A Reason to Pause: Last Thoughts Before Clicking the Shutter


This would have been a missed opportunity if I had pressed the shutter too soon.

When you click the shutter button, do you ever pause for a moment and ask yourself if you’re absolutely sure you want to press that button now?  You should.  Each and every photo that you take – whether or not it ends up in your portfolio – should be the result of careful consideration.  Sometimes, that last thought before clicking the shutter is what sets one image apart from another.

There are of course many reasons to pause before clicking the shutter.  For some, it’s a mental checklist:  Are the corners of the frame clear?  Is my aperture and shutter speed exactly the way I want them?  Is my subject framed properly?  There are dozens of questions one could ask.  It’s a little different for everyone.  For that matter, the last thoughts are often context sensitive.  A landscape or architecture photographer might have a bit more time to go through such a checklist.  They might spend several seconds or several minutes making sure everything is just right before clicking the shutter button.  Sports photographers don’t have as much time.  Perhaps their last thought is about a potential missed opportunity.  I think they are quickly calculating in their heads where the athlete might be next.  Maybe clicking the shutter now means that I won’t get the better shot one-tenth of a second from now.

I clicked the shutter a bit too soon.

I am not nearly as practiced at sports photography as the best guys out there, but I can share an example from my own experiences.  The photo at the top of the page is thanks to a reconsideration as the last thoughts ran through my head.  The event was a bike race, and there were thousands of people coming into the finish.  Many of them were couples, and many of them were holding hands or performing some sort of gesture to signify that they “did it together”.  In part, the success of this photo can be attributed to learning from my own mistakes.  Earlier in the day, I took a photo of another couple (shown at left), also holding hands.  Between waves of cyclists, I took a few moments to review my shots, and I decided I didn’t particularly like this one so much.  Neither cyclist was smiling, and the body language was less than confident.  I consider it a failed attempt (and you won’t see this photo outside of this article).  When I previewed the photo, I immediately remembered the circumstances, and I knew exactly why the photo failed.  I clicked the shutter a tiny bit too soon.  Just a fraction of a second after snapping this shot, the couple raised their joined hands (much like the photo at the top of the page) and they were both smiling.  Unfortunately, my camera was not fast enough to capture the gesture at just the right moment that it communicated well to the viewer.  Lesson learned.  So later that day, when another couple looked to be doing the same type of gesture, I paused.  I paused to see what they would do.  And as I tracked their path towards the finish line, their hands raised, and the woman let out a big grin.  Click.  I got my shot.

My point is that you won’t always get a second chance.  You might not even realize your failure until you’re back at your computer reviewing your session on the big screen.  Context matters, but there is always enough time to have at least one more thought before clicking that shutter button.  So make that thought matter…and get the photo you were really shooting for.

As I mentioned above, everyone has their own last thoughts before clicking the shutter button.  For most of us, it’s routine.  We would love to hear what your routine is and how it adapts to context.  If you have such a routine, please share it with our readers by adding a comment below.




About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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