Edit Before Pressing The Shutter

If you spend too much time editing and prefer to be out in the field instead of in front of the computer, read on…

It’s great that frame rates of high res files have reached 10 or 11 FPS. The technology introduced into today’s camera bodies is amazing. If action happens fast and movement is pronounced between the frames, then high FPS rate is advantageous. But if very subtle changes are made between a 15 frame burst and only the twitch of an ear differs between it and a previous or subsequent burst, I encourage you to Edit Before Pressing The Shutter. It’s unnecessary to have so many similars. As a matter of fact, a killer shot may go unnoticed during the editing session in that there are so many similars, the great one may not jump out.

Let’s analyze “Heavy Shutter Finger Syndrome”. Similars are made if there’s lots of action, if events quickly unfold, or if expressions rapidly change. Photographers also tend to heavily press the shutter if they visit a new destination or if they’ve never photographed a given subject. Some photographers simply want to guarantee they cover every possible angle, expression, turn of the head, etc. One of my tag lines is, “Exhaust all possibilities.” Here comes the BUT - the rules of good photography don’t change just because it’s your first visit to a location, because you’ve never photographed a given subject, because subtle changes in action occur, or because you need to capture every angle. Let’s explore this thought a bit more deeply.

Scenario 1: ACTION - If action occurs, there’s always a peak moment. When a motorcyclist is at the apex of a hairpin turn, the knee goes out and he takes the bike close to the ground. A hurdler extends both legs and every muscle tenses as he or she lunges over the bar. If the action is repeatable, study what goes on and press the shutter as it nears the peak. Research your subject before hand to become familiar with the timing. The action may not be repeatable and you’re compelled to press the shutter more often. This may hold true but the bottom line to remember is it will always reach a height and it’s those moments that the best images are created. Edit before pressing the shutter - learn about your subject prior to the shoot and predict when the climax will occur.

Scenario 2: MOTION - Imagine it’s your inaugural time photographing birds in flight. Every time the bird flinches, you lay on the motor drive. While this may net you a keeper, did you first evaluate some of the givens? Based on the how the light illuminates the bird, are you standing in the best spot? If not, move so you don’t have to edit out the images of a poorly lit subject. When the bird starts to fly, will the background be clean or will there be all sorts of distractions? If you answered distractions, change your angle. Get lower, move to the left or right. No need to edit out birds with bad backgrounds. In predicting where it lands, are you in a good spot? Edit before pressing the shutter and strategically position yourself so the background is clean. You’ll save a lot of time in front of the computer and come back with better photos.

If a dog chases a frisbee, the ultimate moment is when it snatches it from mid air. Follow the dog’s movement. Have your finger on the shutter so autofocus tracks the dog. As it catches up to the frisbee prepare to press the shutter. When both the dog and frisbee appear in the frame, fire away and stop once the peak moment is over. To mix it up, try some panning shots. Position yourself so the dog and background are in harmony - edit before pressing the shutter!

Scenario 3: NEW LOCATION - It’s your first visit to a new location. You place your camera on high speed motor drive and let it rip. Remember - rules of good photography don’t change simply because you’ve never been there. A poorly lit shot won’t miraculously morph into a great image just because you’re making more photos. Take a record shot and call it quits. If you continue to photograph, all it’s going to do is translate into more edit time. If it’s a bad weather day, realize the limitations and don’t force the situation. While it’s hard to not press the shutter given the new and exciting surroundings, think back to locations or subjects you’ve often photographed in the past when the light or other factors weren’t good. The pictures just didn’t pop. If the light isn’t good, if the animal doesn’t cooperate, if the background is bad, document the event with a record shot, but don’t force the issue. Enjoy the moment and take it in for what it is. As photographers, we often neglect to do this. If the light is bad, “grant yourself permission to not press the shutter.” Take advantage and think about all the time you’ll save in front of the computer - edit before pressing the shutter!

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.


    Very well said Russ. I find I press the shutter far less often than I did several years ago. Having the ability to fire of 10 frames in a second, while awesome does make for hours and hours spent sifting through hundreds of images in order to find the best possible pose. Paying close attention to your subject and learning to only press the shutter at key moments is far more productive!

    Thanks for this very good advice I am far too trigger happy although occasionally it pays off with wildlife but does as you say require a lot of time in front of the computer.

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