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10 Things I Learnt from Daily Shooting

A Guest Post by David Powell from Shoot Tokyo 

Dave.jpegHere are a few lessons I have learnt from daily shooting… I hope you enjoy.

1. “Do or Do Not…. There is no Try”

A lot of people shoot daily as they are lucky enough to have a career in photography. Others embark on a 365 project while others just take photos all the time. I decided after I started ShootTokyo that I wanted to shoot daily as a way to try and rapidly improve my photography.  

Shooting daily isn’t hard. It does require dedication, creatively and planning. It actually gets significantly easier with time as well. When I first started I would rack my brain for something interesting to photography but now you can put me just about anywhere for 10 minutes and I can find lots of ways to photograph it.

2. Bring your Camera Everywhere

To capture great images you need to have your camera with you.  People always ask me where I find the time to shoot. Honestly I shoot whatever is in front of me where ever I am going. Most of the great shots you will take aren’t planned or set up. Events or situations unfold and you capture them.

Having my camera with me allowed me to capture the events of the March 11th Earthquake in Japan as I was experiencing it and share it with my family, friends and ultimately strangers worried about their loved ones in Tokyo. 

Having a camera allowed me to capture this woman checking the news about the earthquakes while on a break.

3. Take Pictures of People

One of the most interesting pictures you can take is of people. I’ll let you in on a secret. Most people love having their photograph taken. Many photographers are very shy about asking people if they can take their photo so they end up trying to sneak a shot. This is just something you have to get over.  While most people like having their photo taken, they also like to know it is happening. I have found that 9 out of 10 people will say sure and give you a big smile or pose of whatever you are looking for when asked. The approach I have taken that seems to work is being genuine and I simple ask ‘Do you mind if I take your photo?’. Often I will ask them to continue doing whatever they are doing and I take my shot. I also carry these business cards that I call ‘photography cards’ that I give people and let them know they can email me and I will happily send them a high resolution photo for their troubles. Probably 10% actually email me but giving them a card makes the interaction more ‘legitimate’ and puts people at ease.


I have learnt to not be shy about asking if I can take someone’s photo and I am so pleased with the results I can get now… Check out this hip chick at Shibuya’s Hachiko…


This beautiful girl passing through Shibuya Station…


and dogs…


4. The Less Gear you Carry the More Photos you take

This is a lesson I learnt the hard way after dragging excessive amounts of camera gear across Tokyo and when I was traveling. Typically I would leave the house with my Canon 5DMKII. I wanted to ensure I would catch any shot so I will make sure to bring a good assortment of lenses; 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 50mm, 135mm and maybe my 70-200mm. I would also have an assortment of filters, a flash or two and other odds and ends. At the end of the day, I spend all of my energy lugging gear around that I didn’t spend nearly as much time shooting. The reality is you can make great photographs with whatever gear you have granted you know how to use it.

Now more often than not, I leave the house with a single prime (fixed focal length) lens. This allows me to focus on taking pictures and bringing out my creativity to capture the shot I need with the only focal length I have. I carry the most minimal of accessories; extra card, extra battery, an ND filter and a cloth to wipe the lens. That’s it.

Do I miss some shots due to my limited gear? Sure, but what I missed is easily made up by all of the other shots I get.  


5. Force Yourself to Shoot one Lens for a Week

A big part of making #4 work is knowing how to use your gear. I realized I would often carry multiple lenses as I didn’t know how to get a shot or the shot I wanted with the tools I had. I would feel like I was limited with a 50mm so I would want to make sure I had a 70-200mm if it was far away, and a 24-70mm in case I needed to zoom to capture what I needed, or maybe a 16-35mm in case I needed to capture it wide. I now shoot almost exclusively prime lenses. With my Leica M9 I shoot a 21mm f/1.4 Summilux, a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux and a 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux.


