Shoot First and Ask Questions Later?
Hold down the shutter release button, and some cameras sound almost like a machine gun. You can take a lot of pictures without much thought at all. So when in doubt, should you shoot first, or give it some thought beforehand? Hurry, that shot may not wait for you to make up your mind.
It can be tempting to snap an image when you spot something of interest. You're there, it's there, why not? Sometimes, this might be your only viable option. If your prey is moving quickly or the situation is changing rapidly, taking too long to shoot could jeopardize getting the shot at all. Other times, when your subject is more cooperative, you could have at several minutes or more to consider possibilities before deciding on the best way to approach things.
And then there's the question of whether it makes more sense to spend time on your composition in advance of shooting, before pressing the shutter release, or to rely on your digital editing skills to fix any issues after the fact once the heat of the moment has passed. Not that you are limited to one approach or the other, but it is interesting to consider which makes more sense as your default strategy for getting good images.
These are the type of questions that have no universal "right" and "wrong" answers, but they are important questions nonetheless. And they are considerations that too often I find photographers not paying enough attention to. So I figured it was high time we tackle the subject here.
Good composition has a lot to do with seeing. But do you actively try to find a good composition before the fact, or do you rely on recognizing good composition after the fact when reviewing your haul of images for the day? The difference is somewhat akin to being a painter as opposed to being an art lover and connoisseur of the arts. But there is a key difference. Cameras can only capture what is there, when it is there. Painters can rely on memory or imagination to render their vision even once the present moment has moved on without it. We photographers have to do the best we can with each successive moment of the present. Fail to get the shot, and you will have truly missed an opportunity, perhaps never to be repeated.
For most of us, there's an element of both approaches in our workflow. There once was a time when the typical photographer shot no more than a handful of images on a given day. Most of us today can easily add at least a hundred shots to a memory card without any fear of exhausting our resources or capacity. We're more likely to run out of battery power (our cameras or ourselves) before we run out of memory card space these days. If the mood strikes you, fire away, it would seem.
Most of us therefore shoot at least some variations on each subject we deem worthy of spending time on and shooting at all. If you take just one shot, something could happen to spoil it. Taking more than one is a form of insurance against an unforeseen gust of wind or other surprise. Long gone are the days when the countdown to the end of a roll of film caused photographers angst, being forced to choose between saving frames for future shots and using some of them up to safeguard against disappointment.
But do you move around and explore similar, but different vantage points and settings? Once you've shot a subject from the front, what about framing it from the side? From above, or from down low, near the ground? Varying the position within the frame, or how much room is left around your subject by zooming in or out? If you rely too much on reviewing your haul of images after the fact to separate the keepers from the less successful shots, you'll still potentially face disappointment if all those shots have too much in common with each other. Even if your subject is on the move, it's a good idea to maximize your coverage to the extent possible. This can be easy to forget in the heat of the moment, but it matters, and you may not realize that until it's too late.
So, whether you pause to think things through when you are on location or not is up to you and the specifics of the situation and subject you find yourself faced with. But regardless, it can be helpful to consider such issues well in advance, before you ever load up with camera gear and head out to shoot. No matter what type of subject matter you are hunting for, the time to start thinking about how to approach the task is now. As with many things in photography, there's no time like the present.