Robert Oliver, photographer
Photographer / Educator

Studio Updates

Studio updates.

SLOW DOWN - Less really does equal more

I set up my tripod in front of a rapidly changing scene… The thick clouds made the scene incredibly dark, but magnificent. To the West, a small glimpse of a spectacular sunset was trying to force its way through the clouds. As the storm clouds parted, I waited for a shaft of light to strike a mountain that was shrouded in clouds. And I waited… and it kept getting darker. And darker…  Me and my camera just sat there waiting, taking in the beauty of the scene… and waited.

The scene that never happened... but it happened.    I never pay much attention to when anything happens. It's happening. Who cares when, as long as it happens" - Chris Cornell

The scene that never happened... but it happened.  

I never pay much attention to when anything happens. It's happening. Who cares when, as long as it happens" - Chris Cornell

 

I took my time and tried to find the absolute best photographic image from this scene... The Black and White shot I was hoping for never materialized, so I removed my view camera and put on my DSLR to at least document the scene, after the best light faded, to remind me of the shot that never quite materialized. This is one of those rare times that I regretted only carrying black and white film for my 4x5 camera. EXPOSURE - 1/30th @ f4 - ISO 100 on a tripod mounted Canon 7D. 

As I stood there behind my tripod waiting for the light to strike the mountain I was focused on (The black and white scene I pre-visualized never materialized, but the color photographic possibility was absolutely incredible)… during the best light of the evening for a color photographer, a rental car pulled up and out pops two photographers with their pro DSLR’s and pro zoom lenses and no tripod. Did I mention it was almost dark. They proceeded to walk around the area and point the cameras at points of the landscape. This went on for a few minutes… they talked to me about my wooden camera for a minute then got in their car and sped off down the road. I can’t imagine that the photos they took were as good as they could have been if they would have taken their time. Considering how much they probably spent on their plane tickets, rental car, hotels, gas and their camera kits, wouldn’t it be worth it to take a few extra seconds to make sure they are getting everything they can out of the scene in front of them?

If the scene is worth photographing… isn’t it worth photographing right?

“The ‘machine-gun’ approach to photography – by which many negatives are made with the hope that one will be good – is fatal to serious results.” – Ansel Adams

Look at the photographers whose work you admire… Did they achieve their work through “Spray and Pray” methods? Or do you think they were very deliberate about each shot, painstakingly studying the scene, composing and metering. Most inexperienced photographers seem to think QUANTITY over QUALITY…

I read a lot about the master photographers and their techniques, and have had the pleasure of watching some legendary landscape photographers at work. They all have one thing in common, they are very precise and methodical in their practice. To the pros IF it’s worth shooting, it’s worth shooting right!

Most pros I know won’t waste time and energy on photos they know won’t be keepers. Is every shot they take a masterpiece?  of course not! But they are almost always very deliberate in their work.

I’ve also watched hordes of amateurs clicking away furiously at scenes the second they point their camera at something. Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Click… Brain Lapse Photography… (get it?) it’s kind of like Time Lapse Photography, but change the first word and it becomes Brain Lapse Photography… get it?  Click… Click… Click… haha

There is nothing wrong with taking bad photographs, as long as you study your mistakes and investigate why that image isn’t successful. But if you are Shotgun Photographing, will you really be able to look at all of your rejects to determine what could have been done differently/better? The best way to improve is to make mistakes and learn from them… it’s doesn’t do any good to keep making the same mistakes over again.

“If I shoot enough photos… I’m bound to get something!” – Anonymous Photographer

STOP! SLOW DOWN! Learn to study the scene and find the absolutely best image possible.

  1. Look at your scene carefully. Study it for photographic possibilities. Look up… Look down… Look both ways before pressing the shutter. Did you look behind you?
  2. Set up your tripod (depending on your subject, but especially in low light) and carefully compose your scene. Move your eye around the viewfinder, carefully looking around the frame for distracting elements. Is anything unwanted poking into the sides of the frame?
  3. Carefully look at your scene for exposure problems. Is there going to be any parts that will be too dark? too light?  Is there too much contrast in the scene?
  4. Carefully meter the scene, being especially careful not to let your highlights become over-exposed.
  5. Apply any contrast control methods as needed….  Graduated Neutral Density filter? Bracketed exposures for combining layers in Photoshop? Zone System? or even….  uhh… hack… gasp… H-D-R… (that was hard to say)
  6. Take your picture. If it is a slow shutter speed, are you using a cable release? self-timer?
  7. Double check your settings, before putting away your gear or changing scenes. DSLR users study your Histogram (accurate) and the image on your LCD screen (not always accurate). Film users need to double-check their meters and exposure settings.
  8. Keep looking… you’re not done just because that shots ‘in the can’ or because the sun went down.  Look around for new possibilities. Look up… Look down… Look both ways before packing up. Did you look behind you?
  9. Most importantly, make sure to carefully analyze your results to see what you could have done differently to improve your photos.

Here’s a great quote from one of my favorite photographers….

“Years ago, I had students interested in learning large format photography after seeing my work. Some believed that the magic was in the format, and wanted to move on from the 35mm or 120 cameras that they were using.

 

My first assignment was always to have them, with their roll film cameras, expose a maximum of five frames in a day of shooting. It was a revelation to them; how could they spend a day exposing only five frames and get anything worthwhile? Soon, they learned it was the only way to get what they wanted; a lesson of slowing down and being selective.” – Merg Ross

Perhaps on your next photography outing, apply Merg’s assignment philosophy and limit your shooting to 5 exposures, you might be surprised to find out that LESS really is MORE!

Robert Oliver