Five Things Every Photographer . . .

Tips from a guy who has made more mistakes in photography over the last 20 years than most would like to admit.  

What every photographer needs to learn before they absolutely need it

I have done enough travel, nature and street photography in my day to have had a number of close calls and near misses.  Luckily I have made it this far without too many problems, but there are a few things that I have found can really ease your mind if you do your homework before you need it.  The list is very simple and probably fairly basic stuff, but I always keep them in mind no matter where I am.  I have learned most of these the hard way . . . I don't want to talk about it.

1) Know where the nearest bathroom is, seems like common sense, but it isn't always.  Imagine doing street work in a foreign country, like Cuba.  Speaking the language helps, but knowing where you are headed, what options you might have an stopping when you have the chance is always helpful, it takes the burden off of what happens next.   Imagine how uncomfortable it can be wondering the humid streets of a foreign country looking for a bathroom rather than a good photo, its a distraction I don't like, not even a little.

If you are in the wilderness, know what your plan is, and how to keep yourself, shall we say, clean.  Seems stupid to think about until you have to tear your clothes into small pieces, you won't forget after that.  Anyone who has done it, knows what I mean.   

2) Know where to find water, or a cup of coffee or a drink, and it goes in that order.  These things seem very unimportant until they are absolutely necessary and they can do anything from keep you alive to help you de-stress, relax or just unwind. This may not seem like it is important enough to make it on this list.  But let me share this with you.  Last year I photographed in the desert for three days.  I was a solid three hour drive to the nearest town to buy supplies.  I took with me seven gallons of water.  Most people would probably think that was too much for so few days, yet I went though every single drop of it out there, temperatures hovered around 110 during the peak of the day and there was nowhere to get out of the beating sun.  If I hadn't taken all of it, I would have had to leave the evening before, missing one of the best shots of the trip.  I knew how far out I was going, and that there was no close access to water, if I hadn't thought about it, it could have been any type of disaster.  With all that being said, make sure you pay attention to #1 when you consume that much liquid.

Someone is about to need that escape route, just lucky it isn't me this time

Someone is about to need that escape route, just lucky it isn't me this time

3) Know your escape route.  I am a wildlife photographer and when working anywhere close to animals it is so incredibly important that you know your most likely, and even a secondary "out route" if you need it.  This is not just for you, but it is for the animals as well.  Being able to move away from a tense situation in a way that is non-threatinging to an animal can be the thing that keep you and the animal safe, and in rare cases can even save either your or their life.  As the situation changes, allow your potential escape routes to do the same, but know what you will do. You should also have a firm handle on how the animal will react if it spots, smells or hears you.  Which direction it is most likely to go?  If the animal does this, what could that do to my plan?  Are we both still safe?  Does that put us in a dangerous position?  Am I going to appear threatening, hostile or aggressive?  Will I appear too much like pre?  Proper wildlife photography is about anticipation and preparation but this is not just for the shot.  

4) Know your plan B.  Like number three, this thing is essential, and can not only keep you safe, but can help you feel more comfortable or better yet, keep you spirits high despite a bad turn of events.  This ranges from everything to, have backup documents incase your documents are lost, to have a list of things you want to photograph, but a plan if you just can't find something that particular day.  

When I travel to Africa, I obviously carry my documents with me in paper form, but I also keep a second copy on a dropbox account.  If something goes wrong, and things are lost or stolen, or I am just caught without them, all I need is an internet connection to get the information back.  

When it comes to photography plans, I tend to go with two lists, one of my primary focus for the particular trip, and one of a secondary list of animals that would be OK, if we cannot find something on the primary list.  This keeps me working off of a plan, with a specific purpose and focus, but I also allow myself the ability to deviate from the plan if we cannot find what we are looking for.  This helps me stay sane on the very very slow days.

 

An image taken in almost absolute darkness with nothing more than a headlamp.  Without the ability to work the camera inside and out, images like this become almost impossible

An image taken in almost absolute darkness with nothing more than a headlamp.  Without the ability to work the camera inside and out, images like this become almost impossible

5) This one will seem basic, and probably pretty stupid to most, but make sure you know how to use your camera, at least in its most basic form.  Yes, I know that anyone reading a post about photography should be assumed to know their camera well enough, but its not always the case.  Some people may have just purchased a new camera, it may be a new lens, or this might be their first true work with a flash.  You need to know how to use what you have, at least enough to take an image that works.  Don't assume, even if you have been photographing for years, that if you go out and buy a new camera, it will work just like the gear you just had, it likely won't, thats why you bought something new.  

With things like landscape, waterfalls or most traditional nature photography, this is not 100% essential.  With wildlife photography, however, it is.  Because conditions change so quickly, including sun position, background and moving subjects, knowing how to make the adjustments needed as quick as you can is so important to capturing a shot.  If you don't know how your gear is going to perform, you will end up hating everything you brought, then just wishing you had used your old stuff.  It seems simple, but you would be amazed at how many times I see people fiddling with knobs and gadgets and tools while the scene or animal or moment passes them by.


This is by no means a complete list, and I will likely write follow ups to this list in future installments, but these are a few of the first things that came to my mind.   Good luck out there, stay safe, stay clean, and get the camera to do what you want it to.

This is by no means a complete list, and I will likely write follow ups to this list in future installments, but these are a few of the first things that came to my mind.   Good luck out there, stay safe, stay clean, and get the camera to do what you want it to.


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