Improve Your Photographs By Slowing Down The Capture Process!
by William Lulow
One thing the digital revolution has done is to speed up the image capture process. With a good DSLR, one can take literally hundreds of shots with the hope that at least one will turn out to be the image that one wants. And, that’s the mentality that digital photography carries with it. Just shoot enough and one is bound to be good.
Any good photographer knows this is simply untrue! If you take a hundred exposures at the same setting, of the same subject, with the same lighting, they will all look the same. Unless there is some thought to what one is doing, the same mistakes will just be duplicated. The famous Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams used to say that repeating the same bad swing without changing or learning anything only teaches how to make mistakes.
Better to THINK about what you are doing BEFORE you go out and capture hundreds of images. There are still some photographers out there who favor film over digital for this very reason. Shooting film, especially sheet film, slows down the shooting process due to the many steps involved in making the picture. If you shoot large-format film, you have to make sure the exposure is correct (usually with a light meter), double check the composition and the focus, load film, check conditions again to make sure nothing has changed in the scene, pull the slide, trip the shutter, replace the slide and store the film holder. This is not exactly your basic “point-and-shoot” experience.
With all this said, it is still possible to use digital media and slow the process down to where your thought process is still paramount. Think of your camera, whatever it is, as a large-format view camera. Put it on a tripod (which gives the image extra stability and thus clarity). Just the act of mounting the camera on a tripod slows down the process a bit. Use the camera’s built in electronic level device. This will help you slow down the process even further. Think about filtering your scene. Learn what filters can do to enhance the effects of your scene’s lighting. For example, I often use a graduated, neutral-density filter over the lens to darken and add some texture to the sky. Here is an example of one:
The darker top part will serve to add a deeper blue to the sky while the clear, bottom part will render normal details in the landscape.
Think about shooting in original B&W instead of converting your color images in Photoshop. These are things that will slow down the process of photographing a scene and force you to think more about what you want to capture. Look for different camera angles instead of just lifting the camera to your eye and shooting at eye-level. Use a light meter to check light levels at various scenes. Look for lightings that I have mentioned in my articles. Shoot street scenes with no people. Be patient! Wait for people to walk away, then shoot.
I think this will help to get rid of the notion that somehow, more shooting will produce the results you want.
One of the big tripods I use to help slow the shooting process down and force me to think more about what I’m shooting.
Here is a shot I did quite a few years ago of the famous “Maroon Bells” near Aspen, Colorado. I had to carry my camera and tripod from where I parked my car to this spot, then set up all gear and wait for the best moment to trip the shutter. It was a shot I had “previsualized” before I made the picture. I do this on a regular basis whenever I’m shooting landscapes. I often walk quite a distance with no equipment just to see if the scene I’m hoping to capture really looks good from my expected vantage point. Sometimes, I return without even taking a picture.
Slowing down the picture making process (at least when doing landscapes) and trying to think about what you want the final image to look like is one of the keys to making effective photographs.