Does your shutter count churn like Clark Griswald’s electric meter at Christmas?

Does your shutter count churn like Clark Griswald's electric meter at Christmas?

By: Kevin Allen Pepper

In a recent article I wrote I made reference to today’s ‘machine gun’ cameras… you’ve all heard them… You’re there taking photos and above all the other shutters, there is that one camera that thunders like a machine gun…

And, YES, I am guilty of this. I will admit it! On occasion, my shutter count clicks away like an electrical meter at Clark Griswald’s house at Christmas time.

I think I said on my last workshop in Mongolia that Henri Cartier-Bresson’s quote, “your first 10,000 photos are your worst” stops applying to me on day two of every wildlife workshop. 🙂

It actually became a teaching moment a few weeks ago in Mongolia… someone made a comment to me about the number of photos I take, and then assumed they should do the same without talking to me and wandered off to shoot a few eagle hunter sequences…

Later that day when we were going through their images in a critique the person that had put their camera on burst mode realized that it didn’t produce more keepers, but rather more images to throw in the trash… sure, a few keepers they were proud of… but the lesson learned would come later that night over dinner as we discussed three important elements to capturing the best image you can…

The topic of that conversation was three tips to creating impactful images:  “1. A solid technical understanding of how your camera operates, 2. understanding the subject matter you are photographing, and 3. creating a connection that tells a story”.

As the night unfolded the conversation was fantastic and people started showing examples of what they captured, and asked how to get photos they have seen in my portfolio… and here is an overview of that conversation…

1. Have a solid technical understanding of how your camera operates

Knowing what settings you need to achieve a desired result takes a good understanding of how different settings can achieve a preconceived image.

I knew what I wanted before this sequence started. The camels would be walking on the ridge of the sand dunes in front of the sun. I envisioned having the sun behind one of the camels like a ball of light with some minor rim lighting and the camels a complete silhouette.

In order to achieve this I had to expose for the sun and use a wide open aperture to eliminate most, if not all of the possibility of a starburst.

Waiting for what I envisioned to unfold may have caused me to miss it and be late, so I put the camera on burst mode and continual focus.

I took 20 photos of this sequence and walked away with the image I wanted.

This is why I can use what some refer to as my machine gun trigger. I use it to achieve a higher success rate of acceptable photos. I know how to control my camera settings in manual mode to achieve the desired look and I wasn’t worried if I took a few dozen photos because all I needed was “the one”.

F8, ISO1600, 1600th of a second, underexposed image by 2 stops, and then cleaned it up in Lightroom.

2. Understanding the subject matter you are photographing

I know when to apply my machine gun trigger and when not to, to achieve a higher success of acceptable photos because I do my homework before I go out and take photos.

I have been photographing eagle hunters and their eagles for many years. I’ve watched the interaction of horse, eagle and eagle hunter and have seen what is appealing and what is not appealing when I watched without taking photos…

When the eagle gets too close to the horse, the horse reacts in such a manner that it looks spooked, when the eagle is on an eagle hunters arm, the eagle hunters face can sometimes get distorted trying to control the eagle, and the eagle itself looks awkward.

Wind plays an impact, shadows wreak havoc, the direction of the sun is hard to control… so a lot of factors can come into play to get the best photo that can be taken.

Its watching the elements, understanding when the most photogenic time is to take the photo, and being ready to snap off a series of photos when all the elements do come together, that allows you to get a great photo.

You may not be photographing an eagle hunter and his eagle… you may be photographing a back yard bird… regardless of the subject matter, know your subject, study others photos, watch your subject matter and study it… then be ready to take the photo you want, and don’t be afraid to take a series of images to capture a sequence of movement.

Remember that it’s just digital memory, its not costing anything to take the photos… getting one good photo inside that sequence is more probable than taking a single image and hoping you captured it.

3. Creating a connection that tells a story

This is where my machine gun trigger finger really helped me … finding one or two photos in a sequence to achieve that connection that tells a story.

For this photo I wasn’t in high speed burst mode, but in a slower burst mode to capture the image I wanted. Little did I know, that when I took this photo, it would go down as my favorite photo I have ever taken…

I wanted to capture the intimate relationship between a bird of prey and a man… That eagle could easily tear apart that man’s face with its beak and talons, but over the years I have seen man and bird, who normally would compete for the same food source, work together as a team to achieve the same goal.

I’ve witnessed that a relationship is formed between the two, and I wanted to capture that relationship somehow.

On this day we were photographing the man and eagle as they stood there. I noticed the eagle hunter talking to his golden eagle, and the eagle turning her head and letting the eagle hunter pet her…

Click, click click, then watch, a few more clicks every time the eagle hunter would pet the eagle… and then it happened… the eagle moved in and cuddled with the eagle hunter. A single shot may have missed this photo… but a series of 5 photos captured the eagle moving her head toward the man’s cheek, and this was the end result… a moment in time that revealed affection and a tender moment.

In conclusion… I don’t subscribe to the spray and pray method of taking photos… I try to be smart when I am photographing, to think about what I am shooting and I am not afraid to be in burst mode and spend the extra time to go through my mini sequences and find the best photo.