Over the next week we’ll be featuring a mini-series of posts from Rachel Devine (author of our new Natural Light Photography eBook and our kids photography eBook) in which she’ll be talking about five reasons learning photography on film cameras made her the digital photographer that she is today.
Here’s today’s on Busting the Burst Mode Myth.
There are a few things I hear as top advice for budding children’s photographers and parents who want to take better photos of their children. I think that setting the camera to burst mode and holding the shutter down while taking photos is the one I hear most often and makes me cringe hardest. Called the “spray and pray” method, lots of digital photographers rely on taking hundreds of images (I have actually heard of thousands of frames shot for one portrait session) at a sitting to get a handful of good shots.
When keen new photographers ask for advice on how to get better photos of kids (their own or for a client) and are told, “It is digital, it will not cost you anything, just put the camera in burst mode and take as many as you can and you are bound to get a good one in there” they are being fed bad advice…or rather non-advice.
I started my photography career on film 16 years ago and when I did, those who swear by the spray and pray method may be shocked to learn that there were lots of other kid and family photographers who had to get the entire session worth of images for their clients on just a few rolls of film. And they did…every time.
Here is why shooting in burst mode not best for everyone and what I think is better advice for those really wanting to get better at taking photos of kids.
Burst Mode does actually cost something
Time:: It takes time on your end to weed through those hundreds of resulting shots. Culling images is a time sucking and soul zapping process where you will be tied to your computer for hours sorting, comparing and slitting hairs. It may be fun the first few times you go through your images, but it will wear on you over time and if you get into the habit of having to shoot this way, you will also have to allow time for sorting and editing all of those images.
Not learning to see:: If you do have to resort to shooting in burst mode, then things really are on auto. Burst mode does not allow for the photographer to make changes to the image and exposure settings while they are taking the shots. With single images taken thoughtfully, the photographer can fine tune the exposure settings and compose carefully. Learn to recognize what makes a great image and then set out to purposefully shoot that.
Missing Details:: When the camera is set to burst mode, the focus is on quantity and quality tends to take a back seat.
People tend to forget to scan the shot for details and end up with an entire series of cute expressions on a child who seemingly has a tree growing out of the top of their head.
That photographer can now tack extra time onto their post processing routine to edit that sucker out. I have seen tags left on clothes, dirty faces, cars parked prominently in the background. Things get missed easily in the rapid fire fury.
Connection with the subject:: Finally, I have heard an argument in favor of burst mode that it helps avoid missing any special moments. Really, the wham-bam-thank you ma’am approach to photography may seem like a good idea for kids because they are fast and have short attention spans, but getting them involved in the whole experience is so much more enriching for both photographer and subject.
These are not wild animals on safari, but tiny human beings who can and should bring personality to the table when they are active participants in your sessions, not just being shot at. This is especially true for people who enjoy documenting their own children over and over again. Slow down, take a moment to breathe, observe and photograph and then breathe again…it is then when you will not only be photographing the special moments, but also participating in them.
If that all does not speak to you, let’s talk cash…
Shutter actuations:: Your camera does have a shelf life and it really is not determined by when the latest and greatest new model is released, but more by how many times the shutter has actually clicked. While the total end number can vary by camera model and may seem really quite high, it will be reached faster if you are taking hundreds of images each time you go to use your camera.
Where burst mode does come in handy
Shooting big group portraits :: Great for getting extra shots of the same scene (especially when mounted on a tripod) where you may need to do a head swap because someone closed their eyes.
Sports :: That is pretty much why it is called Sports Mode
Portraits with a point and shoot camera :: The shutter lag present in point and shoot cameras (the time it takes the camera to actually capture the shot from when you press the shutter button is called shutter lag and is very apparent in point and shoot cameras) can cause you to miss the moment even when you are shooting carefully and are ready for it. Setting the little compact cameras to sports mode can help overcome this technical hurdle.
Back in the days of film, we were limited by budget as we had to pay cash money for the film and processing. That made it necessary to shoot mindfully. We ended up with more images that we loved and fewer wasted frames. Today with digital, the costs are hidden, but there are still costs. Take the time to set up the sessions, meter the light, compose and be present while you are photographing your little subjects. Practice shooting digital with the discipline of film. You just may find that you enjoy the act of photographing kids even more than you thought possible.
For more on the topic of Kids Photogrpahy – Check out Rachel’s eBook Click! How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Kids. Also check out her brand new Life in Natural Light eBook (which currently comes with some great bonsuses for early birds).