Make Your Time Count – by Jack Kurtz

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Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha walks over to shrine to pray before meeting with his cabinet for the first time.
Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha walks over to a shrine to pray before meeting with his cabinet for the first time. This is the first frame I made when the event started. Made with a 280mm lens – the 200mm lens and 1.4X teleconverter.

One of the things I’ve noticed while I’m leading workshops is that when people find something they want to photograph, they tend to make one or two photos and then move onto something else.

Back in the days of film, every frame we exposed cost money, the film, something we had a limited supply of, cost money and processing cost money. It was easy to spend $15 (US) on a roll of 36 exposure film and processing.

The economics with digital are completely different. Yes, memory cards cost money and they hold a finite number of exposures. But memory cards are reusable, and the number of frames they hold is an order of magnitude higher than the number of exposures on a roll of film. I carry eight 8 gigabyte cards with me when I go out with my 16 megapixel Micro 4:3 camera. Each cards holds approximately 300 frames, or more than 8 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film. We are not bound by the same limits we were when we worked with film.

Now, the biggest expense we incur when we travel for photography is the getting there. With digital, the actual photography part is nearly free (I know, we’ve spent money on cameras, lenses, cards etc, but those are one time expenses, not ongoing ones like film was). We owe it to ourselves as photographers to fully explore a scene and make the most of the situation.

This doesn’t mean setting motor drive to 10 frames per second, leaning on the shutter button and blasting through gigabytes of card storage. It does mean exploring the scene, working it different lenses and lighting. Looking for the perfect moment, when your subject’s eyes are open (or closed if that’s what you’re going for), the right expression and the best composition.

Prime Minister Prayuth prays in front of the shrine.
Prime Minister Prayuth prays in front of the shrine. Made with a 50mm lens. Not my flash. The exposure was timed perfectly with another photographer’s flash. It was luck. 

I recently photographed the Thai Prime Minister before his first cabinet meeting. The event I was photographing lasted roughly 4.5 minutes. The PM came out to a shrine, said some prayers and walked back to his office. That was it.

In that time, using three cameras, I made just over 100 frames. I used three cameras because I don’t use zooms. I needed multiple focal length lenses but there wasn’t time to change lenses so I photographed with three lenses on three cameras. I used a 280mm lens (a 200mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter) for the long photos of the PM walking to the shrine and very tight portraits. I used a 100mm lens for photos of the PM praying and I used a 50mm lens for wider pictures of the PM walking around the shrine. If I used zooms, I would have used just two cameras but it would not have been possible to cover this event they way I wanted to cover it with just one camera.

PM Prayuth lights candles at the shrine. Made with a 100mm f2 lens.
PM Prayuth lights candles at the shrine. Made with a 100mm f2 lens.

I didn’t mindlessly motor through the event. In fact, I set my cameras to the slower settings (four frames per second) specifically because I didn’t want to mindlessly motor. But I was “working” the entire time the PM was at the shrine. Jockeying for a position among the other photographers, working different lenses to get different perspectives. Some pictures made with flash on (for fill flash) but most with flash off. Worried about making sure the PM had his eyes open etc.

I did not check my cameras’ LCDs while I was working. That would have been too much of a distraction. I did, before the PM came out for his moment, make test exposures with each camera and lens so I knew everything was working but once the event started I focused on making pictures.

And it's over. The next to last photo I made of PM Prayuth (in the last photo his back was turned). 280mm lens, 4.5 minutes after I made the first frame.
And it’s over. The next to last photo I made of PM Prayuth (in the last photo his back was turned). 280mm lens, 4.5 minutes after I made the first frame.

You may not be photographing the Prime Minister or some other celebrity but you owe it to yourself to work the scene or whatever you’re photographing every bit as hard as you would if you were photographing the PM (or whatever subject you’re passionate about). And don’t worry about getting every frame perfect. We learn from our mistakes, so if you’re satisfied with every frame, you’re either a) an amazing photographer or b) not pushing yourself hard enough.