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12 Ways To Never Miss A Photo Opportunity

The following post on 12 Ways To Never Miss A Photo Opportunity is by San Francisco based photographer Jim M. Goldstein. Learn more about him at the end of this post.

Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a great moment to photograph, but missing the opportunity to do so. I’ve missed my fair share of great moments either due to timing or worse lack of preparedness. Either way it’s no fun to miss a photo whatever the circumstances. The Art Of Being Prepared is just that, an art. So what can you do to minimize the chance you’ll miss that next great photo? Here are 12 ways to never miss a photo…

1. Have a camera bag that enables you to easily and quickly access your camera

lowepro-slingshot-100If you’re stuck with an overly complicated bag that takes too long to open or is organized in such a way that other gear is in the way of you getting to your camera quickly you’re guaranteed to miss that next great spontaneous photo. Look for bags that have quick access flaps and aren’t cumbersome to secure.

note from the editor: lately we’ve been using a Lowepro SlingShot 100 (pictured left) which enables you to quickly get your DSLR off your back by flipping it around.

2. Be sure to have not just (1) one fully charged battery but (2) two

It’s easy to loose track of how long you’ve been using one battery and if your battery status is 1/4 full what does that really mean? Is a 1/4 battery going to last 30 minutes or 20 photos? It’s tough to tell and you might not know it, but battery life is dependent on how cold it is. Yup that’s right cold batteries don’t last as long, but there is a way around that as I discuss in a recent photo outing “Los Angeles City Lights & Maximizing Your Battery Life“. The trick… warm up your battery to squeeze out a few extra photos. Certainly a good tip to know if you’re in a squeeze, but why play with fire when you can just plan ahead. Carry that second battery with you and never make an excuse to leave it behind. You won’t regret it.
Sea Nettle Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium photo by Jim M. Goldstein

3. Be sure to clean the front and rear elements of your lens to minimize spots (optionally cleaning your camera sensor)

Spots in your photos are first and foremost lost data. Data you can fill with a cloning or healing brush, but lost data none the less. Why miss out on the original when you can get it right the first time with a little forethought. Properly preparing your lenses and camera will enable you to get the photo right the first time reduce the time you spend post-processing and dealing with spotting your images.

4. Before heading out make sure you have CF cards in your camera that are empty or have lots of free space

Being conscious both of your available storage capacity and having easy access to more cards can make or break a photo outing. Getting in to the habit of downloading and clearing your cards after each outing will help ensure that you always have the maximum space available.

Wild Bobcat nature photo by Jim M. Goldstein

5. Pre-set your camera settings for the type of subject you’re aiming to photograph

You don’t have to be psychic, but over time you should know the camera settings that you feel most comfortable with or will need before a given photo shoot. Your settings don’t have to be exact but making sure you’re in the general range of what you’ll need so you can quickly adjust to the right ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc. settings is key. Nothing is worse than realizing that you’re shooting at ISO 1600 in bright daylight introducing more digital noise than would be preferred or having too low of an ISO set in low light conditions resulting in too long of an exposure blurring your subject. One thing I’ve learned to get into the habit of doing is putting my camera away at the end of the day with the same camera settings. This repetition has enabled me to routinely adjust from a common baseline for every photo outing. As a result of doing this I’ve since trained myself to think about my settings before and after heading out with my gear.

6. If you have a camera with image stabilization or vibration reduction set your lens appropriately for the subject

For those that have the luxury of using a lens with IS or VR be sure you have this function set appropriately for your subject. If you’re doing a lot of hand holding while photographing your subject or working in low light be sure this feature is on. If you’re using a longer focal length and have your camera mounted to a tripod be sure this feature is disabled. The end result in both of these situations will be sharper photos.

7. Have needed filters on your lens or take filters off your lens as necessary before heading out.

If you’re fumbling for filters when you should be focusing on your subject you’ll increase the likelihood of missing photo opportunities. Know your subject and know what you’ll need beforehand. If you’re in the mood to experiment preload filters on your lens and remove them as need be. It’s almost always faster to remove a filter than to fumble clumsily putting one on.

8. It may sound obvious but take off your lens cap.

I’m man enough to admit I’ve left my lens cap on more than once while trying to capture a fleeting moment. The habit I’ve developed to avoid this is to take off my lens cap as soon as my camera comes out of my camera bag. If I’m concerned about the safety of my lens I’ll keep it on, but with my hand cupped on the cap attached to the front element of the lens. As soon as I decide to use my camera my hand comes off the lens with the lens cap in hand.

Mmmm! Cake photo by Jim M. Goldstein

9. Head out with a notion of what you’d like to photograph and how, but always keep your eyes open for new subjects and the unexpected

Priming your minds eye to what you want to photograph is often helpful, but it can also be a distraction. If you lock on to a preconceived notion of what you want to photograph too intensely you’re apt to miss other great opportunities that are right under your nose. Have a notion of what you’d like to photograph, but keep your eyes and mind open.

10. Have your camera on and your hand on your camera bag

Keeping your camera on ensures that you won’t have to wait those extra seconds for your camera to start up when a photographic opportunity arises. If you’re in need of protection and have your camera in a camera bag keep your hand on your camera or near it so you can retrieve it at a moments notice. Those seconds add up and can make the difference between getting the photo you want and missing it.

11. Stay focused

Whether you’re out looking for the spontaneous or waiting out an inevitable moment worthy of capturing keep focused. Murphy’s Law would have it that the moment you take your eye off of your subject, is the moment your subject does exactly what you wanted to photograph. In my book this is by far one of the most frustrating things to experience.

12. Don’t Chimp

Chimping is when a photographer “Oohs” and “Aaah” while looking at images on their LCD screen. If you’re photographing something don’t get caught up in the self-gratification of reviewing your photos. Check to make sure your settings are ok, but keep your eye on your subject and remember #11.

There’s no guarantee by following these recommendations that you’ll capture every fast moving photo opportunity, but it will likely increase your odds of doing so.

This post was written by Jim M. Goldstein. Jim’s landscape, nature, travel and photojournalism photography is featured on his web site JMG-Galleries.com, and blog. In addition Jim’s podcast “EXIF and Beyond” features photographer interviews and chronicles the creation of some of his images.

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Jim Goldstein
Jim Goldstein

is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

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