Pre-Shooting Rituals: Tips on How to Prep for Shooting

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One eye in the viewfinder, one hand cupping the lens, breathe in and at the top of the breath release the shutter. It's a mantra that was taught to me when I first started shooting. Before getting to that point, there needed to be preparation done beforehand. These pre-shooting rituals are performed by many photographers that need to either get a serious shoot done, or just want to improve themselves. Here are a couple of rituals to experiment with before you release the shutter.

Meditate

Meditation can help many people clear their minds and focus more on the task at hand. Whether you're trying to improve yourself or you've got a big game to shoot, it is important to concentrate on what you're doing. Back in college, my photojournalism mentor used to threaten the class every day with failure (and sometimes he even carried through) and said that if we didn't concentrate on nailing all the elements in a photojournalism story, we'd be yelled at by future editors and we could potentially be fired.

Eventually the human need to pass a class—and the adrenaline—kick in, combined with the need to do better and improve, since you're paying thousands of dollars in tuition money. Meditation, clearing your head, and focusing on accomplishment are what will help every photographer out there.

Go Over the Intended Goals

There is nothing wrong with shooting just for fun—but in order to improve, you should have something that you're trying to accomplish. It can be something as small as trying to ensure that there is no camera shake in your images. Or, it could be something as big as trying to figure out how best to light subjects for a graduation portrait. Accomplishing these goals, once again, depends on your maintaining a clear head.

One of the keys to creating better photos is self-motivation, combined with trying to work on self-improvement.

I knew a photography student that was praised for his composition skills by his teachers. Then, one day he bought a new lens and focused, instead, on creating photos with gorgeous bokeh, by shooting only wide open. Because of his newfound fascination he lost his composition skills, until one day someone told him to stop the lens down a bit and work on his composition skills again. This way, he was able to maintain the balance between that creamy bokeh goodness—getting his subject sharply in focus—and regaining his composition skills.

If he didn't set the goal of regaining his skill to compose, and to push himself away from the 'bokeh effect,' his previously-gained skills would have been lost.

Check Your Gear

One of the worst things that can happen before shooting is discovering that you've got a very dirty sensor. What this means is that you'll have to spend a lot more time in the post-process stage to edit out those pesky problems. Alternatively, you could clean your sensor—if you're brave enough—or can pay someone to do it. Many people choose not to do it themselves, out of the very real fear of damaging it.

Besides the heart of your camera, there could be loads of other problems that could arise: your pop-up flash may not work, your memory card could be be experiencing errors, your lens may not zoom in and out anymore, or it may not be as sharp as it used to be. More obviously, your batteries may almost be dead. Make sure your batteries are fully charged, because the last thing you want is for your battery to die when you've got plans on shooting your kid's winning goal in soccer.

Search For Extra Inspiration and New Ideas

A fresh idea is usually appreciated in one way or another. It can be as simple as a new angle of view, different shooting perspective, an extra light, etc. Keeping your ideas fresh can usually help to ensure that your portfolio won't seem like you're reading War and Peace. Sometimes a client will want a specific look, in which case this should be discussed before hand. However, if you're shooting for yourself, your only limitation is yourself. Why not shoot street photography without looking through the viewfinder and seeing what you get?

Art students will probably make the most use of this in their photographic journey, but that's not to say that anyone can't benefit from it.

A great way to search for new ideas is by browsing Flickr and looking at the work of the great photographers. For my work, I tend to look at the work of Magnum Photographers, Chase Jarvis, and loads of others. Jeff Ascough is an excellent wedding photographer to learn from.

Prep for The Unexpected

Some may call it paranoia, but it is always a good idea to be ready for a problem, just in case matters get out of hand. When I first started out in photography, I used to be butterfingers, and dropped lenses every now and again. To compensate, I always had another lens with me (though of a different focal length) ready to use.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and preach to you all the marketing pitches that ADT and other alarm companies will tell you in order to buy their product. I will tell you to be cautious, and it doesn't hurt to have a bit of a backup plan.

What rituals do you do to prepare for shooting? Do you do any of these? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

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I do a quick equipment check, and think about shots I want to get, nothing too intricate

When I get ready to shooy, batteries have been checked before the gear went into the bag and left the house, right lenses for the shoot (you don't need to take everything you own, eventually you will know what you shoot when - stuff that stays in the bag is excess weight). If you number your rolls, I put the little stickies near where the new film rolls are coming from , and where the old shot rolls get dumped. I'll set up a dozen or so rolls I plan to shoot and have them out. Changing film with the new film cameras is a snap, and I use the auto rewind, much faster, camera is rewinding while you're getting a new roll, or a new body is already up. Same idea with digital. Have new cards somewhere easy to get to.

Lenses are cleaned before the shoot. Best, clean them afterwards. Always check your gear when you're through. Something sound funny, low battery light? Filters too. Shake the dirt out of your bag and better yet, borrow the vaccuum from the wife.

When you're shooting, shoot. Hold it steady and comfortable. Hand on camera other hand supporting the lens, arms in tight. I hold my breath when shooting. Composition ok, in the lens? Not crooked? No funny trees out the top of the head?

Flash if you need it is on the camera, remember what you need is done BEFORE you shoot.

And I don't believe in bokeh. Sorry. Goofy tech wanna be talk for gear heads who buy stuff rather than shoot.

Some good points in the comment above...but 'borrow the vacuum from the wife'? Is that what wive's do? Vacuum? 

I must have missed the memo. ;-)

I shoot in the American south, Alabama to be specific. When I'm traveling during the summer months (down here it's simi-tropical) with heat and humidity, it's very important to "warm-up" your lens. Large glass will retain the Cool and lower humidity of your hotel room. If not warmed, the water will "fog" your lens when you start to shoot. Not good, unless you're looking for a very heavy diffused image <g>.  So, I'll start the day using a hotel hairdyer lightly warming all my glass. Don't let anyone see you do this, they'll think you're nuts.

I shoot in the American south, Alabama to be specific. When I'm traveling during the summer months (down here it's simi-tropical) with heat and humidity, it's very important to "warm-up" your lens. Large glass will retain the Cool and lower humidity of your hotel room. If not warmed, the water will "fog" your lens when you start to shoot. Not good, unless you're looking for a very heavy diffused image <g>.  So, I'll start the day using a hotel hairdyer lightly warming all my glass. Don't let anyone see you do this, they'll think you're nuts.