Slowing it Down for Better Photographs

By slowing yourself down, you can learn to see things differently and get better results.
By slowing yourself down, you can learn to see things differently and get better results.

Photography is more accessible than it is ever been. Advances in technology have given us wonderful equipment at fairly inexpensive prices. One of the greatest assets of digital photography is that it allows us to shoot high-volumes of images at relatively low cost. The ease of clicking the shutter on a digital camera means that quite often will end up with hundreds if not thousands of images. But how many of those images are really good? If you find yourself shooting quantity over quality then maybe it’s time to slow things down and take a slightly different approach to your photography. It’s so easy to shoot with digital that sometimes it can be hard to control yourself! Here are some simple techniques that can help you slow yourself down and potentially achieve better results.

Use a tripod

I know a lot of photographers including myself who sometimes get frustrated by lugging a tripod around. However, the tripod does a lot more than just stabilize your camera. If you force yourself to carry a tripod with you and use it is going to slow you down and force you to think about your compositions more carefully. When you see the composition that you want don’t need to take extra time to properly set up the tripod and get the shot right. A lot of times, that can be the difference between an okay composition and a strong one.

Use a fixed focal length lens

If you started out in photography more than 10 years ago, chances are your camera came with a fixed focal length lens. My first camera came with a 50 mm lens. Today most camera kits include some form of zoom lens. While zoom lenses are very good, they can also make us lazy. Try shooting with a fixed focal length lens. If you don’t have one, you can find 50 mm and 35mm lenses for very low cost, especially on the used market. When you use a fixed focal length lens, it forces you to move around the scene to frame your subject; you can no longer be lazy by just turning the zoom ring.

Set your camera to single-frame advance

It’s great that digital cameras shoot four, five, or even eight frames per second. But when you do that sometimes you get into a “spray and pray” mindset. Put your camera into single frame advance and think about each image before you press the shutter release. If you’re shooting action, like sports, try shooting this way once in a while for practice as it will help you learn how to time the moment of peak action. Then, when you do use continuous frame advance, you’ll be able to get more keepers.

Try a smaller memory card

Most of my memory cards are over 8 GB. While I think it’s absolutely great and very important to be able to store 500 images on a single card, it also has an unintended consequence of making us lazy. I mean, it’s only digital… they’re only pixels… so it’s not a big deal because we can always delete the ones we don’t like right? If you think back to when we used film most of us only had 24 or 36 exposures per roll. And that roll of film cost us a tangible amount of money to process and have printed. If you have an old, small capacity memory card lying around, try putting that in your camera. With a limited number of shots you will be more tempted to make each image count.

By forcing yourself to slow down your approach to photography you find yourself, over time, getting more keepers. You don’t have to use the techniques I described for your normal shooting, but they are helpful ways to force yourself into taking a more disciplined approach to your photographic subjects. If you have other ideas for ways in which you slow down your photography, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Digital Photography Guides by Jason Odell

6 thoughts on “Slowing it Down for Better Photographs”

  1. Great article and dead on. A while back I was writing about my old film 35mm Pentax (what was it?) and reached up in the bag to get the model number. I suddenly noticed I had 5 rolls of unused 400 ISO 36 exp film. Decided to load one and see if it came out and then would use the others (or throw them) Film had been up there for years. Suddenly as I started shooting, I couldn’t “chimp” the image, I wold have to wait to see how it came out. Suddenly I become much more careful in my shooting of the roll. till working on it. Don’t want to shoot wasted images to see if it develops but don’t want to take shots I don’t want to lose. But big thing is I have re-learned to shoot slower and more deliberately, thinking.

  2. Well said. I have often around me aspiring photographers of the new digital era, asking for advice about the best zoom to buy for their new digital cameras. Buy a 50 mm or 35 mm and use your legs as a zoom – I always answer. And when thinking composition becomes more of a second nature, then get the damn zoom if you need.

  3. I still am pretty slow when it comes to taking photos, as I likewise, started with 35mm film. The thought of not wasting a shot is still pretty firmly ingrained in my mindset. The greatest benefit of more controlled shooting is that when I sell my cameras (to get a newer model), they always have a low shutter count. 😉

    Jason, do you notice any differences between the V1 and V2, in terms of image quality?-Bob

  4. As always, valuable insights. Many thanks for your continued willingness to tutor others…

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