Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

Shotgun Photography - Surely One of Those Pellets Will Hit

There are many ways to practice the art of photography but to me there are two basic approaches with a wide variety of offshoots from those.  

I have referred to these techniques or styles as shotgun and sniper.  I have used both but honestly I have many, many more shotgun photos than I have as a sniper.  


Years ago, when I shot regular film and slides, I was only too aware of the costs of those methods and I must admit that pushed me into taking a lot of care before I pushed the shutter.  I did not take near as many shots as I probably should have.  I took a sniper approach.  I very carefully composed the shot; I had a tendency to use a tripod much more of the time; I considered the light very carefully; I bracketed the shots; adjusted the depth of field; watched the shutter speed for sharpness or effect; but I did not just shoot and shoot and shoot.  

Now that changed a bit when I put together a color darkroom and started doing all of the printing myself.  The cost savings loosened my shutter finger a bit.  Then too, about that time I read an article by a National Geographic photographer who talked about averaging 600 shots a day on even basic shoots. That was a lot of slides.

I still did the shotgun approach at times, but not near as often as I was a sniper.  

Were my photographs better then?  Well, looking back at my old slides, I have to say "yes" and "no".  Big help, huh?  Actually the frequency of "good" pictures compared to "okay" pictures was higher.  How about ones that I am proud of?  Again, when comparing "proud of" shots to "good" pictures, I did have a higher percentage of better images.  

These days, I find I do a lot more "shotgun" pictures than I used to do.  Part of that is a philosophical change.  I am not as driven to follow precise techniques to concentrate of the art of photography.  Taking pictures is not the purpose of the walk.   There are times that I go out with the purpose of taking pictures, but more often, I am going out to enjoy the walk in the woods - with my camera.  Thus, I end up taking a lot of shotgun photos.  I shoot and shoot and shoot - quickly changing parameters of shutter speed, aperture and composition (somewhat).  It is a combination of experience and luck in getting a really good image.  Where I used to shoot three or four shots of my subject, now I might shoot twenty or thirty.  Out of that, I will likely have three or four good images; often one of two really good ones; and now and then an exceptional shot.  I come up with more exceptional images in a shorter time frame than I used to do.  An hour walk in the woods might generate one hundred to two hundred images or more.  My percentage of good photos with the shotgun technique is not high, but due to volume I do come up with a higher number of better shots.  

There are times that I do go out and concentrate on actually taking pictures as opposed to just enjoying nature.  I become a sniper and take my time composing the shot; use my tripod; carefully take my time to get everything right; and shoot a few shots before changing a few things and trying again.  In an hour, I might take twenty shots.  Of those twenty, I will have a higher percentage of good images, but rarely will I have more that are really exceptional.  

Part of the reason that the shotgun approach produces more exceptional images is partially in the larger number of pictures that are taken, but perhaps more importantly, I get more "poses" from my subjects (birds, insects, etc).  Those poses are often the difference between a good picture and an exceptional one.  When a bird looks back over its should at you or tilts its head, the photo can be so much more interesting than if he was just sitting on the branch.  Shotgun photography allows you to have a much greater chance of having an exceptional pose.  Volume sometimes is key.

So what does all of this mean?  If you are actually trying to concentrate on taking the best composed, exposed, and technically correct image, then be a sniper.  Still take a lot of images - volume is still important, but technique is a priority.   But don't ignore the possibilities that come with using a shotgun approach.  You don't ignore technique, but are not concentrating on every parameter of camera settings the whole time.  You still use your experience with light, aperature, shutter speed, composition, et al, but you don't let any of that slow you down. Shoot, shoot, shoot - volume is king with a shotgun.   

By the way, the picture of the cardinal above - shotgun photography.

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