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I am a hunter. My prey, however, does not scurry through the woods, fly through the sky or swim in the streams. My trophies are instead moments, which I stalk, camera at the ready. When the time is right, the target is placed squarely in my sights. Click.
I’m constantly on the hunt for that fraction-of-a-second gesture, facial expression or scene that takes an ordinary photograph to the next level. Hunting can be tiring and a little like war, in that there are long periods of boredom interspersed with brief moments of excitement. But those moments of excitement and the superior images they provide are well worth this mental approach to photography.
When I first began the journey of documenting my children’s lives, my methods for doing so were ineffective. Whether the scene was ‘created’ for the purpose of the photograph, or I caught my children in a natural setting, I would go after the end-result with a rapid-fire intensity, hoping one of the many images captured would result in success. Sometimes I would get lucky and catch the optimal moment with one of my stray shots. Other times, I would realize immediately before, or after, I’d pressed the shutter that the best frame had evaded capture. What an awful feeling it is to have your prize slip through your fingers, never to be seen again.
I would also try to control my subjects, in the hope they would appeal to reason and take requests from the man behind the camera. Sensing dad’s genuine desire to capture the moment, the little darlings would naturally do everything in their power to ensure I was unsuccessful.
Over time, my approach to photography evolved. Instead of aggressively spraying bullets into the woods, I now calmly sit back and monitor the scene. Rather than attempting to control the scene and my subjects, I now try to take the best photos the situation will naturally allow, without my overt intervention.
The first rule of photograph hunting is to know your subject. My subjects are two energy-filled kids, interested in anything but sitting stationary and smiling for dad. They have other things on their to-do lists and, if I ever hope to make decent photographs, my approach has to be the yin to their yang. If they are constantly moving and unpredictable, I have to be patient and watchful. If they refuse to pose, I have to fabricate poses using their natural movements and expressions. Essentially, I have to become a hunter, constantly focused on the situation.
Getting used to this alternative strategy may take time, but the transition can be relatively pleasant. Eventually, you won’t get as frustrated when that perfect moment slips away. But more importantly, because you’re strategically lying in wait for the right moment, fewer moments will slip by you in the first place. The days of rapid-fire documentation will gone, which means lower quantity, but higher quality. This reduction in the number of images produced has secondary benefits, in terms of processing time and data storage. Simply grab your camera, get into position, and wait patiently with the camera to your eye for that special moment when the stars align and the shutter goes click.
Become the wallpaper, so as to not influence your subjects’ movements and actions. You want them to be immersed in their own little worlds, as once they become aware of your presence and intentions, the entire situation can quickly unravel. Remaining an observer of the scene, as opposed to a participant within it, results in a more relaxed shooting environment, which fosters superior results.
Know your camera and know the basics of photography so that you can quickly adapt to new light, positions and situations – without having to take the camera down from your eye. Too often, you will find that it is during those few seconds when you are not ready to take a photo, that the best photo opportunity will come and go.
Always maintain your mental focus. If you’re personally invested in the opportunity, and if the chance for a trophy photo exists, be ready. It’s amazing that such fleeting moments, which last mere fractions of a second, can have such long-term impact when viewed again and again. Stay focused on the subject so that when that split-second gesture, facial expression or scene presents itself, you’re there ready to capture it.
Take fewer shots, with more precise aim. Put down the fully automatic in exchange for a nice, simple single-shot. Taking fewer photographs, that are each precisely timed and focused to hit the target, will result in more trophies hanging proudly on your wall, and will remove some of the post-process burden associated with sorting, editing and storing images.
Do you have any other tips for photography kids? Please share in the comments below, and show us your images as well.