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Wednesday, 30 April 2008


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You think you've got it bad? Josef Koudelka says he has to go through three rolls of film just to get warmed up for a day of shooting.

I am exactly like you. Thanks for pointing this out--I really do need to pay more attention to getting myself warmed up.

Feel just like you.

The first obstacle for me is getting the camera out of the bag. Get it out of the bag and it's much easier to start seeing shots (no, I'm not being facetious). Then even 5 or 10 seems to get things flowing. Once I've gotten into the flow, I'm good for the next few hours, so I can put it away, go to the next location and start shooting pretty easily.

I hear that... but with the 4x5, it's more like 1 or 2 shots to get warmed up. : )

Interesting to hear that. I always feel the same. And not only I feel it "flowing" better after these initial shots, but it is when I actually start to see things. I think it's because you get the obvious out of your system...after 50 shots, you're sort of "forced" to get creative if you want to keep shooting the same thing.

Too bad most of the time I am with someone, and after about 5 shots I start to get "the looks".

I noticed myself doing this just a day or two ago, albeit with only 10-15 shots. I'm glad it affects others as well...

I thought it was just me, especially since I only get (ok, make) the time to take the camera out fairly infrequently. Thanks for mentioning it! I start off full of doubt, feeling incompetent and, if anyone else is around, a bit of a fraud and embarrassed. By the end of a proper session I feel relaxed yet alert and excited.


you rock. I am exactly the same and have to keep this in mind.

But this is my problem with street photography: many occasions happen when I am not warmed up.

Hm, on the other hand, my goal is to make photography second nature. That means to me that I am usually ready to take the camera to my eye and shoot. I am not sure if burning film or sensor is the best strategy in the long run. Maybe looking through the finder at an "empty" target and operating some controls like focus and aperture would suffice.

Because when I shoot a lot, it is often that only a few frames are worth to keep. But sometimes a great picture happens completely alone, out of any shooting sequence. I get the feeling that the latter are the better ones. But this will also depend on what you shoot (e.g. you probably won't get that one landscape shot en passant).

However, great throwing in!

best always

funny, it only ever seems to take me about ten frames to get warmed up, if that. the joys of youth? or just a difference in personality, maybe. Speaking of, I need to get out and get shooting.

I seem to be more hit or miss. Sometimes shooting a bunch will get me into the flow, and sometimes no amount of shooting gets me warmed up. And sometimes I'm somehow into it without a camera in my hand, wishing I had a camera with me, on occasion remembering suddenly that I brought one and forgot about it.

I should really figure out how this works for me. I suspect that on those days when I just can't get into it, I'm casting about--repeatedly giving up and starting over instead of working a subject or problem and figuring out what I'm after and how to get it.

It seems to come easier for me with manual mechanical cameras with analog controls. They are slower in some ways, faster in others, but I generally find them more intuitive and less distracting.

I'm curious, though: what do warmer-uppers do with their warm-up shots and rolls?

Lubricates, Cleans and prevents Rust... Perfect analogy!

Thanks for inspiring to shoot EVERY day.

Not me. Often the best, (and sometimes the only), image is the first one I shoot.
Or if there's nothing interesting me, I don't shoot anything. But that's pretty rare.

I feel exactly the same. That first chunk of images rarely contains any of the good stuff. The most irritating part for me is that last time I went out shooting my camera broke on shot 90.... rough day.

It is sort of a Zen thing, becoming one with the camera and your subject. Some days, you only need a few frames, other days a lot of frames. Depends on how alert you are that day. With film it usually takes less frames than with digital for me to get flowing. I think it it is because of the chimping, which makes you think and worry too much. To get flowing you can't think, you have to react.

I sometimes have to force myself to start too. I say to myself that I have to shoot ten no matter what and that usually ends up many more. I need to get my brain to take that half step back necessary to scan for shots. Think of the difference of seeing a face a and looking at a face you need to photograph.

very similar for writing. If you force yourself to write a paragrah, you will generally be able to continue.

A long time ago I commenced the study of traditional Japanese martial arts, so called koryu bujitsu. My teacher always maintained that a good swordsman made a thousand cuts a day ie practice draws and cuts. I found myself not having the time and limited myself to 200. Anyway the improvement was dramatic. So I decided to apply this to my photography and I endeavour to take some shots every day. This keeps my eye in and my reflexes honed, and so when I go out on a shoot I very quickly slip into the zone.

First 50 frames to get flowing? I'm worn out after 30. Maybe I still have a built in slowdown for that imaginary end of the roll.

When working with people, I do this without even putting a roll of film in the camera.

Mike this is fantastic advice, and something I tell my students regularly, and put into practice myself. With a large format camera for me it is just taking one or perhaps two shots to get back into the swing of shooting again. So when I can't find the image, I just take one. And it usually un-blocks my creative juices again.

Excellent post Mike.

