A Rookie Pro's Wish List
Text & Photographs By Lawrence Gard  © All rights reserved.

As a rookie professional nature photographer who ends up throwing away at least 99% of the images I shoot, there are a lot of things I wish for. For example, considering all the great automated features of SLR cameras, I wish someone would invent an SLR that would beep or buzz or even chime when I achieved the very best Lawrence Gard Photography  Lawrence Gard composition in the frame. Maybe there could even be a recorded vocal alert that would say: "Warning! Composing the frame requires more thought than just choosing a subject!"
And there are too many times when I get so excited about the photographic possibilities of a particular subject that I forget to adjust my circular polarizer, or to turn off the flash, or to clean the lens, or any number of other small and necessary tasks. So, I wish there could be a camera with a "Turn On Your Brain Alert." Maybe such a thing would flash one or all of the following messages in the viewfinder: "Calm down! Adjust your equipment! Take time to think!" Over the last several years, I've been learning the hard way that good photographers must not only compose their photographs, they must also compose themselves.
And, finally, I wish someone would invent an SLR that would absolutely guarantee, without doubt or hesitation of any kind, the very best exposure settings. It's not that I'm always disappointed with what my SLR automatically chooses. But many times, the camera's choice for exposure settings doesn't at all achieve the effect that I'm after. And sometimes the camera itself can be fooled under certain conditions, resulting in a photograph that is entirely unsuitable from even the most basic standpoint.
Of course, it's not likely that anyone is going to invent a magic camera that satisfies my wish list. So, whenever I'm out in the field attempting to add to my inventory of satisfactory photographs, I try my best to remember the following:
1) When it comes to composition, centering a subject in the frame is often the wrong choice. Consider the Rule of Thirds, but also consider breaking it if you feel strongly enough about a different strategy. Don't let the frame fill with unnecessary clutter. Contrast in lighting and/or color can be used to advantage, as well as choosing an effective high or low angle to accentuate and complement your subject. Give thought to depth of field as well as to the possibility that you might have space being wasted in the frame.
2) As far as maintaining my own composition goes, I try first to keep my equipment well organized. I still need to invest in a good photographer's vest. In the meantime, I use a fisherman's vest to store and carry my various components in the field. One pocket is for unexposed film, another for exposed film. I use separate pockets for filters, an extra lens, a lens cleaning pen, my camera's remote control, etc. As there is always some hiking involved, I use a sling to carry my tripod on my back, and my high quality camera straps ensure safety in carrying one or two SLR's. I also take water with me and a few high protein bars so that I can both hydrate and nourish myself along the way. And finally, maintaining mental focus, a relaxed physical state and a positive attitude are all extremely important. Taking time to breathe, observing the beauty of nature and truly enjoying yourself are each essential components of a successful session in the field. Doing so promotes clear thinking and attention to detail when preparing to shoot that once-in-a-lifetime subject.
3. Bracketing, or taking a number of photographs of your subject in progressive increments of a half-stop both above and below what your SLR camera tells you is the correctly metered exposure, will help ensure you of obtaining the very best result. Many times, I have used up half a roll of film on one composed subject, with each photograph taken at a slightly different exposure, in order to achieve a single photograph that is worth keeping. My Canon digital offers auto-bracketing, which is a great feature provided by many newer digital SLR cameras.
Of course, nothing will ever absolutely ensure your satisfaction with the final result. But take it from this rookie who continues to keep learning the hard way: doing all of the above will help you get rid of your wish list and achieve better results, overall!

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