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Slow Down - SLR Lounge - Photography Tip Tips & Tricks

Photography Tip: Become A Better Photographer By Slowing Down Your Sessions & Shoots

By Michael Henson on February 15th 2015

In the fast paced world of photography, you have to be on top of your game. If you’re a pro, clients want their images yesterday and know how to make your life miserable until you provide them. If you’re a hobbyist, you likely don’t have a lot of time to devote to this hobby of yours and so you are driven to capture as many frames as possible in the short time you have allotted. Both of these scenarios are completely understandable, however, it’s important that you keep your head about you and strive to submit your best work at every opportunity. So, how do you do that? I’ve found that the answer is counterintuitive…You must slow down.

Slow Down - SLR Lounge - Photography Tip

Photography Tip: Become A Better Photographer By Slowing Down Your Sessions & Shoots

Forcing yourself to slow down in your approach to photography enables you to attack each shot from a place of control and intentionality rather than “spraying and praying” that you get a shot that is worth sharing later. Photography is a rare art due to the fact that we even have that option. Even just a few years ago, rushing into a photo shoot and just hoping to capture something with one of your many continuous shutter clicks was unheard of. In most other art forms, painting, music, sculpture, etc. you are forced by the medium itself to slow down the process. I hope this article reminds you to do the same with your photography.

[REWIND: 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY (AND WHY YOU SHOULD DO A PHOTO WALK ASAP]

But how? I’m not suggesting you adopt sloth-like movements and approach each shot in slow motion like you’re Bruce Willis walking calmly away from an explosion…actually, scratch that. If you can pull the “Willis-leaving-an-explosion-walk” off, do it! Just drop the camera and do it! For the rest of us, much of this slowing down will probably occur mentally. Rather than having your thoughts bounce around in your head like a squirrel on Red Bull, stop that madness and approach your shots with intention. Here’s what I try to do every time I’m approaching a shoot…

Slow Down Photography Tip SLR Lounge

Visualize It

Take time before you even get on location to visualize what you want to accomplish.

  • What are you shooting?
  • What does the location look like? (I’ve even gone so far as to check out the Google Maps photos if available for an outdoor venue…or Google Images for indoors.)
  • What is the lighting going to look like?
  • What techniques would I like to try?
  • What shots do I know I need to get?
  • What story am I trying to tell?

By taking the time to walk through all of these questions prior to actually arriving, I am able to mentally work through each scenario. When I arrive, I can move directly into setting up the shot, speaking to my subjects, and so on with less wasted motion and in a calm and controlled manner. Most of the time, I’ll already know how I want to approach every aspect of the lighting, backgrounds, etc. so if an issue arises, I am dealing only with that single issue…Not that issue in addition to every other “normal” aspect of the photo shoot.

Check It

Your gear. Check it before you arrive at your chosen location, obviously, but also double check it once you arrive. It’s better to take an extra moment or three at the beginning to ensure that you and your camera, lighting, modifiers, stands, and light meter are all on the same page. While you can make adjustments, etc. throughout the shoot (and you probably will), I’ve found that taking an extra moment at the beginning allows me to ease into the shoot without any unknowns in the back of my mind. I know my battery is fresh, my camera settings are where I want them, my lighting is setup securely, etc. Again, this takes away potential problems before they even arise and leave you to focus on the shoot and any completely unpredictable issues when they inevitably arise, yes, I’m looking at you and your stupid law, Murphy!

Slow Down - SLR Lounge - Photography Tip-3

Enjoy It

I’ve found that since I’ve really begun focusing on this approach, I am able to enjoy my outings/sessions more than ever before. I’m able to block out distractions, stop worrying so much about gear and settings, and focus more on getting the shots that I want. For example, I recently took some time to visit a hotel rooftop where they were putting on a skateboarding demo. By thinking through the lens I would use, what aperture I wanted, and what camera mode would be best, I was able to get to the venue and enjoy the skating and atmosphere without being so preoccupied with the technical aspects of my photography that I missed out on the fun.

