PJ's realize that it's not enough to have your chops down, you've also got to keep your chops up. That is, it's not enough to have shooting skills; you've got to keep them honed, too—keep in practice.
My chops, never great, are not in good shape lately. I've been feeling like a bumbler with a camera in my hands.
"Chops" is a term that comes from music—it's a slang term meaning "the technical skill with which a jazz or rock musician performs." That meaning exports to shooting skills and camera-handling, definitely.
One thing I'm learning lately is that dogs are really hard to shoot. I think they might even be harder than kids. And I used to think kids were the toughest subject to shoot candids of.
Here's how it went with Smash the pug, above: 1. He pauses from running maniacally all over the place. 2. I kneel, thinking, hmm, maybe I can get off a shot or two before he takes off again. 3. First shot, he's got his head down. 4. A second later he raises his head to look at me—probably thinking, whoa, what's this? That human's kneeling. 5. He leaps at me. 6. With a furry ball of pug flying at me through the air like a guided missile, I jerk the (expensive, borrowed) camera out of the way just in time to prevent it from being slobbered.
The shot you see was taken at "4," which lasted, oh, about 7/8ths of a second. I'm just guessing at that. Could've been less.
Anyway, it's a static shot. Doesn't look all that exciting. Not so special. And yet, kind of hard to get! At least for an overweight man of indeterminate middle age who hasn't done any assignment shooting since Clinton was President. In the cold. (Man, was it cold.)
Here's another mistake. Well, this one isn't a mistake, but the three shots that preceded it were. I shot a quick sequence of five grab shots of this dachshund in the park after asking its owner's permission. Frame #4 didn't turn out too badly, so I'm not complaining. But I've gotten very used to shooting with smaller sensors, so in the first three shots, the dachsie's eyes are in focus and his nose isn't. What was up with that? Just that I forgot I was shooting with a larger sensor! I've gotten used to the better d.o.f. of smaller sensors. So I stopped down a bit more for the last two frames. Duh. Hint: any time you're shooting a human subject and have to excuse yourself, take the camera away from your eye, and fiddle with the controls while your subject waits on you, your chops are piss-po.
But note how the D3 has preserved, on the dog's face, the weak golden light from the setting late-Fall sun. That was just how it looked.
You know how studio guys always look at models' eyes with loupes to see what the light setup was? If you look closely at the dachshund's left eye, you can see how far above the horizon the sun was.
As you can see, the sun is right on the treeline, about to sneak off below the horizon.
My friend Steve Rosenblum got his copy of Sam Abell's The Life of a Photograph the other day and wrote to tell me about a review of one of Sam's workshops that Glen Johnson posted over at Photo.net. There's a lot of wisdom in Glen's essay—I recommend it. Glen reports that one thing Sam told the workshop participants was that "when a professional changes from one brand to another, the consensus is that you lose a year getting used to the new system." That made me feel a little better—I've used four different cameras in the past five and a half weeks. The time I've had with each one hasn't been long enough even to learn all its features, much less master it. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
Do read Glen's piece. It's worth it.
This next one is a mistake I have no excuse for. It's just a plain old mistake. (I'm sure you never do that.) Here's the picture as it came out of the camera:
Why so bad? I had left the camera on spot-metering a few minutes earlier, purely by oversight. I got away with a few shots prior to this one, thanks to dumb luck, but in this case the spot meter happened to fall on the black blouse of the woman in the middle (my cousin Liz)...which meant my overall exposure was, what, three stops off?
I assumed it was a total loss, and I was annoyed enough at myself that I remember thinking, that's it, no more camera testing—I just have to use one camera long enough so I can really get used to it, really learn it inside-out, and get some chops back.
But look how well it corrected:
This is not the same frame—it's the next frame, of three—but it was exposed identically to the picture above. It doesn't look quite as good as if I had exposed it properly in the first place, but it came back amazingly well. It appears that the camera—this is the Sony A900—has just gobs of headroom for a digital camera. I don't think I've used any digital camera that can recover this much.
I may not have much in the way of chops these days, but hey, at least I learn stuff from my mistakes.
...And learn. And learn...(sigh).