We were on our way to take some pictures and he gave me some interesting advice on how to take pictures. It was interesting because it actually had nothing to do with my camera, or with the lighting or with the lens. He said, “Frank, you need to focus yourself before you focus the camera”.
What an interesting, and surprisingly true thing to say. I thought about it a lot, then started to practice doing just that – focusing myself first before I even started focusing the camera. I wasn’t sure how to really do it at first, but eventually figured out exactly what he was talking about.
First Step: Think and plan about what you want to photograph. Focus your mind, before your Camera.
Just going outside with your camera without a plan will typically yield pretty low odds of a good shot. If you want to have a good picture you need to plan first, to think about what you are trying to do before you go out and just take shots. Focus yourself first by understanding what it is you are trying to shoot, then focusing your camera will me that much easier.
Second Step: Take the Right Pictures at the Right Time. Focus your time, before your Camera.
I went the pier at 1 in the afternoon. It was a great place and looked like the pictures should be fantastic but when I got home the pictures were just, well, blah. What went wrong? The problem was that I was shooting the right place at the wrong time. I had not focused myself first, rather I went to the beach when it was convenient for me, not when the pictures would look the best.
Next time I went to Scripps Pier I planned much better. I went at Sunset. I brought a Tripod. And I spent time trying to get pictures that I had in my mind. The results were dramatically different this time around. I loved the pictures and I realized that I needed to take the right picture at the right time. I could spend all day trying to take pictures at Scripps Pier, or I could go there at sunset and take 5 minutes of pictures that would be better than the pictures I took all day. Focus your time, before you focus your camera.
Step 3 – Go to the right place. Focus on something new first to capture something interesting with the camera.
Einstein said, “Insanity is going to the same place to take pictures and expecting different pictures that you had the last time”. Well he didn’t exactly say that but it was something close and he was right (if he said that). I do it myself all the time – I go to my favorite spots over and over again because I know that I can take a good picture there. I get home and the pictures that I take look exactly what they looked like before. It’s not rocket science to figure it out. They look the same because I am essentially taking the same picture!
Going back into your comfort zone is comfortable but you can’t grow as a photographer unless you push yourself to increase your range. Focus your mind to think of new creative places, go there and take pictures. Take pictures of places and people that are not in your comfort zone and you just might find that you take some photographs that will surprise you.
Step 4 – Bring the Right Equipment.
How many times have I run out of the house forgetting to take the right lens, or my flash, a spare battery or my tripod. Not having the right equipment is the killer of so many good photograph opportunities. I think you start to learn how to pre-plan the equipment that you will most likely need while you are on your way to shoot something.
One way beyond this is to keep a checklist of things that you need and then just reference it before you go out. Basically do the same thing that pilots do with their aircraft before taking off. In the excitement of things there is always something you need. Or, alternatively you can do what I do and that’s basically just keep everything but my camera and lenses in the trunk so I am always prepared no matter where I go.
Step 5 – Focus your mind and your attitude.
I used to fish a lot. There was this sixth sense you would get in your body when you are going to catch fish. Maybe it’s optimism but it worked. If I felt like I was going to catch a fish, I was able to. If I felt negative, I just sat there with my pole in the water all day. Photography is the same way. You need to focus your attitude to a positive mental state first before you can take pictures. Remember the camera is just a reflection back to you what you are taking pictures of. A negative attitude will rarely result in fishing out the right image.
Focus, its just a matter of being succesful.
I suppose learning to focus yourself before doing anything is just a good idea in every facet of your life and work. The ability to focus is the number one quality I see in successful people. They can work, without distraction and towards perfection in the task at hand. Their focus allows them to get stuff done and done right. If you look at successful people, this is generally true.
Your camera focuses you, not the other way around.
I noticed over time, my camera started to focus me more than I was focusing it. It was helping me to make better decisions and spend more time thinking about what I was doing. I was slowing down and thinking before I clicked the shutter. It made my pictures that much better, and me, that much happier.