Have Your Camera “At The Ready”

Chase Jarvis’ recent book “The Best Camera” puts forward the idea that we can (and should) take photos anytime, anywhere, and with whatever equipment we happen to have.  In my experience there is one necessary characteristic of that equipment — it has to be “ready”.

This post is not for you if the *only* type of photography you do consists of lugging the camera and tripod to some destination, walking slowly around your subject to carefully examine all the composition possibilities, going through all your camera settings one-by-one, and then taking the shot.  However, I don’t know anyone who is that limited in their photography.

All “serious” photographers have some pre-shoot checklist they go through (often subconsciously) before pressing the shutter button.  Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, maybe setting up mirror-lockup or the self-timer.  Very wise to run through a checklist such as this.  I’m now a firm believer in a *post*-shoot checklist due to having recently missed a golden opportunity for some cool shots of a black bear in the wild because I didn’t use a *post*-shot checklist.

This past summer my wife and I spent a four-day weekend with a group of friends in Nye, MT.  The trip was entirely unrelated to photography but I certainly took advantage of photo opportunities when I could.  I went to the Woodbine Creek Campground at 5 am one morning to get some shots like these:

Woodbine Creek #3

Woodbine Creek at Dawn

I purchased a new Manfrotto tripod for this trip and was eager to see how it would improve my landscape photography (This is the first non-Wal-mart-Velbon tripod I’d owned…anyone who has owned a cheap Velbon understands how elated I am to have a “real” tripod).

I captured a bunch of images, packed up the suburban, and headed to some other locations I had previously scoped out.  A mile or two out of the campground I saw a black bear — about 20 feet from the vehicle!  Understand that this was the first bear I had ever seen in the wild.  I slammed on the brakes, coming to a stop right next to the bear.  Heart racing, I grabbed for the camera…which was still attached to the tripod…which still had its legs extended…which doesn’t move around in a vehicle very well.  In the few seconds it took me to free the camera from the tripod the bear jogged down the road into some brush.  I drove down the road after and was delighted to find that I once again had a clear view of the bear.  Looked through the viewfinder and pressed the shutter button halfway…couldn’t get a decent exposure.  I’d left the aperture set at something like f/11 and the ISO at 100 and there was still not a whole lot of light.  I was literally trembling with excitement at the chance to photograph this bear so close and this made it difficult for me to adjust the camera’s settings.  By this time the bear had made a run back to where I originally spotted it.  I hit reverse and found it just standing there again, but as soon as I stopped it decided to walk across the road right in front of the car.  Excellent!  Viewfinder…shutter halfway…click.  No slap of the mirror going up or click of the shutter.  THE SILLY SELF-TIMER IS STILL ON!!!!  I only had it set for 2 seconds but by the time that exposure completed and I fixed the drive settings the bear was well up the hill on the other side of the road.  All I ended up with was this image:

Black Bear In Nye, MT

Black Bear Nye, MT

The subject is too distant, the image is not sharp at all (I couldn’t hold the camera steady due to the combination of excitement and frustration).  Upon examination of the results my first thoughts were that the best use of these images would be to start Bigfoot rumors with the locals.  I ended up semi-salvaging the memory by cropping the bear a little tighter, way over-sharpening it, and running a canvas effect filter on it so that it has that “I meant to do that” artsy look.

I’ve formed a new habit out of this missed opportunity.  Whenever I set the camera down with no immediate plans to pick it up again, I change my settings to something in this ballpark:  ISO 400+, Program mode, drive…anything not-self-timer, mirror-lockup off if I’ve been using it, auto-bracketing off.  I might choose Av mode instead of Program.  I might choose ISO 800 or higher if it’s evening and I suspect I’ll be grabbing the camera shortly to take some candids with poor light.  I think you get the idea.  Keep the camera ready for those fleeting opportunities.  If your next shoot ends up being on the tripod with the self-timer, you’ll have ample time to readjust your settings.


5 responses

  1. jrutherfordphotography

    I’ve also missed photo ops because my camera wasn’t on the right settings for the situation.. it’s frustrating when that happens. Just have to remind myself to check it before I start.
    Your Woodbine Creek photo is beautiful!

    October 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm

  2. I love that shot of the waterfall!!!!

    October 31, 2009 at 11:37 am

  3. Thanks very much!

    November 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm

  4. Pingback: Sometimes You Only Get One Shot « Michael Tuuk Photography

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