Mind Your Ps And Qs For Better Images

Outdoor Photography

Sometimes, being in the field can be overwhelming. An incredible sunset with quickly changing colors can cause you to fumble your settings. A surprise appearance of a wildlife subject can cause you to throw off your focus. Being in awe of seeing a grand scenic can cause you to miss an even better shot behind you. However, if you memorize and utilize these P and Q words every time you’re out on a shoot, you’ll come home with better images.


In a fantasy photographic world, every venture into the field would bring gorgeous light, iconic settings, regal wildlife, perfect temperatures and magnificent beauty. In reality, this would be boring as the challenge to make the quintessential wildlife or scenic image would no longer exist. We all know that some days provide more potential and revel in them. Each look at the LCD brings a smile. My concept of patience came about when I initiated my five-minute rule. Whenever I feel it’s time to go, I invest an additional five minutes. I’ve implemented it for more than 30 years. It started when I captured the included image of the mandarin duck. I was ready to pack up and the thought of investing an additional five minutes crossed my mind. It was close to the end of that time segment I made the image. Since then, the number of successful images I’ve captured as a result of this “rule” has been overwhelming.


I don’t consider obstinance to be a positive trait, but when you are obstinate about not giving up in spite of difficulty, I love it. It may be cold, there may be a few raindrops, snow or ice may be on the ground, the subject may be sleeping, etc., but never give up. Close-ups with raindrops have strong potential. Cold creates CO2 and when an exhaling animal is captured, it has potential. Reflected early or late light on snow or ice can be magnificent. As animals wake up, stretches and yawns can be captured. They may also go out to hunt! Don’t be that guy or gal who takes the easy way out—rain, snow, cold or other obstacles should not impede you from getting into the field. Ever been to Yellowstone in the winter? Amazing!


We all go through periods when the camera remains on the shelf. There’s nothing wrong with this as it allows us to decompress and re-rev our desire to get into the field. It’s at these times when practice comes into play—and here’s the good news. You don’t even need a camera in your hand to accomplish this. What you’re doing now by reading this Tip of the Week keeps you in practice. Looking at photos and analyzing how they were created is practice. Talking with your photo buds about photography is practice. Going to a camera club meeting is practice. Practice makes perfect!


Speed and efficiency come into play in regard to getting an image. How quickly can you make lens changes? How long does it take to get your flash out of your bag, add it to the hot-shoe and adjust its settings so the perfect amount of fill light can be added to the shadows? How efficiently can you attach a filter, adjust an aperture or shutter speed, affix your camera to a tripod and adjust it to the perfect height? These situations are hypotheticals, but you can see that speed is needed as only seconds can be an eternity when it comes to animal behavior or changing light.

Quantity Vs. Quality

I bring this up as a result of one of my standard sayings when I lead a photo safari to the Serengeti: “Edit before pressing the shutter.” Yes, there’s a lion in the viewfinder, but the background is awful. The lion is in shade but the background is in light. The animal’s butt end is facing you, and the foreground grasses hide most of the subject. Wait until all positive aspects fall into place: the light, the specimen, the background, the foreground, the environment, etc. If they don’t, make a single record shot and move on or be patient if there’s potential. I don’t recommend the machine-gun method of wildlife photography. It’s not about the number of files you bring home. It’s about the quality of the files you bring home, not the quantity.


Before you head into the field, be sure to refamiliarize yourself with all the controls on your camera. Know how to quickly adjust your ISO, white balance or aperture. Know the importance of what shutter speed is needed to stop the action of a running wildlife subject. To show movement while panning, what speed works well? Should I add a polarizer for the scenic? If so, where in my bag is it located so I can quickly find it? The shadows are dark, so I need to add flash—how quickly can you make it happen and incorporate the proper amount of light? The quicker you can lock in proper settings, the greater the chance of obtaining a once-in-a-lifetime image.

I end with two P and Q sentences to remind you how important it is to always mind your Ps and Qs each time you head into the field:

Proper prior planning prevents potentially poor performance, so practice, be persistent and patient!

have no qualms to quell a quandary—be quick, know ‘quipment, query quality vs. quantity and quench any quibble to question!

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.

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