Slow Down - SLR Lounge - Photography Tip-2

While I realize that this photography tip is very simplistic, I believe the impact it can have is immeasurable. By taking a more “Zen-like,” in the moment approach to photography, clarity is enhanced, more opportunities for “the shot” unfold, and you are more prepared to capture them. Granted, it takes practice and, for me, it takes consistently reminding myself to slow down and focus on what I’m shooting. The rewards are well worth it and can certainly be the difference between getting the shots you want, or ending up with nothing to show your client (or yourself) for the time you invested. So, put some thought into your approach, exercise your brain, visualize every scenario, then slow down!

This comprises a lot of my pre-shoot approach and prep. What about you? What steps do you take to ensure you’re completely prepared for your sessions or outing? Join the conversation in the comments below.

And, my weekly reminder….Get out there and SHOOT! Share your favorites with us on your favorite social media platform, like us on Facebook, drop by our critique section, and be sure to sign up for email updates to stay up to date on the latest and greatest news, contests, reviews, and photography articles!

CREDITS : Photographs by Michael  have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jake Norwood

    This was a very beneficial article.

    And the pictures of the kids skateboarding brings me back to my youth.

    Thanks.

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  2. Thomas Horton

    This is one reason why I rarely go out with someone while doing photography. To me, photography is a solitary contemplative activity. I like the previous comments about Zen. I do have to get into a photography mindset where I am focusing (pun intended) on what I am seeing. Unfortunately, this means little time for conversation.

    I am glad my GF understands when I go out alone and “cheat” on her with my camera. LoL

    I find that other people get bored when they have been with me while I am out doing my photography and I can’t blame them! :)

    I will be on site for 2 hours and if I come home with 20 shots (not keepers but total number of shots) that was a busy shoot for me. Other members of my photo club will come back with hundreds and I imagine some with a thousand shots in that same time.

    They snicker at me about my buying moderately high capacity cards and never ever come close to filling them up… and they are right! :)

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  3. Richard Bremer

    Really good advice. I was already trying to slow down prior to reading this. I so recognize that squirrel on Red Bull… Scary! I will double my efforts slowing down and getting the shot instead of spraying them :)

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  4. Carolyn Dingus

    This is no doubt my main issue. Planning a shoot. And then checking out my settings when I begin. I am really fussy about lighting. And about composition. I hate it when the technical aspects of my shoot disappoint me. It reminds me of mt prior career in software development. An ounce of planning is worth more than 5 pounds od effort.

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    • Michael Henson

      Agreed. There’s so much to remember that if we enter a shoot without a plan we’re bound to forget something.

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  5. Jason Teale

    Well said! This is something that I am always troubled with. I keep keep shooting hoping that I covered the scene and have something good at the end of the shoot. That “zen-like approach” has proven to produce more “keepers” for me. It is funny that I still have to remind myself to slow down before every shoot.

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    • Michael Henson

      I do too! I actually had a quick shoot last night and didn’t remind myself of that…Completely spaced it! It’s a process to get where this is second nature for sure…Thanks, Jason!

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  6. Lanza Coffin

    Great advice, only recently started slowing down but have seen the huge benefits of doing so.

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    • Michael Henson

      Thanks, Lanza! Glad to hear that you are enjoying the benefits of slowing down! It’s definitely helpful to do so!

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  7. Ant Motton

    Good advice and all but am I the only one who’s first thought on seeing the picture of the first skateboarder with the grey beanie was, “that’s massively out of focus”. Why would they put that on a post about slowing down and taking more time in a shoot? Looks like they should take more time in post checking their images…..

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  8. robert raymer

    I think that approach to a shoot is one way that the experienced photographer/client can tell how long a photographer has been shooting. I know that learning on film and shooting film exclusively for at least 5 years before picking up a digital camera forced me to have a slow and deliberate approach that has stayed with me. Spray and pray in film days was not only costly, as you were paying for each shot twice (once for the roll of film, once for development), but it was also almost impossible. Unless you were shooting polaroid test shots, you simply had no way to know how the shot was going to look until you got in the darkroom or got the roll back from the lab. There was no changing of ISO on the fly, no looking at the histogram, no zooming to 100% to check focus, no exposure warnings, or many of the other things we have been spoiled by with digital. There was only checking your composition, double checking your settings, and knowing how to use your light meter, then making all that work with whatever ISO film you had loaded into your camera or back. Most people I know from film days (or who still shoot film) carry this sense of methodical purpose with them and it shows in how they work while they are shooting. This is not to say that they do not use these newer abilities to their advantage, but far fewer seem to rely on them solely or use them as a crutch.

