Time moves with relative speed. Your time and mine. No worries, we are not going to study physics nor will we dig into Einstein’s theories about relativity. We are photographers trying to improve the workflow of your our photography.
For us the speed of time is a major factor worth to have a closer look at.
This post came up to my mind when traveling to a place called Latrabjarg in the Westfjords of Iceland where I simply wanted to see some Puffins. My intention was not really to take photos beyond a snapshot since I was in company and had decided some time off shooting.
The Puffin Mystery
During all of my trips to Iceland I had never seen any Puffins – to admit I hadn’t searched for. This time I went to several different places where Puffins should be, but when I came nobody was at home. Never. Over time this lead me to the assumption these funny looking birds might be a pure marketing invention, just existing in Photoshop but not in reality.
Well, the good news first: Puffins do exist. Proven with my own eyes – and a photo.
The plan – or: The No-Plan
We arrived at the cliffs of Latrabjarg and I grabbed my camera – just in case this time a Puffin would show up, not expecting success. As often when you not intend to shoot something interesting shows up.
After ten minutes climb a little Puffin waited (for me). Well, not a bad place for a quick snap, I thought. I separated the bird from the background but unfortunately on the left outside the frame other photographers prevented me from adding quite a bit more of the rocks, as I would have preferred for balance in composition. Nonetheless I laid down on the ground and took a first safe one.
Until the other photographers started to move out of my favored frame the Puffin had already left its outlook position. Since in company I gave myself not more than ten minutes to wait. How lucky, the Puffin returned and placed itself at the same spot as before – but unfortunately facing the cliffs now.
Wrong story. No shot.
I wanted the Puffin to face the sea. Then again the Puffin disappeared by walking off its platform and into a tiny cave in the cliff.
What would I usually do?
Well, the Puffin had proven to like the exact same spot for good view since it went there twice within few minutes. Then it left for hiding in the cliffs. How much would you bet that with patience you’ll have the puffin walk out the cave again, placing itself in the same favored spot, facing the sea? I’d go all in.
Therefore usually I would simply wait. Since it was breeding time with a bit of luck after leaving it would even return with fish in its bill. So I’d wait even longer.
Why am I bothering you with such a story? Because there is a lesson to learn, hopefully.
Relative Feel of Time
As mentioned I was not alone. I knew my company to be extremely patient with my photography and to wait however long it would take, even hours. And for a killer capture I might have taken advantage of it (though having bad feelings each minute out there, not really adding to my own patience).
“Take your time” she even said, encouraging me to stay longer. But I knew her time and my time would move on a totally different scale.
For me, comfortably lying in the grass in warm weather proof clothing, concentrated, watching the scene, waiting for a favored setup to show up, three hours can quickly fly by like nothing. They will feel like minutes.
But when you wait for something to happen, not being party of it, time seems to slow down to snail pace, minutes can feel like hours, especially when waiting in cold and stormy weather conditions as that day in Latrabjarg.
Knowing my company to have an awful time waiting I skipped the opportunity of getting the better picture and called it a day. Something I would have never ever done being out alone. I would have fought for the better capture to happen.
Therefore if you really want to shoot with patience always head out alone. I not even have photography friends join in for shooting because again our feel of time will move on a different scale.
Or looking at it from the opposite perspective. When being out with friends, a group, or your family, don’t even try to take your time for a capture. You will for sure bother your company because your feel of time moves very different than theirs. It’s not fair to make a group of friends or family suffer for your own passion.
The solution: Separate the time scales.
Why not take off one day or two in a month where you will go out for photography. Or a week a year will do it even better since you will need some time to regain the photography feel again. But head out totally alone. No family with you, no partner, no kids, no friends. That’s the time you can concentrate on photography without any limits.
During family trips for example make sure to have time set apart for heading out alone. Two hours a day, or one whole day in a week. Just you and your camera. The pictures you shoot in a couple of hours being out alone will most probably be better than most photos shot in a hurry with others waiting for you.
There is another setup where the relative speed of time matters in photography: shooting portraits, family pictures, or artists in their workshops, or any other place where subjects have to wait for you to get your shot done.
How does taking a standard family portrait during holidays usually look like? The family lines up directed by the ambitious photographer in the family. Nothing wrong up to here. But our photographer had cared so much about the composition that he forgot to do the camera settings.
So family is lined up now, starting to smile, awaiting the relieving “click”. The photographer takes a look through the viewfinder, moves the controls left and right like crazy, pushes buttons, fires a shot, takes a look at the display, obviously not satisfied, and says “wait, I’ll do another one”. The pic was somehow wrong exposed. But with an expensive DSLR the photographer’s hands family pics have to be well exposed, of course.
Another round. The lined up start to smile again, less natural already, and the photographer again works his way through the adjustments. The result: A well exposed photo with frozen smiles and the family fed up of posing. That’s not where you want to end up, right?
Setting up the camera takes just seconds in your mind, but believe me in reality it will be about half a minute up to a minute to get your settings done if not very experienced. For a person waiting to be photographed this minute will feel like lasting forever. Have you ever tried to smile naturally for a whole minute? Step in front of a mirror and try.
Even looking at your display for checking a capture will take ages for the one waiting to have taken the second capture. It’s not just the quick look you think it to be. Even if quick it will be five to ten seconds. Again, try to keep a natural smile for ten seconds. It’s a long time when waiting.
Same if you “quickly” shoot in an interesting handicraft or workshop place. The time you think to quickly do your camera settings will seem like ages for the artist working as well as for the other visitors waiting to pass from behind.
How to Solve
The solution is simple. Always prepare your camera first! Always.
Whenever you plan to shoot a portrait or when being in the way blocking others make sure to have your camera prepared before starting with composing the shot. Before asking for allowance to shoot and before lining up your family do your settings without pointing at your subjects, so they don’t care yet.
Once learned the lesson you will recognize to end up with much better family photos during travel. And sour subjects will be very grateful for not stressing their slower feel of time moving.