Machine gun or sniper rifle?

The first light of sunrise on the Auto Road, Mt Washington, NH

Moments before sunrise the sun starts to illuminate the clouds. Captured from just below the summit of Mt. Washington, NH. The headlights of the vehicle still on the auto road show at least one group of people about to miss the show. A sunrise drive to the summit of the east's highest peak is an experience I highly recommend should you find yourself in New Hampshire's White Mountains..

How do you use your camera? Are you a spray and pray, fill up the memory card, and hope for a few good photographs photographer? Or are you methodical and contemplative about your photography, planning the shot knowing exactly what you want before you even think of “pulling the trigger?” I confess, I am a reformed machine gunner myself. When I purchased my first DSLR in the spring of 2008, I went nuts. If my memory card held 300 raw files, by gosh I was going to fill it!  If I hadn’t decided early on I was only going to shoot raw, I could have come home with almost 1,000 jpegs, woo-hoo! I had studied long and hard on the mechanics of photography before I even had my first camera in hand. I could recite f-stop this, shutter speed that till the cows came home. I knew my Canon 40D and 100-400L inside and out before the big brown truck even dropped off the packages. But when it came to artistic side of it, the actual making of a photograph, I fully embraced the “digital is cheap, lets fill that 32 gig memory card” way of shooting. I put little thought into composition, lighting, etc., and relied heavily on “if I take enough shots I’m bound to get a few good ones.” You know what? It worked, to a degree. I could count on the camera to be pointed in the right direction, at the right time, in the right light, often enough that I did manage a few good images. But this created a workflow nightmare. Having to go through ten almost identical images to pick the “best” one, over and over again was brutal. Not to mention the plain crap that was there as well.

Now I push the shutter button less, a lot less. The more I fell in love with making images, and not just taking snap-shots, the more I thought about the images I was making. The more I took my time to creating my photographs, the more I realized I was actually pretty good at it. And good on purpose, not good by luck. I no longer hope for the best when I press the shutter button, I have a plan. That plan doesn’t always lead to a great photograph, sometimes not even a mediocre one, but I do have something in mind when the shutter clicks besides the hope that I’ll get lucky. I am a bit of a mad scientist at times, and experiment a lot with my camera, which leads to more than a little “what the hell was I thinking?” when I get home and download the images into Lightroom. But I no longer rely on luck, hope, and sheer numbers to increase the odds I got a keeper.

The funny this is, the less often I press the shutter, the more good photographs I make. The more serious I become about my photography, the more I know exactly what I want to come out of my camera, and how to go about getting it. I’m also putting more time and effort into being in great locations during great light. I’m also not afraid to not press the shutter at all. Many times I’ve been out with my camera and just didn’t see a photograph waiting to be made. I no longer feel that just because I’m out with my camera, having gotten up long before sunrise, that I need to take a picture. When this happens, I just enjoy the time outside, knowing there is always the next time.

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5 thoughts on “Machine gun or sniper rifle?

  1. I’m always planning the shot. I never come back home with more than 20 raw files. Now, I know how much time it costs (the processing…)
    The less you pull “the shutter button”, the more you learn.

    Guillaume (France, Alps)

    • I could not agree more. Less is definitely more in regards to number of exposures made. I may not know exactly what I want until I get to a location, but I don’t just fire away hoping for a good photograph to miraculously find its way into my camera either. I think we all probably fell into the “digital is cheap, fire away,” mentality when we first started, but as we grew as photographers we were able to create more better images while actually shooting less.

  2. As a teenager I photographed with an old, film based Nikon camera that I inherited from my brother, but I had no idea what I was doing and it quickly turned into an expensive habit to develop the films. Then I didn’t photograph for many years, before I bought my first DSLR in 2004. It was a Canon EOS 300D.

    After that I’ve learned by trial and error and now, just a few weeks ago, I bought a new camera: Canon EOS 600D. A good camera for my use and the price was right, so I could spend some on optics as well 🙂

    The number of photos I shoot depend on the setting: if we’re travelling I tend to shoot a lot more than when I just go on a photo adventure around the neighborhood, but I always try to think & crop in camera instead of doing the job afterwards.

    • I’m the same way. If I’m going some place I may never get to visit again, I take a ton of photos. I’m also a HUGE experimenter, always trying to come up with a unique take on a subject. But I never have subscribed to the “spray and pray” way of shooting. Hoping that if I fill a bunch of memory cards that there will be a few good images in there somewhere. I think we all start out that way though. I know I did. Then as my eye for a photograph got better, along with knowing my gear, I find I take fewer, but I think better photos on any given outing. You start to be able to see what will make a good photograph before you even press the shutter.

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