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    • Michael Henson

      I agree! When I see someone with a camera running around in a frenzy, I subconsciously doubt their ability to provide a consistent result. A deliberate, calm approach definitely inspire confidence and speaks to the photographer’s experience and ability to get the shot they’re looking for.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I work pretty slowly and methodically, but when I’m working with millennials I get, “why is this taking so loooooong?” *upwards inflection*

      In those cases rap off a few frames and move on. Typically they’re events and of they don’t come out, oh well. Delete.

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  9. Jacques Brierre

    That is most interesting advice.
    I recognize the frenzied hurry. I am guilty of looking high and low without looking in between and missing a whole swatch of possibilities. Thanks for the ideas.

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  10. Ralph Hightower

    So far, I haven’t succumbed to “spray and pray” since I’ve used film since 1980 and added digital in December 2013. I still approach DSLR shooting with a film approach. Now, I will use “spray and pray” for an air show that features the US Navy’s Blue Angels for their opposing pass; I didn’t do that with film in 2012 with the Air Force Thunderbirds and “missed it by that much” (Maxwell’s Smart’s description).

    I turned off image review in my Cano 5D Mk III since I haven’t used it; I looked at the images to marvel at digital technology when it was a new toy. But I’m still in film mode with 3 SLRs, two film and one digital.

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    • Michael Henson

      I’ve heard similar comments from the majority of “film guys” that I talk to. Gotta say, I can’t imagine turning off the image review function…I’ve progressed beyond “chimping” but still check from time to time to ensure I’m not missing anything…especially looking at exposure, etc. Eventually, I’ll get to the point that I don’t have to do that…hopefully!

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      @Michael Henson: The first thing I do when I get a new camera is turn off the auto-review. I usually know when I missed a shot. I do check the histogram once in awhile to make sure I’m not clipping to shooting too flat.

      Just turn it off. You’ll get used to it quickly. Trust your eyes and you instincts.

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    • Ralph Hightower

      I haven’t done a test of how much it extends the battery life, but I one fully charged battery in my 5D and it was on from about 9 AM to 5:30 PM; I shot about 150 photos and the battery capacity was at 88%.

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  11. Stan Rogers

    There is one other element to this that is not stated, but is implied, in the article: you’ll get fast doing this. Fast enough to slow down even more, and get even faster. I mean, as long as we’re going all counterintuitive and everything, we might as well throw that in here. Pay enough attention to what you’re doing, and before you know it, all of that “photography” stuff goes away, leaving you to concentrate on making pictures. Then pay enough attention to picture-making to make that automatic enough to let you concentrate on story-telling; framing, composition, eliminating obtrusive elements and so forth will happen before you put eye to the viewfinder. Then you’ll get really good at story-telling, and can make almost your whole *apparent* effort about the moment.

    There is, of course, one downside to this progression: at some point, people will start to think that you must have a really good camera (or, if they have the same one at home, that their camera must be faulty). Or that you “just have an eye for this sort of thing”. It takes a lot of work and attention to detail to look like you’re carefree and lucky.

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    • Michael Henson

      You nailed it, Stan! I’m not there yet but I’m working my way toward what you described…And, yes, you’ve just gotta laugh at the “good camera” comments…It’s amazing that people don’t realize the effort behind excellence but it’s that way in everything. You see beginning musicians running around spending thousands on gear thinking the latest greatest guitar that “so-and-so” uses will make them better, etc. without ever considering that they’ll need to spend hours in their bedroom learning to play it…It happens with anything, yet most people still don’t recognize it.

      Great thoughts/comments! Thanks!

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  12. Brandon Dewey

    Great advice.

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