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Take Fewer, Better Photos

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Is this you?
You don’t want to miss a potential photo thinking, “I can’t retake this, I had better take lots of photos”. You end up with a card full of duplicates and constantly put off processing them because there are just too damn many!
They’re also not that interesting and you’re having a hard time choosing which ones are best. Frustrated but unable to realise what you’re doing wrong, you go and carry on shooting in the same way.
This used to be me.
I know what the fear is. It’s not so much a case of , “what if I miss the shot?”, it’s a case of “what if my settings are wrong?”. If your settings are wrong, there’s a chance that, if you shoot in burst fire, you may capture a good image every second or third shot.
This is not what you should be focusing on. Clearly.A selective focus image of a garden environment - Take Fewer, Better Photos
If you shoot on film much, you’ll notice that, aside from the grain and image quality, the composition usually comes out a lot better.
Why is this?
Well, when you shoot on film, you know the price of each photo that you take:
(Film + development) ÷ exposures = cost per print.
It’s about 20p for me; a pretty good price. The point is that every photo I waste on burst fire or retaking because I got something wrong, I’m not only wasting space on my film but 20p at a time.

So how can I change the way I shoot?

Well, clearly, I’m not getting too snap happy about nothing when I’m shooting on film, nor am I shooting without thinking first. That’s the biggest change and the reason my photos come out so much better on film.
I THINK a lot more before I shoot.

Shoot on Film

Shooting on film produces a feel that I personally can’t, nor care to, replicate using photoshop.
The colours, image quality and grain all stand out as obvious reasons to shoot on film but there are more that you may not have thought about.
Using film makes you think a lot about whether a shot is worth it. There have been plenty of occasions in the past where I’ve not pressed the shutter release button because it’s just doesn’t reach my personal standards. If it’s not worth it, I don’t capture it.
I take this thought process and personal standard and transfer it over to shooting on digital, regardless of the fact that I can take as many photos as I like.
It cuts down my editing time, takes up less storage, prevents me from procrastinating about working on photos and brings together better results overall.An image of a man and woman sitting on a couch - Take Fewer, Better Photos

Change from Burst Fire Mode

‘tchtchtchtchtchtchtch’ – that’s the sound of your shutter.
Do you keep your camera on high-speed burst fire and take too many photos when you would be better off thinking more and taking less? I know I have in the past.
When you stick to single shot firing, the process of taking photos is different because you have to think about whether you actually want to press the shutter instead of holding it down for the sake of it.
I don’t know about you but I find it hard just to take one photo in high-speed burst mode, even when that’s all I want.
This will also change the way you focus, providing more accurate results.

Learn your Focusing Modes

Most cameras have three different focusing modes:
One Shot / AF-S – This is the simplest of all of the focus modes and it does exactly what it says on the tin: focuses for one shot.
You would typically shoot on this mode when your subject is not moving as the camera will only focus once when you depress the shutter button halfway.
This is the mode to use when you want to use the focal lock of the camera to focus on the subject, then move the camera to recompose the frame. The camera will not refocus in this mode until you lift up the shutter button and depress it again.
AI Servo / AF-C – This is often referred to as continuous focus because it will focus when you partially depress the shutter but still monitors movement in the frame, making necessary adjustments in focus between the shots without the need to remove your finger from the shutter button.
This mode is useful when you’re shooting a moving subject such as at a marathon or other sporting event. You would not be able to use the camera’s focal lock to recompose a shot in this mode – you’ll find that the camera continually tries to focus.A go-cart speeds past the camera - Take Fewer, Better Photos
AI Focus / AF-A – This is probably the least understood mode and it’s actually a mixture of the two modes above.
When the camera has only slight movement it will act as though it’s on One Shot / AF-S mode, allowing you to use the focal lock feature.
When the camera detects movement, the focus mode will start acting like AI Servo / AF-C mode instead and track the subject.
This may sound like the best focus mode to use but I typically like to stick to one of the other modes as I usually know what I’m shooting and what to expect. This mode does come in handy when you’re shooting still objects that are likely to move without much notice, such as a bird on a perch.
Knowing which mode is right for what you’re shooting is very important because it will help you to accurately focus more often, preventing against wasting photos.

Learn your Shooting Modes

Believe it or not, keeping your camera set to Full Auto mode or even Program mode is the worst thing you can do with your photos.
The camera is guessing what it needs to do and, when you throw a spanner in the works, such as low light or a fast moving subject, it starts to fumble around, completely messing up the exposure.A woman lies on the ground - Take Fewer, Better Photos
When you switch from an automatic mode into one which gives you more control, you can start to make changes that the camera can’t think to do itself. Sure, it takes a little bit of time getting used to the differences but you’ll soon pick it up. Let me give you an example:
If I’m shooting a fast moving object, I know that there’s a certain shutter speed I know I have to use depending on the speed of the subject and the effect I’m going for. I would either use shutter speed priority or manual mode.
Shutter speed priority will ensure that the motion is captured and the aperture will set itself depending on the exposure.
If I know that I want a certain depth of field too, I will switch to manual so that I can change both the shutter speed and aperture (which controls the DoF), then simply adjust my ISO for my exposure.
Understanding your shooting modes will help you to take better photos with each exposure.
Stay away from auto modes.

Practice Exposure & Metering

When it comes down to it, it’s all about mastering your exposure and making sure that you capture the image with the first shot.
The more you know about what you’re doing, the easier it becomes and exposure is a huge part of this.
For those who don’t know, have a look at the link to exposure topic linked above. It’s actually a few posts and much more than I can write about here but, if you really want to take fewer, better photos, this is the place to start.A man plays the guitar with the Brighton pier in the background - Take Fewer, Better Photos
Metering is often underestimated in photography because it tells the camera how to react to the exposure and which part of the frame takes priority over another.
It’s like taking another step away from Auto when you take the camera off Evaluative/Matrix mode and switch to the likes of spot metering. The camera isn’t always right but, with time and practice, you should be.

Shoot In RAW

This is where fixing mistakes comes in.
For those who don’t know, a RAW file is an uncompressed image which allows you to make more changes after the image has been captured, such as white balance, and exposure. JPEG’s will also do this but nowhere near as well.
Shooting in RAW provides you with some wiggle room so you don’t have to worry so much about the exposure or white balance and you can focus more on your shooting.
Obviously, this isn’t something you should ever rely on and don’t start saying “I’ll fix it in post” but it will take some of the strain off while you’re still learning.A sunset in a desert setting - Take Fewer, Better Photos

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2 comments
    1. I get all of mine processed at a local lab, without the prints now, and with hi-res scans. Then I store the CD’s away for safe keeping.

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