There’s an old saying among photojournalists– f/8 and be there. Sometimes the technical details of a photograph really matter, and sometimes they don’t. Perfect technique won’t help you if you don’t have your camera ready to go when the moment happens.
As you may have heard, the Olympic torch made an appearance in San Francisco today. In fact, it was scheduled to pass just a block from my office. I normally just hop in the car and drive to work, but I was worried that parking would be expensive and the neighborhood would be a zoo, so I opted for public transit. I took the ferry across the bay to San Francisco (and snapped some fun pictures, but accidentally erased them… I don’t function well in the morning), and encountered lots of protesters near the ferry building.
I knew this was likely, so I already had the camera ready to go. In particular, I put the camera in aperture priority mode, set the aperture to f/8, picked a lens that I was happy with, and made sure that autofocus and image stabilization were turned on. f/8 is the perfect middle-of-the-road aperture, since it will give you enough depth of field to compensate for minor focus mistakes, and will let in enough light to get decent shutter speed in daylight. I also put the camera in multiple shot mode, so that if something was changing quickly I could just hold down the shutter button and hopefully get one of the shots timed perfectly.
Later in the day, I increased the ISO to 400– I was shooting a lot of stuff that was in shadows, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of latitude in my shutter speed.
(I made one mistake in camera settings, but I was able to work around it OK. Can you spot what it was? It’s hiding in the photo’s exif data.)
By spending a little bit of time up-front thinking about how I would be shooting, I was able to just forget about the mechanics of the camera and pay attention to what I wanted to shoot. The picture above is one that I almost got right, but not quite… if only the bloody video guy hadn’t walked in front of me just as I pressed the shutter button. Still, if I didn’t tell you that you might think he was another protester, and I’d almost be off the hook.
When shooting fast is really important, think about your camera settings in advance and figure out what you need in order to be able to forget about them. In typical broad daylight shots, that’s probably aperture priority mode and f/8.