Yesterday’s Topic: White Balance
Some of you have asked how I take a shot, what goes into my thought process. Much like opening Pandora’s Box, I’m not sure that is a safe question, but let’s take a trip down the lane of shooting just one picture and the voices I hear in my head. For an example, let’s use the image below, from the Serengeti in Tanzania, Africa (in another post I will explain how I edited it). Canon 7D, Canon 28-300mm L lens, ISO 100, 135mm, f/5.6, 1/160 second, no flash.
Step 1 – Stop thinking
The first step is to get all Jedi on the process. “Feel the shot flow through you.” “With the blast shield down I can’t see a thing.” “Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?” Really, I could go on all day with Star Wars quotes. But the important part is to get to a point where thinking about what you want to shoot takes a back seat to seeing it.
Will this happen overnight? Nope. It’ll take practice. I shot about a dozen weddings before I felt comfortable just knowing what I should be seeing, and seeing it in my mind before I shot it. That’s a lot of nerve wracking weddings before it started to come naturally. Some people have the gift to start out just ‘knowing’ and that’s awesome. For the rest of us, it takes work to get to a point of not thinking. Practice, you’ll get there.
At this point I’m thinking – “Hey, that looks cool” and right after that was “Damn, I better get the tripod out because there’s not much light” I know, a lot of thinking for the first phase.
Step 2 – Think About What You Want To Convey
And what you want to convey is typically an emotion. Or a sense of place. I often tell people to put down their camera when they travel some place new and walk around for a day without it. I also got lambasted by some commenters for suggesting such blasphemy. You can decide if that tactic is right for you. I have found looking critically, without a camera, leads to better photos. It will give you a sense of place that becomes more readily obvious to shoot when the camera is unpacked. List out some adjectives of how you feel and what you see, if you’re the list type.
At this point I’m thinking – “The rich colors and the calm of the Serengeti as the sun is setting…..before you start wondering what those glowing eyes in the bush are thinking.”
Step 3 – Now, How To Show That Emotion Or Feel?
I wrote about capturing emotion, at least some tips, here. This is a fun area because if you ask 100 photographers about how to do it, you’ll get 98 different answers (there’s always two passive photographers in every crowd). Keep asking whenever you can and study other photos to see what pulls at you and how the photographer was able to capture that.
At this point I’m thinking – “Deep colors. Underexpose if the first one doesn’t come out, because that bit of light can be tricky depending on where it hits the light sensors.”
Step 4 – Set It Up
Now it’s time to get the camera in place, be it on a tripod or handheld or on a jib. Look through the viewfinder and frame things up. If you’re stuck for a place to start, use the Rule Of Thirds, which is much easier than the Rule Of 65ths.
At this point I’m thinking – “Get the tripod out and zoom to crop the tree just right.” Then, after moving 5′ to the right, “Get the tripod out and zoom to crop the tree just right.”
Step 5 – Check Settings
You might want to have done this before, but it’s ok to do it now as well. If you’re going for anything other than average, which is what you camera wants to achieve, check your settings. Are you going to meter off the whole scene, or just part of it? Do you want to blow out some highlights or deepen shadows? Will there be enough light for a lower ISO? What’s the white balance set at? Will there be blur at this shutter speed? Will I get enough depth of field with this aperture?
At this point I’m thinking – “ISO to 100. Check! I don’t want noise.”
Step 6 – Breathe Slow
At this point I’m thinking – I’m not. I’m breathing and getting all Super Zen-like and stuff.
Step 7 – shoot
Why is shoot lower case? Because it’s not really that big of a deal. What’s happening in front of you is. Don’t forget, you are capturing a moment in time and experiencing it, right along with shooting it, is important. In my mind, for something exciting, it should go “Wow! Something cool happened. Hey, cool, I got a shot of it too” instead of, “Wow! I got the shot, I got the shot!” If nothing else, there might be another shot AFTER the one you got and were so proud of. Keep your mind open. And keep breathing.
At this point I’m thinking – “Wow, what a beautiful place.”
Rinse and repeat!
Oh yeah, you can review if need be. I often do, using a histogram to make sure my sunset viewing eyes are seeing things right. And that’s what’s next!
31 Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.