Being Ready For The Click
Almost 15 years ago I entered into Yellowstone National Park for the very first time. Excited about my first trip to the park, I had packed my Pentax point and shoot camera. I looked forward with great anticipation in getting some wildlife photographs. I spent the day taking photos of Bison, Elk and other animals that we came into contact with along side the road. Half way through the day I came to the sad realization that I had not loaded my film properly. Needless to say, I was disappointed and heartbroken. I wasn’t ready.
We have all had missed opportunities. I have had my fair share. What I can tell you from each of them is that I was not ready. Looking back is the first step in moving forward. Analyzing my mistakes and making both mental and written notes, I carefully plan out my next opportunity. It is more than a “click”, that is the easy part.
This Summer I spent a great deal of time photographing my Son’s football games. I have become acquainted to such comments, “WOW that is a big “Zoom” lens! I bet you get great pictures with that”. Or the “I wish I had a zoom like yours”. My standard response is “you have the same amount of reach as my big lens, in fact probably more with that 8x optical zoom on your point and shoot”. Most camera wielding, sideline Mom’s scoff at my response and don’t believe me. That is typically when I reply with “Baby you can’t handle the size!”. I completely understand. There was a time when I thought gear inhibited me from taking wonderful photos.
Wielding Optimus Prime’s help me create photographic opportunities that I would have normally passed up with low levels of light. The biggest challenge however still remains the same, “I gotta’ get closer to my subject!”. People ask me all the time “how did you get that shot?”. When I hear it or read it via email I get overwhelmed… “Where do I even begin?”. My quick answer would be to not respond, or simply let someone know I got lucky.
Here are a few things to consider:
Equipment Knowledge. The biggest progression leap I took as a photographer was when I started dedicating countless hours to reviewing my equipment, studying and planning out my photographic events. Sure I have probably learned a thing or two by pulling out the camera body and taking some snapshots. Sitting down and planning out what I want to photograph and accomplish helps me better understand what it will require in approach and the gear I will use. Knowing when to switch aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and metering are very important. When photographing wildlife, these things change constantly and in a moments notice it requires being able to truly understand the equipment in order to properly dial in and do so without thinking about it. The advice I always pass is “Study The Game!”. The promise is simple – “if i do, I will will never be the “tog” that sprays AUTO and contributes poorly composed imagery and tries passing it off as innovation (it is FAIL and was prior to picking up the camera)!
Distance to Subject is so important that I go to great lengths to close the gap. Rather than explain it….
Let there be light! I have been out countless times, set up, gear dialed in and ready for the click; but the light was nowhere to be found. The sun goes behind a cloud, it begins to rain, it is foggy or the subject is blocked by shadows. Getting golden light requires patience, dedication, and a commitment level that will cost time and money. The right light is the difference between sub-par and top-shelf.
The Subject. So you got your gear, you head out to a wonderful spot to shoot your subject, the light is fantastic and your ready for the click….your subject is a no show! It is discouraging. The hike, freezing temps lying on the rock and muddy ground, time spent, the money it took to get to the destination – was it all for nothing? The answer is definitely “No” but that is a discussion topic for another blog post.
When I first started photographing birds I did not understand their migratory routes, their behaviors. Understanding the subject is a matter of nailing opportunities or missing them! Best friend and talented photographer Brett Colvin is the best I know in this area! His animal awareness from years in the backcountry hunting waterfowl and big game has helped him develop a skill that is very difficult to aquire. I rely on him in situations where my knowledge and skill is not of the same level and learn as much as I can from his experiences. His keen awareness and intuition has lead me into some of the best photographs I have ever taken.
Images from this past Saturday, we were ready! California Valley Quail, Years End 2011
Be sure to check out Brett Colvin’s work & post at www.flytowater.net