needs to be set manually for the light source in use, and if it can be made a little warmer toned then even better
  3. Since the framing is important, you need to get in close enough to exclude distracting stuff but you need to leave a little leeway for selective cropping to match print formats/aspect ratios that you may want to use.
  4. Timing will be important, perhaps a good strategy would be to use the continuous mode and take lots of shots knowing that you will likely only keep a couple of good ones.
  5. Kids look more impressive if shot at eye level or below, shooting down onto them can look pretty condescending so bend se knees and get down to their level.

So there you go, now you’re ready to shoot.  On the surface you may feel all this thinking and set-up will take lots of time, but in reality it shouldn’t providing you know how to actually use the functions of your camera, remember, it is the person behind the camera that creates the image and the most important aspects of image creation are seeing and thinking and perhaps a little forward planning.

Happy Shooting!

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