Knowing When to Say “No”
It’s a truism among photographers that what separates a professional from an amateur is that the pro knows when NOT to take a picture. That’s not to say that I haven’t taken some bonehead images when I knew they wouldn’t come out. But the more experience I have earned, the less often that has happened.
What brings this up is that I was recently on a bus tour, where there was also a very avid amateur photographer with a nice Nikon camera system and a couple of lenses. Since I always sat in the back of the bus so as not to disturb the other tourists with all my gear, I found myself watching her photographic activity with keen interest.
First of all, she had her camera with her at all times, even placing it on the table in front of her during all meal times. I can hardly remember what her face looks like because I rarely saw it without the camera blocking it. She must have shot thousands upon thousands of images. At one point I asked her what percentage of the images she took she would typically consider good.
“Oh, maybe one percent,” she told me.
The other thing she did was constantly take pictures from the moving bus, no matter how rutted the road and how much we shook. At times she was nearly toppling over, but still firing away. When we were stopped, with the bus idling, she would brace the camera on the seat in front of her and shoot away.
The point I’d like to make here is that a photographer should know the limits of his or her equipment. If you are shooting 100 images to get one decent one, then something is wrong. Doing more of the exact same thing and expecting different results is not rational.
So, one piece of advice I would give to those of you who travel by bus or train is to either forget photographing while the vehicle is moving, or else make radical changes in your camera, lenses and settings to have even a slim chance of getting something worth keeping (please see my previous blog on train photography). First of all, photographing through dusty, dirty windows is not a recipe for success.And moving at 50 mph in a vibrating, rocking and rolling hunk of steel and expecting to get sharp images is also not realistic.
If you do want to try photographing from a bus/train, here is what I recommend. First, try to clean the windows before the vehicle leaves, especially on bus tours. Next, boost your ISO and open up your lens to f5.6 or so, in order to get much faster shutter speeds. That will minimize, but will probably not eliminate, blur. Of course, intentional blur might actually make a good image (again, see train photography).
When the bus is stopped, but still idling, you should not rest your camera on the seat for stability. The bus is vibrating and will actually make it more difficult to get a decent image. Instead, hold your camera with your elbows at your side and shoot. That allows your body to act as a shock absorber. Not perfect, but a better alternative.
As far as the larger issue of shooting scads of pictures to get one decent one goes, here’s my advice, even if you did not ask for it. Try to improve your skills. Read photo books and magazines. Browse the Internet, pick a few good photo sites, visit often and pay attention. The best way to learn I have found is to take a photo workshop. But, please don’t expect your photography to improve by doing more of what hasn’t worked for you so far.