Be Prepared

Inevitably, if you don't bring it, you'll need it.

I never joined the boy scouts but I believe in their "Be Prepared" motto. With regards to photography, it especially rings true. I used to photograph weddings every weekend and it was essential I was always prepared. This meant having a back up of every piece of equipment. On one particular Sunday, I had a failure of a camera body, flash, and flash cord. I had backups for all. This day validated the importance of preparation with everything I do photographically. It's the unplanned that comes back to nip you in the bud. Stay a step ahead and be prepared - it's a good thing.

As a leader of photo tours, I'm often asked, "What lenses should I bring when we go out for this session?" My response is, "Whatever you can carry." Inevitably, if you don't bring it, you'll need it. I certainly don't haul around oodles of equipment for every shoot, but the way I look at it is 12 extra ounces of weight isn't going to break my back. Whatever the subject matter, I anticipate what I may need and if that questionable piece of gear fits, I bring it. The most important fact to glean from these words is to think ahead about what subjects you may encounter to be one step ahead equipment wise - in other words, Be Prepared.

The Friendly Flash: I always carry a flash. I use it to fill in shadows, soften contrast, as a main light indoors, and to add a twinkle to an eye. It's an under used and under rated piece of photo gear. I've bounced it onto a gold reflector to add warm light to a flower on an overcast day. I've used it at night during long exposures so the moving subject is sharp against a background that shows motion. In the accompanying photos, I used my flash to add light to the shadow side of the lion. I was heading out to photograph lions so why would I need a flash? I had no idea we'd encounter a morning fog and see a lion so close to camp. Also, given the orientation of this big guy to the sun, the angle was wrong - there was lighter on its back and side. Had I not been prepared with my flash, I wouldn't have gotten as good a shot.

Prepare Accordingly: How basic can one be, but face the obvious - if you're not prepared, you can't get the shot. On the day the shot of the rabbit was made, I was in my front yard photographing a robin's nest. I had two flashes set up on light stands and my 200-400 on a tripod. I was totally focused on the behavior of the baby birds when out of nowhere, this rabbit with a mouthful of grass appeared. In anticipating something may happen, I had my flashes set up where they were not tethered to my camera. If there were wires all around, I may trip over one, cause damage to my gear, hurt myself, or limit my reaction time should something different occur. Well something different did occur and I was able to quickly detach my camera and lens from my gimbal head, drop to the ground and fire off a few shots before the bunny fled. One of my photo mantras is to try to stay one step ahead of the light or my subject. My anticipation that something may occur allowed me to do this. Ironically, the image of the rabbit has sold more than the hundreds of pictures of the robins I photographed over a ten day period!

React Spontaneously: Get to know your equipment inside out so you can react to fast changing situations. It could be fleeting light, an unplanned encounter with a special subject, or an unfolding event that happens right before your eyes. Regardless, if it requires a fast change of a lens, the foresight to know a certain filter needs to be removed or changed, that the ISO needs to be modified, or anything else that requires you to change settings to Plan B, if you can't do it instinctively, you may miss the shot. In the accompanying photo made during a trip to Canyon lands NP, I was ready to pack it in.

The clouds were thick and the sunset looked like a bust, especially when we felt a light drizzle fall upon our heads. I took my camera off my tripod, turned it off, covered my lens, packed my bag and we began our walk to the car. Within a matter of moments, the skies began to clear and a glimmer of hope was restored. As the sky grew brighter, I feverishly remounted my camera, removed my lens cap, adjusted my aperture for depth of field, inserted my cable release, extended the tripod legs, and formed a composition. In that a rainbow appeared, I made sure to spin my polarizer to enhance it rather than obliterate it - a danger of using a polarizer when a rainbow appears. Had I not been able to react spontaneously and perform all of the above maneuvers in an instant, I wouldn't have gotten the photo. Be prepared and react to changing situations to guarantee you get the shot.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours.

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