The reality is you can capture a great shot with probably any lens you have with you provided you understand how to use the gear you have.  What I mean by this is what shots work for a given lens. What angle or distance do you need to be at for this particular focal length to give you the perspective you want.  I was great at shooting my 50mm lens but I really struggle with my 35mm and had just purchased a 21mm and did not really understand how to get the most out of it. I forced myself into a lens rotation where I shot a single lens for a week. I’ll be honest, it was incredibly frustrating for me. At times I wanted to just switch to a different lens as it was impossible to get the shot I wanted or needed but after a few days it became much easier to get the shots I was looking for and soon I was able to pre-visualize the shots before I even lifted the camera to my eye.  Now I can walk the streets at ease with any of my prime lens and come home with a card full of shots that I am happy with.




6. Develop a Personal Style

There is no right or wrong with photography. Some people love flashes.  Others just shooting with their iPhones. Some love to photoshop their pictures for hours. Do what you love doing.  One thing shooting daily has helped me to do is develop a personal style of shooting. When I first started I was always watching people and trying to see if I could shoot like ‘them’. This was helpful to get me to learn to use my gear but once you know how to use your camera, you need to develop a style that is yours.  I don’t have a name for my style but I like a lot of selective focus and clean, natural pictures.  I do next to no post processing on the photos. The most I will do is clean up any dust spots, crop a little, or adjust exposure but for me photoshop on my Mac is to correct little imperfections but not for making pictures.
I like to use very narrow depth of fields to tell my stories. There are no hard and fast rules to what you can and can’t do, should or shouldn’t do. Learn the basics and then decide how you choose to apply them.


I love to use a narrow depth of field and throw primary colors out of focus.


I’ve learnt to love photographing people once I got over the initial fear of asking people if I can take their photo.


I love combining shallow depth of field with lots of contrast like in this picture of ‘Dark Shibuya’…


7. Shoot out of Airplane Windows

I have never been one of those people who shoot out of airplane windows. I have flown probably close to 1,000,000 miles in my career and can’t believe all of the subjects I have missed; Alaska, Mt Fuji, the slums of Mumbai, Chicago skyline, arrivals in Boston. This is something that I started doing this year and I have been so pleased with the results.


8. Try new Things

Try different types of photography as you are trying to learn what it is you like. I was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed photographing the moon, how easy it is and that I already had all of the things I needed.  If you want to learn how to photograph the moon, read THIS. (link to: http://shoottokyo.com/photograph-moon/ )


I also developed a love for HDR. This is the only time I am using software to modify my images. HDR can easily be overdone so I need to be careful but I found I really enjoyed it. My inaugural post on Shoot Tokyo was on HDR. You can read it HERE.


Panning is a great way to bring motion and movement to your photos to make them come alive.  If you don’t know how, read THIS.


9. Shoot at Night

I do the majority of my shooting at night. I am surprised how many people stop shooting when the sun goes down. What you need is a tripod, a low ISO and some practice. There is so much to photograph when the sun goes down.

Like light trails…


Evening construction sites…




10. Backup Everything

I can’t stress this point enough.  I had a serious run of bad luck with Macs last winter and this spring.  I actually had 5 complete hard drives failures on my Mac(s).  Each time I was able to get Apple to do a complete replacement of my machine but it kept happening.  They were never able to root cause the problem but I am running safe and sound on a Mac outfitted with Solid State Flash Drives. I am very paranoid by nature so I was fortunate enough not to lose a single photograph throughout these issues. This experience just reinforced what I already know; backup everything, often and to multiple locations. I have friends and know fellow photographers that have lost their hard drives without backup.  I can’t imagine the feeling of losing all of my photos but I am do my best to ensure this never happens to me.


Currently I backup using Apple’s Time Machine to Western Digital drives connected with FireWire. I do this as I travel often and the backup drive comes with me. A lot of people stop backups while traveling is when you can run into an issue such as losing a drive, downloading a virus, or having a laptop stolen. When I pull the data off cards and onto my Mac it is backed up before I delete the data off of the cards. I also have several additional drives that I rotate copying my entire ‘pictures’ folder to once a month as an additional backup.

I hope you found this useful!

Dave Powell is a blogger and photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. He writes Shoot Tokyo photography blog. You can see more of his work at www.shoottokyo.com or follow him on Twitter and Google +.

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