Tips and Tricks

Light, camera and… wait a minute

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So, you get a pass for the day; you’ve washed the cat, kicked the car and mown the kitchen. Great, ahead of you lay a few spare hours to go and fill your creative cup, expand your mind and get to use that Lee 10-stop ND filter. Tripod… check. Formatted memory card… check. Coffee and sandwiches… check. Okay, so, err, where do you head?

You probably have your ‘Moby-Dicks’; you know, those places in your mind’s eye that are on your bucket list: The Old Man of Storr or Nash Point. What about Wistman’s Wood or Eileen Donan Castle? Maybe it’s not a place but a subject: a panning shot of a fox on golden light, an emerald damsel on the wing or the perfect differential focus snake’s head fritillary with out-of-focus detail creating a soft border.

My question would be, have you set yourself up for a fall? What I mean by that is, you have done your research, you’ve Googled images for hours, planned almost every detail, heading off with that perfect image in mind. Apertures are floating around your head, the feel of the cold tripod legs still in your hand’s memory and your new sun positioning app freshly installed.

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But are you ready? Is that area in your brain responsible for creative genius fully engaged and facing front? What happens if, when you arrive after three hours of the worst journey because you noticed as you turned the key your daughter had borrowed the car and left it, sans plomb. That plonker in the Audi ‘Knobjockey’ sat up your bum for ten miles for no apparent reason and you’re not quite sure if the van on the overpass was actually the Rossers collecting taxes.

It’s all too easy to go to a location and see it through the eyes of another. To sit in the hide and visualise the shot you thought was best on Google Images. To borrow inspiration from another and pass it off as your own. In fact, it’s far easier to create unique images than you think. How? Just head out there and shoot whatever you get. Rain, wind, hail or the rather rare glorious bright sunshine. Surely your sense of achievement – and your photographic skill level – will be boosted far beyond trying to improve upon someone else’s copy? We all seem to be in such a rush with things; photography, like any art form and good wine, improves with time.

Let me be clear, simply turning it black and white and calling it atmospheric isn’t enough. No, that’s far too easy. I would advocate a bit of advice I remember landscaper Charlie Waite sharing – in essence, sit and watch the scene you are trying to narrate with your own eyes. Wait for the right light and perhaps take just a single image, even if that’s all you get in a whole day. Study the scene before you, the behavioural patterns or the way the shadows fall across the building. Slow down, take your time and be truly creative. What is the saying: 90 per cent inspiration, 10 per cent perspiration?

Another great exercise is to NOT take a 128GB card with you – take a 128MB card instead. Set your camera to ‘M’ for the sheer hell of it, select Raw, cover your LCD screen (and I mean Gaffer tape here people) and be disciplined and not touch that Delete button. I guarantee this will give your picture taking a little frisson of energy that you may find addictive – it will certainly challenge you to get to know your camera and maybe trust your photographic instincts a little more.

My good friend Mike Browne and I have discussed this ‘get it done’ mentality to photography many-a-time. We are actually both ‘lazy’ photographers in the sense we are impatient souls who love the energy of off-the-cuff shooting. But we both agree that if a scene or subject is worth making an image from, make it a good one. We are also in agreement that we ought to ensure the rays light hit the back of your eye every now and then, unfiltered through an EVF or pentaprism. I know I’d rather have two incredible shots with a great back story and actually witness it myself than so many images a video would have been an easier method of capture. Let’s all stop being digital kleptomaniacs!

Captain Ahab learned the hard way that it’s not about the chase. Time is our most precious commodity. Respect it. Enjoy it.

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