Monday, June 30, 2014

24 Shots- A Roll of Practice

Today's exercise is about getting back to basics. Of late I'm on a big 35mm film kick but of course I'm still shooting digital like most people. In between rolls of film I like to keep my skills and awareness sharp for the use of film, because I get lazy shooting with digital (as many of us do. admit it). When shooting with film, you just naturally tend to concentrate a lot more on the subject matter, composition, and exposure than you need too with digital- yet the result is unusually high keeper rates as a matter of practicing good habits. Practicing inbetween rolls of film is easy to do with digital. If you use a DSLR try this simple technique.

  • Turn off Jpegs and shoot raw only (so you can develop your images), and set your camera to eliminate any post shot automatic preview on your camera. Set your LCD to off and use only your viewfinder and external controls your settings. If you want to go one step further, switch off auto focus and rely on your viewfinder for manual focusing (I personally insist you do, as you take more time with your shots and pay attention to your backgrounds more).
  • Pick 24 different subjects to shoot, using whatever settings you'd like, and in whatever lighting conditions you'd like. Remember however, you're going to pick one ISO setting and leave it! No changing 'film' between shots. After you are done shooting all 24 exposures remember the golden rule, a rule you cannot break!
  • Resist any temptation to hit your playback button, and do not delete a single photograph.

Since I'm suggesting this technique to you, I went ahead and made 24 exposures for this article on a clean (formatted) SD card. I picked up an old 6mp DSLR (Pentax istD S2), made all of the above settings, and decided before hand that I was going to shoot a roll of "b/w", and 24 exposures only. This means that each shot below I desaturated all color when I developed the raw files, and finished them up one by one. I decided to shoot all 24 subjects indoors, with mostly dim lighting, thus using a single higher ISO setting for all shots (3200 ISO).

When you start shooting you realize that you only have 24 shots and you don't want to waste a single one. Instantly you end up taking more time for each shot and thinking each shot through better. By the 24th shot you're shooting faster, more accurately, and more confidently with each than when you started. Also, you learn to be a bit creative finding new subjects to photograph with each frame. If you practice this exercise once a week you'll not only be a better and quicker and more decisive film shooter, but you'll just be a better photographer overall.

Note that for this exercise, the Pentax istD S2 does not have vibration compensation of any kind, so I had to remember to be still and to account for shutter vibration (i.e. shooting with the camera more steady against my forehead and with higher shutter speeds).

The results of this exercise are below.  None will win any Pulitzer's, but I did pretty good in such an empty space, at least technically speaking. I did not crop any of the 14 exposures so that my composition decisions would be evident. For the curious, I only desaturated the files and adjusted exposure/contrast/sharpness/etc. in Adobe ACR, and resized the files for web display.

Enjoy the exercise if you so choose to try it. Please share what you learned personally, our experiences will vary!


Each of the photographs were shot in the following sequence to retain the integrity of this exercise, the first to the twenty fourth exposure are in order below.

Shot 24, a 12 second timer mirror shot of the test bed.

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