During my photographic adventures I have learnt quite a few things, most of which are probably common sense but didn’t seem to be to me at the time! The majority of these have been learnt whilst taking landscape photos but they may apply to other situations too. Here’s a list of my top what not to dos:
Wear inappropriate footwear.
When it’s a dewey morning and you know you’re probably going to have to walk across fields, don’t wear shoes that let water in. I have, in the past, got soaking wet feet all because I left my boots at home thinking that I’d be fine. Tip: pack spare socks.
Linked to the above, if the ground looks too muddy to walk through, find another way round. Many times I get lost in the moment, see something that looks interesting, and think to myself that that soft patch of mud between me and the interesting thing is just a little squealchy and not the mud equivalent of quicksand. Before I know it, I’m walking through 5 inch deep mud. This isn’t too bad as long as I haven’t listened to point 1. Recently, in November, I repeated this problem when taking the photo Bubbles and Bark. In the moment I just wanted to get the photo I saw and didn’t really worry that the ground ahead was very boggy. I was wearing boots and gaiters but my foot sank in to the ground by about a foot. I could feel the cold water running into my boots and thought to myself “I’m in the middle of nowhere and I could potentially get stuck here”…. Nevertheless I repeated this process at least two more times that day.
Walk straight up a difficult hill. When presented with a hill – and I don’t mean a straight hill here, I mean one with slippery mud, trees, leaves or other obstacles on it – don’t just walk straight up it without thinking through the most efficient route. In the excitement of the moment (and me being an Aries) I tend to impatiently tackle hills head on. I end up not thinking it through properly and get half way up the hill before thinking “where the hell do I go from here?”
Climb farm gates whilst carrying a tripod.
When carrying a tripod, the sensible approach is to splay the legs of the tripod and rest it on stable ground near to the gate before climbing over it so that you can lift the tripod over to you once you’re on the other side of the gate. I once went all gung-ho tackling a gate to a field on the way to photograph a lone tree lit by the rising sun. Because it was a cold morning, the metal bars of the gate were a bit slippery. In my haste I decided to climb to the second from top rung then jump over the gate. I slipped and went head first into the field, bruising my leg and sending my bag and tripod flying. Luckily I was able to hobble on and hadn’t hurt myself seriously. I have been very careful with climbing gates since though.I did learn another lesson more recently when I splayed the legs of my tripod (as per the lesson learnt above) and lifted it over a gate before climbing over myself. Prior to climbing over, I carefully rested the tripod on the ground and let go before realising that the ground was uneven and I watched as, in slow motion, the tripod toppled over… straight into a cowpat. Tip: bring tissues with you to wipe off any muck in such situations. I was getting over a cold at the time so I had some in my pocket. The shot I wanted to get was so amazing though that I wouldn’t have cared about working with mucky hands. That’s dedication for you (or stupidity)!
Breathe on the LCD screen whilst framing your shot. This one really gets me although it may just apply to people who use an SLR and look through the viewfinder with their left eye (I’m not comfortable framing things using my right eye). So, I’ve set up my tripod and start to compose the picture I want to take. I tend to go through a process of look through camera, adjust tripod, look, adjust, look, adjust until I’ve got the framing I’m happy with. Sometimes I’ll take a couple of shots then recompose as I want to try a few things. However, the problem is that whilst looking through the viewfinder my mouth and nose are pretty much pressed up against the LCD display. So every time I take a breath out it clouds up the screen. This is fine in warm weather but during cold starts it’s a nightmare because everything is so damp. When I come to review the histogram for the shot I’ve just taken I can’t see a thing without wiping the screen. This is where a microfibre cloth would be useful.
Adjust your tripod with your nose to the camera. I use a three-way tripod head – y’know, the ones with three handles to adjust tilt in all directions. I put my eye to the viewfinder and compose my picture and then decide that the camera needs to tilt upward towards the sky a touch. If this is a small adjustment then it’s fine. However, if I’ve tightened the tilt handle too much then, in my haste, I pull the handle harder to get it to move and, all of a sudden, the camera moves and hits me on the nose. Then I curse.
Carry your tripod (with camera mounted) by the head when the head is loose. This may apply to ball head tripods too but, in my case, it’s a three-way head problem. I’ll sometimes have my camera mounted and decide to reposition the tripod slightly before taking a shot. This only poses a problem if the handles of the tripod head have been loosened (to allow me to adjust the head before fixing it off to take a picture). I tend to pick the tripod up by holding the metal around the adjusting handles and, quite a few times as I’ve done this, the weight of the camera has caused it to tilt on its side (as if I were shooting a portrait picture) and trap my fingers. This effect is made worse by a heavy lens. Tip: before moving your tripod, make sure all the head’s adjustable handles are tight. Or just pick the tripod up by its legs.
Get your camera’s strap and/or cable release tangled together or around any other objects. In some situations my camera becomes a mess of bits and bobs. If I’m shooting a landscape then I’ll probably be using a cable release. I’ve also got the standard Nikon camera strap on my camera so I’ve potentially got two ways to get tangled up. The biggest problem I’ve found is that in these sort of situations when I want to move my tripod-mounted camera I close the tripod legs and carry the whole thing on my shoulder. This works quite well but often when I come to unfold the tripod legs again I find that both the camera strap and the cable release have become tangled around and in-between the tripod’s legs or the tripod head’s handles. If it’s windy the camera strap will often billow and just get in the way. When this happens I usually wrap it around a suitable part of the tripod or tripod head to stop it causing any camera shake. This is fine while I’m taking a photo but it becomes a real pain when I want to move on to another place. And, by the time I want to dismantle the whole thing to put the camera back in my backpack, it’s like a small spaghetti junction.
Edit pictures when you’re in a bad mood. This is a really good point. I often get back and look at my pictures and decide which ones are any good to use. I usually have a good idea of what’s worked or what hasn’t when I’m taking the picture and that’s often confirmed when I get home. But if, for some reason, something puts me in a bad mood it affects how I perceive those images. So I can look at a great image and think it’s crap just because my day isn’t going too well. I suppose the opposite is true in that I could be having a brilliant day and get over enthusiastic about an otherwise mediocre image. But mostly I find that the effects of a bad mood are greater than those of a good mood.
Walk backwards on beaches when the water’s coming in. My most recent experience whilst photographing on Burton Bradstock beach is the reason for this entry. If you’re stood on a beach and are perhaps a little way out (far enough for the water to reach the middle of your shins when it’s in) then it’s probably not a good idea to move backwards when you see the water coming to you. In my case this resulted in me falling over backwards and getting soaked. I was, however, more worried about my camera as that had also taken a good splash of sea water. Salt water and cameras do not mix! I also found that the lowest section of leg on my tripod had snapped off cleanly. I can now confirm two things: that the D700’s water seals are pretty good and that manfrotto’s service department is excellent (the replacement tripod leg arrived next working day).