a place for sharing all things photographic and some things not

The Age Old Adages

There are a ton of ‘age old adages’ that exist within the realms of photography and it would take me an innumerable number of blog posts to cover all of them. Given that this is the first ‘real’ post I’m going to start with the basics, for there are times when all of us need some reminding (myself included!)

As is always the case with rules, they may be broken and they are by no means universal. However, I’ve found that being conscious of them has helped me out a great deal and they’re applicable to everyone, even the most basic photographer who is picking up a camera for the first time. (Yes, I’m saying that this is more important than knowing ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed, because these days Auto works fine in most circumstances)

1. Carry your camera with you all the time.

I saw this the other day and thought it might make an interesting image. Thankfully I had my DSLR with me to snap it down.

Personally I am quite guilty for not following this rule, there are many times when I don’t have a camera on me. However, it’s still the case that sometimes the best images present themselves to us while we’re on the move and we’re not prepared to capture the moment. It’s not very practical to stuff a DSLR into your bag and haul it to school/work everyday, but it’s a good habit to have, even for a trip to the supermarket. Maybe there’ll be a double rainbow on the way.

For the luckier ones who happen to have spare cash hidden all over the house in hidey-holes, you might be interested in splurging a little and getting the reputable Leica M9 or Fujifilm X100, both of whom take really beautiful images (given that the scene is just as beautiful). For those of us who prefer to keep our money in the bank (and don’t have a lot of it), a simple compact camera, or the iPhone make good alternatives. On flickr, the iPhone has quickly established itself as the most used camera. The idea isn’t to have the best camera technology in your hands, instead it’s to capture the best moment with whatever that you have and always being ready to do so.

This is of course easier for travel photography for there are few travellers these days who are found without a camera to document their adventures. Besides this, there are a few other things to note, whether you’re on the road or not.

2. Always reset the settings after you’re done.

Sometimes you’ll look up and suddenly there’ll be a perfect scene in front of you. There’s golden light filtering through the trees casting upon two children holding hands ambling through the muddy back alley of a third world country. Immediately, you dive for the camera (which should at least be with you), yank of the lens cap and compose the scene before firing away. You’ve got 6 shots off before your subject moves out of the light and the moment is gone forever. You’re ecstatic, you managed to get the shot off! As you hit the Playback button, you realise that something is horribly wrong. All your photos are underexposed and (sometimes) out of focus.

It’s happened to me many time before, most likely because I’ve set the camera to manual for a scene that was taken a while back, and I forget to turn it back to normal once I’m done. For the record my defaults are ISO 400 in Aperture priority mode. I’ve never really needed anything else. Modes aren’t the only thing that mess me up, I sometimes turn my camera to manual focus and forget to switch it back. It’s a mad scramble for the switch after that.

Anyhow, it’s a really good idea to turn your camera back to the defaults that you are used to once you’re done shooting a scene on custom settings. This way you’ll always know what adjustments have to be made to the default setting before you take a shot (if there are any at all). Doing so will save you a lot of grief, there will be no tears shed on photos that ‘could have been’.

It doesn't matter how good the scene is, an overexposed photo will only ever be, an overexposed photo.

2.5 Keep the camera on

As I wrote the above rule, I realised that there was something else that was important. If you know that there might be some great shots coming up, leave the camera on and the lens cap in your back pocket (this is a personal preference, though). It doesn’t drain too much battery and it will save precious seconds in setting up, especially if you’re shooting on the street.

3. Keep one eye glued to the viewfinder, and the other open to the world

Now that the above 2 rules have been settled, that leaves us ready to get down to the shooting. While skill with the settings of a camera is important, what’s more important is to be able to recognise the moment and trigger the shutter at the precise instance. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting on auto or full manual, the crucial thing is to be able to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

Don’t always look straight ahead as you walk, look in all directions. Watch the people and places that you pass, sometimes the scenes are right there before us but we miss them and walk right by. If you’re in a car, it doesn’t mean that things are going by too quickly to capture. Take a photo of the driver, even if he’s a total stranger, get a shot of the buildings as they go by. If it’s raining, get a shot of the water trickling down the glass, in fog, get a shot of the fog for mood. Some of the best photos I’ve got were made by paying attention to the pulse of life around me and getting it down in jpeg quickly enough. By taking more images, you automatically increase the chances of getting a great shot, compared to not having your camera with you at all. Who knows, maybe some day an incidental shot from 3 years ago will be the winner of a photo competition. You never know.

I shot this while we were in the car, it was moving pretty quickly and I only had a couple of seconds to get ready before we went right by. If I had been reading a book or sleeping, I would have missed the scene entirely.

Above are the 3 rules that I find most relevant and important to me. Do you agree or disagree? And if you disagree, what would your three rules be? Feel free to leave a comment below.


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