Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You only get one shot.

Ash Wednesday

I used to race in autocross, a form of motorsport where you race against the clock on a short, but challenging, temporary course marked by traffic cones in a parking lot. You get to walk the course on foot, then you get three full-speed driving runs, and the fastest of those determines your place in the standings.

Over the course of a few years, against strong competition, I gradually improved from abysmal to mediocre. On a good day, I might finish mid-pack. But I noticed one thing: I usually improved a lot from my first run to my third. And on practice days, where we might get 10 or 15 runs on the same course, I would keep improving all day, and end up fairly close to the top drivers.

The best drivers were better than me by any measure, but I think the biggest component to their success was that on their first run, seeing the course at speed for the first time, they could drive at nearly their best. It took me a lot longer; I had to work up to it.

In photography, I feel like I shoot the same way that I drove. When I review my shots in Lightroom, I usually find that my best shot of a subject is at the end, after a bunch of awkward approaches. For most of what I shoot, that’s not a problem, per se, but it gave me inspiration for this year’s Lenten project. Like my first project two years ago, I think it can be helpful to impose constraints on yourself, to develop your skills. So from now until Easter, my plan is each day to take one shot—and only one shot. One exposure per day.

I’m not saying that’s a good way to work—for me it will almost certainly yield worse results than normal. But I think it could be a useful effort, forcing me to slow down and think about whether everything is just right.

This summer, I’ll be going on vacation to Banff, and the photographic opportunities excite me. With limited time in good light each day, I want to make sure I’m thinking clearly and not wasting my chances. And so, for better or worse, here we go.

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