Spring is a great time for photography. (Fall too, for those you under the Southern Cross!) Two days ago we had a marvelous spring day here. It was hot: the temperature soared to 65°F. People were out in shorts and T-shirts. The air was clear and sweet, the sun bright and inviting. We had a few increasingly nice days leading up to Thursday, after a gradual but uninterrupted three-week thaw. Marvelous.
Today there's snow on the ground again. A few flakes are gently falling outside my window, and the sky is a featureless gray, with just a hint of brightness behind it.
But even that doesn't seem so bad. This time of year, you know it won't last long.
I hope in the coming season you can get out a lot. I know a lot of us work for a living, and most of us don't work in photography. I don't know about you, but I think it does me a lot of good to just get outdoors, even for a few minutes. However you can get into the open air, whatever opportunity you have. A short walk at lunch time; once around the block after you get home; a brief walk around outside or just a short spell on the front steps in the early morning. It might not be enough to be good for your body. But it's good for your soul.
Maybe take your camera along too. If I don't have time to shoot, I don't beat myself up over it. Spring is a great time for photography, though. Nice dawns, nice dusks, clear air without the haze of summer. And even if you don't take a single shot on a short jaunt outside, having your camera with you "acclimatizes" you to having it with you. The more you can carry your camera, the more normal it feels—it's like a woman carrying a purse, or a man getting used to wearing a coat and tie. David Vestal says puts on his camera on the morning and takes it off at night, like his shirt.
I've always felt there is a sort of "starting barrier" to shooting. Like a little hump blocking your path that you have to get over. Like a cold engine that needs to warm up and get its oil flowing. When I shot film I always thought I needed to get through the first two or three rolls quickly before I felt I was really shooting. With digital, call it the first hundred shots. You've just got to get through those first hundred shots before you're really going, before things start to flow. Sometimes it takes an effort. You have to power past it with an effort of will. Before you do, there's still resistance there, still a feeling of awkwardness. Blast through a hundred shots, and the oil is warm in your engine. You're over the hump. The barrier is flattened.
Then it gets easy. Then you're shooting.
Here's to getting outside, and especially to the times you're able to get past the first hundred shots. Here's to spring.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jeff: "Funny how styles vary.
"I'm with you 100% on the part about getting out, exercising, taking a camera along, etc. (By the way, recent studies show that small increments of exercise provide the same benefits as exercising in one shot, e.g., five minutes, six times a day, is as good as 30 minutes at once. I wonder about the aerobic differences, but that's what the studies now suggest.)
"However, I don't have a warm-up period as part of my routine. Didn't in my film days, and even less so now with digital cameras. My 'keeper' rate with digital is higher, partly due to histogram checks (infrequent, but helpful at times), and the fact that I'm likely more adept at processing via a screen than I was in my darkroom (hard to admit after years of darkroom practice).
"I'm very selective about my shots, and now with years of experience, I have a much better feel for what will work for me, and what won't. That doesn't mean I stopped experimenting, but my efforts are now more deliberate.
"My goal is always to have fun, but more specifically to generate images worth printing. I'm careful not to fall into 'analysis/paralysis,' and try to stay loose with the process of picture taking. But I don't shoot just to get in a groove. If I'm out frequently, a luxury I now have in my retirement, I'm generally warmed up out of the box.
"But, hey, whatever works. It's 73° and sunny outside, and I'm going for a bike ride."
Featured Comment by Ctein: "I love learning about the differences in how people go about creating their work. This is so very much not my style, which makes it fascinating to me.
"Digital has made me unfortunately sloppy (that's how it works in my head), as I've written about in the past, but the idea of making 100 photographs just to warm up is something I can't wrap my head around.
"Question for you: are you saying that you don't get many good photographs in those first hundred or that it just takes you 100 photographs to get comfortable with making photographs. Not the same thing, which is why I'm asking.
"I sometimes fall into the groove after I've been out photographing for a while, where it starts to become more 'second nature' and less something that I'm pushing myself to do. But the later photographs aren't necessarily any better than the earlier ones. On rare occasions, the very best photograph of the day has been the very first one I made. Perhaps because initially there's a mental barrier to get over before I'm willing to raise the camera to the eye, so it needs to have the potential to be a really good photo? I don't know. You're making me think about how I work, damn you. Head hurts, must stop <g>."
Mike replies: Jeff, yes, whatever works. True. Everyone is different, and there's no one right way for everybody. For Walker Evans during his FSA days, six sheets of film exposed was a heavy shooting day.
Ctein, this post really isn't for the people who have already pushed the shutter button tens or hundreds of thousands of times. If today is a typical Saturday, some 22,000 people will look at the main page today. Some of them (maybe some of the ones we never hear from) might benefit from this tip.
But to answer your question, my experience is that you never know when the good ones will show up. Early; late; heavy shooting days or weeks, or when you haven't shot for a month. It's like fishing. The more time you spend doing it, the better your chances, but even when you're out there with your line in the water you never know when you're going to get a bite.
Featured Comment by Pat Trent: "One of the benefits of owning a dog is that you can't make excuses for not taking that walk, because 'the dog needs the exercise' (ahem!). With few exceptions, a camera goes with us.
"My dog is a true shutterbug: From the moment I say 'Hold on,' he remains absolutely still—no tension in the leash—until he hears the shutter snap and he knows it's okay to move around again. Amazingly, all my dogs developed this understanding about the shutter sound, without any effort on my part.
"Those who don't know the joy of walking about in the spring with both a camera and a dog are missing a lot."
Featured Comment by Nick: "I envy Mr. Trent his dog; my dog has made the image stabilization on my E-P1 indispensable. Picture a (tall) grown man, with both knees and one elbow on the damp ground, trying to shoot a close-up picture of a little white flower while a deeply stupid beagle tries desperately to drag him forward. Not exactly like shooting from a tripod...."