Lesson 56: The Rule of Opportunity

OK, I made this one up.  But, as someone who has missed many, many moments when I saw a great photo op, I think it’s worth talking about.  The rule of opportunity is:  Get the shot!  (within reason–I do no advocate harming others, wildlife, natural habitat, property, your iPhone, or yourself.)

I am personally haunted by many missed moments.  One of the realities of photography you must accept is that each moment is its own.  It doesn’t happen twice.  If you think you’ve recreated the same moment, you probably aren’t paying attention to details.

There’s an old adage of photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you,” which is a paraphrase of the original quote from Barry Staver, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.

That is the power of the iPhone–you have it with you.  But having your iPhone with you is only the first step in getting those moments that happen unplanned.  As someone who has a long, complicated password on my iPhone, I have frequently missed shots trying to unlock my phone so I could get to the app I wanted.

The first strategy for making sure you can capture moments is to know ahead of time what to do.  If you, like me, cannot unlock your iPhone in fewer than 3 attempts, repeat this mantra:  “ The default app is the best choice when an opportunity presents itself.”  I say this because it’s the only camera app that can be launched while the phone is locked (which is something I would love Apple to fix).

With the advent of iOS7, if you upgraded this week like I did, this is a good time to re-familiarize yourself with the Apple camera app.  It looks quite different!

I suggest turning off the HDR setting if it’s on so that, if you’re in a hurry, you will be ready to shoot.  The point is to know how you are going to capture a moment that presents itself before it disappears.

Here are some moments that I barely caught (all of which I can list a bunch of things I wish were better about them) because I had a camera ready:

Sometimes a moment presents itself that lasts longer than a moment.  For example, dogs present endless passing moments (many which I’ve missed), but they also do cute stuff when they’re relaxing.  Here are some examples of dog silliness:

One of the important lessons of being a better photographer is to think like a professional photographer.  Recognizing an opportunity to grab a shot is an important step.  Ironically, if you don’t recognize the opportunity, you will never kick yourself for having missed it.  But once you start looking at the world as a series of photo ops, you’ll want to be a quick-draw with your phone so you don’t miss them.

Your Assignment:  Practice swiping upward on the camera icon on your iPhone lock screen to open your camera app.  This may seem silly, but the way you access it changed a few updates ago from tapping the icon to swiping it upward, so you’ll want to make sure you have the feel of it.  Take a few photos with the default app.

Remember that you can only set focus and exposure together in this app (unlike Camera Awesome, which we’ve been using for many lessons).  Remind yourself that you’re going to have to make more compromises between the focus you want and the exposure you want if you need to capture a moment quickly and don’t have time to unlock your phone.

Experiment with choosing different focus/exposure points to get a sense of how much you can keep in focus and how much you can have exposed correctly using this app.  The only thing more depressing than not getting a photo at all is getting one that fails to capture the subject–something in human nature prevents us from deleting that one bad photo of that one incredible moment and leaves us to torture ourselves with our failure every time we see it.

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