A while back, I was listening to one of my friends talk about her experience at a photography workshop she attended as a result of her success in her local camera club. Her enthusiasm and excitement was thrilling to listen to, and I was so very happy for her positive and inspiring experience. It was clearly very eye opening and fun for her, as she had the opportunity to use some equipment other than what she was familiar with.
My friend shared with me a tip she received about utilizing the AF-L button (Nikon camera) for auto-focusing rather than the tradition shutter release button. I had read about this technique before in my camera manual and a publication put out by Thom Hogan (he writes a lot of technical publications about Nikon gear, and other makes, but mostly Nikon). I had even played with this technique a little, but because it felt awkward, I went back to the traditional way of using the auto–focusing controls. Well, after hearing my friend talk about this, I filed it all in the back of my mind, basicley dismissing it as something I already had tried and didn’t like.
A couple weeks later, I took a trip to Florida for three days of shooting birds, as Rebekah was speaking at a conference. So off I went, confident in that I was going to get some great shots. I saw a lot of my favorite birds, and some that were on my “Must Photograph Before I Die” list, so I was very very excited and couldn’t wait to get back to the condo to download my shots. Much to my dismay, when I uploaded from my CF card, my jaw dropped in horror. I couldn’t believe all the unbelievably out of focus and over exposed images I had shot. Had I not checked the settings on my camera? Ok, after a glass of wine and dinner, I decided the world was not going to come to an end, I had two more days to shoot. I’ll just go back and try again, but this time, make sure I had fresh batteries in my flash and that all my settings were correct on my camera.
Once again, I arrived back at our condo, filled with anticipation and enthusiasm that I was going to be successful. Wrong. What was happening to me? I was sure the world surely was going to end…. More wine and a bubble bath.
What I do when things don’t work out the way I want them to, is break everything down to bits and pieces, and figure out where I made mistakes. I was coming back with unsharp and overexposed images. As I was absorbing everything, I was reminded about two recent conversations I had. One with Rebekah, and the other with my friend, Lea.
Rebekah has told me over and over again, you are too impatient, and always in a hurry. The other conversation was the one I had with Lea, about utilizing the AF-L button on the back of the camera for focusing. I decided it was time for me to make a radical change in the way I approached my photography. I have actually been very unhappy with the quality of my shooting lately, but didn’t know what to do or how to go about making a change that would be an improvement.
On the third and last day in Florida, I went out with no expectations, except that I was going to make a change. I made a couple adjustments in the settings on my camera, basicly deactivating the shutter release for activating the auto-focus, and assigned that function over to the AF-L button on the back of my camera. What this did, was force me to slow down and think about what I was doing. It also stopped me from firing the shutter until the image was sharp. I also fine tuned this technique, depending on the situation, by utilizing manual focus for subjects that were stationary. I ended up taking less images, but that was okay with me as long as the images I did take were good ones. The other thing I did which helped me to slow down was to keep my camera on a tripod. At first, it felt very weird and I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep shooting all day like this, but slowing things down was a blessing, in more ways than one. Lastly, I made sure I had set my camera for spot metering, since I was going to be shooting a lot of white birds, mainly egrets, I needed to get the exposure correct.
At the end of the day, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. When I finally got to look at my images from the third day, I was shocked at the differences. I had sharp, very sharp images. I had more keepers than throw-aways. I was hesitantly optimistic, to say the least. After going through all my shots from three days of shooting, it was clear that the effort to make a small change in the way I shot, produced some of the best results.
Moral of the story is, for me, slow down, think about what you are doing, come prepared for all possible circumstances, and on a personal level, listen better, to the advise and conversations I have with my fellow photographers. You just never know when their words of wisdom are going to make such a huge impact, as did the conversations I had with Lea Schlosser and Rebekah Thayer. Thanks guys, you do make a huge difference for me.