Trying too hard? The long road to Pro part 3. - dradd's photography

It's been a long while since I last wrote a blog about my journey towards turning professional, but I can safely say I've been concentrating on taking photographs rather than writing.

And that's the problem... let me explain.

The year started off well with me attending courses with some top flight wildlife photographers. There was a significant investment in kit, and despite plans to photograph specific wildlife subjects needing to change, I was making a lot of headway and really feeling as if I was advancing my skills.

Then it all started to change.

As we moved into autumn my focus changed to returning to my usual haunts where I've been quite successful in photographing deer over the past couple of years. I had high hopes for this year given the new kit and knowledge I was confident of getting some really good shots.

Sadly the deer had other ideas. In short, they weren't where they've usually been.

This caused a mild feeling of panic as I only had a limited time frame to capture the rut, and all of a sudden my pool of subject matter were no longer there. Coupled with the fact I only had limited time off work to capture these shots, I was feeling pressured.

I took to researching other locations and tapped up a few local photographers who had successfully photographed deer around that area. Some were forthcoming and gave me some location ideas, while others were less helpful (some might say rude, but that's another story).

I tried some new locations whilst keeping an eye on my old haunts. Success was slight and not at all the results I had hoped for.

I started to put myself under pressure. All of a sudden any free time (basically time when I wasn't in work) became precious, and was an opportunity to try again to capture photographs of deer. It got to the stage where one day I must have walked for miles around one location in the New Forest and not really taken in the autumnal landscape around me as I was so focussed on my goal.

True, I got some halfway decent shots, but these photographs were not up to my usual standard or up to the standard of the kit I was using. The shot of the fallow deer below is a prime example: the composition is less than ideal and the camera was on Auto ISO leading to a lot of noise that had to be corrected post processing. Thankfully the camera's technical ability to work in poor conditions saved the shot, but I shouldn't be relying so heavily on the technical ability of the kit - I should be using my own skills.


Believe it or not, this was shot at ISO 25,600. Due to the poor light and desire to get the shot, I set the 1DX II to 'Auto ISO'.

Something wasn't right. Something was missing.

My obsession with getting some decent photographs got to the stage when even when I couldn't actually get out I was obsessing about getting decent shots of the vast array of birds that visit our garden using my remote camera traps and rig. Strangely this wasn't yielding any decent results either. My success rate at getting interesting shots seemed to drop off significantly. It was almost soul destroying.

  • Poorly set up camera resulted in incorrect focussing and missing the action as it happened meaning the shutter was triggered too late.

  • Instead of manual focussing the camera when setting up the scene, I selected AF on the centre of the red seed tray. Sadly this resulted in blurry subject matter if the birds weren't in the centre of the shot, but superbly focussed backgrounds.

I had to take stock and understand why it wasn't coming together, and why, despite so much investment (both in terms of time and money) I wasn't 'nailing' any shots.

Then it hit me. My obsession was making me careless, and reckless. It was a colleague at work who said to me after I'd described another disappointing weekend of looking for deer to photograph that I was trying too hard.

He was right. The obsessive drive I had to justify the investment in photography this year was blinding me to some of the basic photographic rules, and making me lazy. For example, while I shoot in Manual mode, I'd taken to switching the camera to auto ISO. This had lead to some good compositions ruined by too much noise. I'd stopped thinking about suitable metering modes too. Rather then taking time to think about the shot (like I used to do) it became all about 'capturing the shot' rather than thinking about HOW I was going to capture the shot. I wasn't thinking about composition properly, I was ignoring backgrounds and separation of subject from surroundings. I wasn't thinking about the ISO/shutter/aperture triangle and boy did it show! If anything I was letting the camera pick up my slack, and I started to rely on post-processing to correct the shots I did get.

This was wrong as at one stage earlier this year my post processing flow had become pretty quick due to me getting the shots (mostly) right in camera.

Time to take a step back and reflect. Time to stop trying to do so many things at once and just concentrate on one thing at a time, and getting that one thing right.

So what drove me to that level of obsession?

I guess it's knowing that I can take some fairly decent photographs. It's favourable comments from people about the quality of my photographs cementing in my mind that I can do this, and I can do it well. Getting sketchy results made me nervous so I panicked and forced myself to try harder, and in doing so I made mistakes. I took my eye off the ball as it were. However the day I'm typing this I had the news that my photographic skills are required for work in the shape of following our executive leadership team around and photographing one of their off site events because they like my work and the photographs I took for some of our company sponsored events this year (Great Run Newham, Great Run Aberdeen, Great South Run) . Okay, it's not wildlife photography, but again its confirmation that my work is valued.

It was also the investment in not only kit but time spent on courses with some renowned professional photographers, and I guess I'm looking for a return on that investment in the shape of photographs of a quality that is above anything that I've taken before. I haven't given myself the time to let things bed in, to take the time to learn how to get the best from the new kit. I've not applied all I've learnt when I go out on a shoot. I've not given myself the bandwidth to think and prepare properly for a shoot.

So what now?

Well, as you might have noticed in reading this, I seem to have identified what was wrong and what caused it. Now I just need to address it. I need to concentrate on doing one thing well and stop trying to rush my shots and photo shoots. This has been a wake up call, and in reflection I'll put it down as part of the experience on this journey.

Watch this space for improvements happening quite soon.

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