What photo would you say is the one you’re least prepared to take? For me, it’s the very first photo on any given day. Have you ever gone out for a day of nature photography, regardless of your subject preference, and find that when you go to shoot that very first photo something is “off?” I’m not referring to an equipment checklist, I’m talking about a preparedness checklist.
Although an equipment checklist is a good idea and you should always make sure you are bringing everything you think you will possibly need on any given day. But here’s what happens to me. And, if it happens to you then read on. When I’m done photographing for the day I usually just download my images and put my batteries on a charger. I might check a few things and rearrange my pack to the order I had but that’s pretty much it. I rarely go and look at anything else as far as where I left my camera settings at.
So, to help with the potential mistake of not being 100% ready the next day, what I’ve begun to do as part of my routine is to go through the motions of taking that first photo as soon as I step out of my vehicle. That’s when you’ll notice you had your ISO set for the last time you were out and it may not be what you want to use right now. Maybe it was near dark and you pushed your ISO to 800 but today is bright and sunny. You might prefer something in the low 100’s. You may have forgotten to re-format your card. Or, perhaps you left your lens on manual focus because you were photographing wildflowers the day before, but today you’re shooting something where you’d want autofocus. Each of us I’m sure will have different circumstances and issues.
I compare this to what baseball relief pitchers do before coming into a game or a batter in the on-deck circle. They warm up: pitchers throw balls, batters swing their bats. Then when the real moment comes, they’ve worked out some kinks, some physical and maybe some mental, and they’re all ready to go! So, I recommend you do the same with your photography.
Here are just a few examples of what I check before I start my photo hike:
- As I grab the lens out of the case, is it firmly attached to the camera body? Remember that small button that disengages your lens? Well, it’ll ruin your day if your lens falls off the camera body as you lift it out of your case because that button rubbed against something and partially dislodged your lens. It’s happened to me once before and almost a second time so that’s why it’s #1 on my list!
- Is the camera strap secure? Any sign of it loosening up?
- If you use a tripod, is the camera plate firmly attached to the body? Is it in the correct position to quickly put the camera on your tripod?
- Is the ISO set to what I want to use for that day?
- Do I have the manual/autofocus set where I want it? For both the camera and the lens?
- Are shutter speed and aperture settings close to the average of the lighting present so you won’t be making drastic adjustments if you have a quick photo opportunity? For example, shooting a bird in flight.
- Do I have all the support equipment ready, like a lens viewing hood loupe (if you use one) or a flash unit (which you should also make sure is ready to fire)?
- Do I have everything I need in my pack or in my pockets?
Once I go through this short list, I generally fire off a few shots to make sure everything is working and looks good. At this point I am ready for that first shot of the day, or at the very least, close to being ready!
This post hopefully will encourage some discussion. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on what you do to be prepared please share by leaving a comment below.
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About the Author: Vic Berardi is a raptor lover that lives in the Midwest. He is the founder of the Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch and every weekend of the year you’ll find him searching for hawks and photographing them. Several of his photographs have been published in a leading raptor journal and in articles he has written. During the year he gives presentations teaching others about hawks and hawk migration. Vic also photographs dragonflies and wild flowers and is always respectful of nature and its creatures.