the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

“SNAPSHOT” MOMENT, “SESSION” MINDSET

The light on the tree's blossoms will be gone in three minutes. Best decision in the moment: slight underexposure to combat the mid-morning sun. 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

The light on the tree’s blossoms will be gone in three minutes. Best decision in the moment: slight underexposure to combat the mid-morning sun. 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE GREATEST ENEMY OF THE AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER IS TIME. Not the time spent perfecting our “eye”, nor the years invested in learning how to realize what we visualize. Sadly, the most tyrannical toll that time takes on us is in the meager number of moments in which we have to create most of our shots. Time…enough of it to work, to feel, and to act, is the only unbridgeable gap between ourselves and most of the pros.

I say “most” because some of the best photographers live absolutely in the moment, as in the case of imbedded journalists or sports shooters. No, what I’m talking about is the appointment that pros get to set for sessions, shoots that require set-up, tests, the issuance of permits, the re-routing of traffic. It’s not hard to see that a shooter for National Geo is at greater leisure planning his shot of a majestic waterfall than you are when your tour group is taking the tram from one Breathlessly Beautiful Natural Wonder to the next, all in time to rendezvous back at the terminal for a box lunch and precisely fifteen minutes in the gift shop. It’s not remarkable that millions of images are taken in Yellowstone each year. What’s amazing is that any of them work out.

Just saying.

Fact is, amateurs often can’t get the luxurious arrangements for creativity that are a given for the pros. And yet, since we don’t want our stuff to look like it was shot out the window at 55mph, we have to strive to combine the brief windows of our snapshot moments with the trained eye of a session mindset.

Taken on impulse from a car as I was just about to drive off the property of this unique library. No planning except a fast exposure to give some depth to the stone textures. 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.
Taken on pure impulse from a car as I was just about to drive off the property of this unique library. No planning except a fast exposure to give some depth to the stone textures. 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

This is why it’s so important to always be shooting. Everyday. Good subject or bad. Great weather or lousy. Always. Because only the repetitive exercise of framing up and clicking off thousands of shots burns ways of seeing, ways of evaluating, into your brain, letting you make ever more complex calculations in increasingly shorter time. Shooting all the time speeds the arrival of the day when you can, in most cases, set and shoot and know that most of it will look intentional, done with some purpose in mind.

Repetition really is the best teacher, and the more direct control you take over your shooting, the more the universal laws emerge. At this focal length, certain things always happen. Under these lighting conditions, some things are always true. You’ll have your own truths, but, over time, they will be self-evident, because you will have faced these situations so many times that the essence of what you need for a shot will start to be as obvious as a glowing coal.

Time, or the lack of it, can rob us of the smart spontaneity we need in snapshot settings. However, the time we have invested learning how to shoot can give us a session mindset, and that affords us more control.

Are my snapshots better than anyone else’s? I doubt it. But over time, they are definitely  better than my snapshots used to be.

Hey, I’ll take it.

follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @mpnormaleye

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