Story of my life - for the last few weeks anyway:

Get out of bed at 4.30 am, rush down to the site hoping for morning mist, and find that it's disappearing fast..the first few have to be the ones: the sun's rising, the mist is dispersing, tonality going to hell.

The last few on the roll are the possible throwaways. Probably works in reverse at sunset.

(I'm talking B/W and film BTW, dunno about the disposable heroes of hip hop digital)

Regards - Ross

I agree with this 'warm up' - but for me its more a time thing ... it takes about 30 minutes of shooting to get the atmosphere, figure out how I'm going to approach the subject etc. The amount of frames can vary.

BUT there is an inverse to this - if I find I'm not getting anything after 30 min., time to give up and do something else. The magic isn't working (and by magic I mean the way I can totally forget everything else I might/should be doing instead of taking pictures).



I wonder if this "need to get oiled up" applies to your writing as well. Having you been blogging so long that the words flow from your fingertips or do you need to write a sub-par paragraph or two before you're in your flow?

"Having you been blogging so long that the words flow from your fingertips or do you need to write a sub-par paragraph or two before you're in your flow?"

Good question. When I was at Dartmouth I was invited to a breakfast with Saul Bellow, who had just won the Nobel Prize. He said no one knows if they're a writer until they've written a million words (that's about ten to twelve average novels, for those of you scoring at home). I was a freshman in college, with nowhere near a million words under my belt, so that was the last thing I wanted to hear at the time. But I at least realized that I'd never get there without trying, so I decided to get into the habit of writing something every day. There have been many days since then that I haven't written anything--I haven't been a nut about it--but I've done a pretty good job. I probably write twenty or thirty days for every day I skip, and I've done that for more than 30 years.

Passed a million words a long time ago. Not many of them very memorable, but whatever.

So--sorry for the long-winded, more-than-you-wanted-to-know answer--no, I don't have to get in the groove with writing. It's always there. I'm slow as molasses (ooh, and I'm good with the clichés), but it's always there.

Typing, now, that's a different story. I wish to hell I'd learned how to type properly when I was young. I never did. When I was about 45 years old something went ever-so-slightly haywire in my brain, and I started transposing letters, a "bug" which has gotten progressively more pronounced as the years have passed since then. I'm generally pretty speedy for a four-finger typist, and some days I can actually come close to the speed of a real touch-typist. But I also have days when I just can't @#$!ing type--I make so many mistakes it's just better if I go do something else.

Mike J.

I think this is probably good advice but the goal is to progress to

1) condition yourself to repeat this process without actually pressing the shutter

2) condition yourself to do this but without bringing the camera to your eye

3) condition yourself to do this when you aren't carrying a camera.

The process of taking the shot is not the goal but it does force you into looking in the right way. In the end you should be able to look without needing the camera.

Personally I'm a long way away from this and although I don't take many 4x5 exposures, I do use a small composition card (4x5 hole) in order to compose pictures as far as I can before taking the camera out. Effectively I'm using the card to take lots of pictures as soon as possible and then when I feel things coming together and the subject matter is right, I'll get the camera out.

It was very scary to move from taking 100+ photos in a location to only taking 2 or 3 photos but the best picture from each 4x5 session is now a LOT better than the best picture was when I was using an SLR. I think its obvious I'm not a street photographer however :-)

"So--sorry for the long-winded, more-than-you-wanted-to-know answer-"
(Mike J.)

Hm, doesn't bother me at least, I find that answer very interesting. The parallels between photography and writing interest me for some time now. That was when I tried to understand why photography is so queer compared to other forms of expression. Thinking about writing, when to write, why, what to say etc., helped me in getting a clearer view. Actually I had more expierence in writing than in photography, though not professional. But I used to write regularly for my own for many years.

I think there is much more jealousy, bigotry and a lot of bad things going on in the photographic world than in the world of written words. Everyone can see, so everyone thinks s(he) is a master/mistress of the visually asthetic. And many who own a fancy camera think they are masters of photography. Yep, this almost exclusively applies to men, so I skip the female form. Ok, many can read too, but it takes more time and few take the time to read someone elses writing.

However, discussions on such topics bring us far further in our endeavours than debates about dng, tiff, jpeg and tonal curves (but I love them too ;-)). And I find it delighting that there is such a resonance on this post.

I want to find my way that frees my visual power. Thanks for the many useful hints.

best always

"2) condition yourself to do this but without bringing the camera to your eye 3) condition yourself to do this when you aren't carrying a camera."

Fine advice on its own, Tim, but seeing pictures wasn't what I was talking about. I think that actually handling and using the camera--bringing it up to your eye, pointing it at people--can be something that we have some resistance to. I think shooting those first frames gets us over "camera shyness." Obviously everybody has their own take on this, but I think what you're talking about is a different topic.

Mike J.

I agree with Erik. When I'm not holding my camera everything looks just the same to me. I walk by without actually look at what's around me.

The first thing I think the second I take my Pentax out of the bag it's "my god, I can't believe THAT was really there and I didn't see it".

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