Learning to Slow Down

I have always been fond of using a motor drive on my camera. I enjoyed the sound of the whirling shutter, and the ability to shoot off 5-7 frames per second in order to stop motion. What I soon discovered was that I was not using this technology in an effective manner.  Yes, I was shooting lots and lots of frames, but what was I achieving? Lots and Lots of mistakes and an occasional acceptable image. Well, that’s not what I had hoped to accomplish with this ability to shoot multiple frames in rapid succession.
I had read that one of the best ways to  learn from your mistakes is to “slow down”.  Obviously, this raised a lot of questions for me.  I have NEVER been one to do anything slowly.  My mind is always racing in many directions, I multi-task very well, and I even walk at a very fast pace, although I tend to think that everyone else just walks slowly 🙂  The point being that the act of “slowing down” was as foreign to me as speaking 10 different languages at once.
I learned that slowing down meant different things to different people, but what It meant to me was this.  BEFORE I pressed the shutter release, I had to make sure that the viewfinder did not contain distracting elements.  This included objects which drew my eye from my subject, like bright highlights.  It also included making sure not to chop off important elements, ie: an arm or leg. 
The act of slowing down was something I had to teach myself, and to this day, it remains a ritual I go through when I put my eye to the viewfinder.  The most valuable aid, for me, is the tripod.  I know, the dreaded tripod, but it is true.  Taking the time to set it up and get comfortable takes time and effort.  I had to teach myself that this was going to help me, and not hinder my experience, after all, this was supposed to be fun.
I know a lot of photographers who use tripods, a lot of photographers who use monopods, and a lot of photographers who don’t use either one.  For me, using a tripod has been, by far, the best tool in my arsenal.  Not only does it help me to slow down, heck, it forces me to slow down, but the benefits of using one far outweigh the excuses of not using one.  The benefits for me are numerous:  ability to shoot at any aperture/shutter speed combination, cleaner and more carefully planned compositions, and sharper images. 
Another benefit of using a tripod is that I can take my hands off the camera, step back, and think about what I am doing. When I am shooting wildlife I pretty much always shoot on Aperture Priority (one sets the aperture on the camera and the camera chooses the corresponding shutter speed).  There are times where I shoot completely manual, depending on my environment and the subject.  Using a tripod allows me to make intelligent decisions and experiment with different settings.  I have, honestly, become more comfortable using a tripod than not using one.  I enjoy the freedom to experiment, the freedom to be creative, and the freedom to be the one making the choices. 
If you want to improve your photography, my advice to you is, “Learn to Slow Down”, however that looks to you.

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