Saturday, September 8, 2012

Today's Guest Blogger: Tom Baker

Today's awesome guest blogger is Tom Baker. 

Tom has been on a few of my workshops. You can meet Tom on my Ontario, Canada weekend later this month.

Take it away, Tom. 

Ready, Fire, Aim!

First I’d like to say thank you to Rick for letting me be a two-time guest here. Once was an honor – but twice is incredible. I know most people talk about the type of photography they enjoy or go talk about some kind of photo technique they excel at,  but today  I want to do something a little different – I want to talk about the need to slow down, breathe deep and not to get the shot.

A few months ago I had the chance to spend a week  in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was by myself, and had total freedom  to  explore  and shoot. To say I was excited was an understatement. In fact I was so excited to get there and start shooting I didn’t notice that my hotel reservation wasn’t for another 24 hours (yeah, I’m like that).

After getting the hotel fiasco settled I decided to head to Cades Cove for a little late afternoon shooting. Cades Cove is one of the more famous destinations  in the Park and one I was really excited to explore. It’s a very cool 11  mile one-way car drive through the mountains with wildlife, historic buildings, flowing streams, etc. What better place could there be to start a photo-fest?

I grabbed my bag, my boots, a bottle of water and some insect repellant. I mapped out directions to get to Cades Cove. I checked when the sun would set and what direction it would be setting from (thank you Google Earth). I even remembered to bring the car charger for my phone. I put my camera on the front seat so that I was ready and headed off.  Time to go and get my shoot on.

The park was an hour away from the hotel, a hard hour through the mountains thanks to a storm that had closed some roads.  By the time I got there the sun  was already getting low, spilling this beautiful gold-orange light over the landscape. I took my place in the slow moving line of cars and drove through entrance. I was greeted to a breathtaking site of a herd of horses thundering by in an open field. Dust kicked up from the ground, hooves pounded. I pulled my car over to the side and hopped out. Here it was, the reason I drove an hour, the reason I was on this trip. The chance to get the kind of shot you just don’t get walking around the city of Toronto.

I focused in on the horses. I flicked over to continuous shooting mode. I lined up the horses with the sun backlighting them like some sort of Outdoor Photography cover shot. I pressed the shutter button…..


It was then I  realized I didn’t have a memory card in the camera.

I didn’t have a memory card in the car.

I didn’t have any way to take a photo at all.


I was an hour away from the hotel, in a dream location, on a one-way slow moving road and I couldn’t take any pictures. It was one of the single most frustrating moments in my photographic life. All because I was in such a hurry to get the shot I didn’t take time to make sure that I COULD get the shot. It was 100% human error and completely avoidable. It was also a hard lesson to learn.

That’s why I now preach to all of my students to slow down, take a moment and check over your kit and your camera before it’s too late.

Before I leave
·         Is my camera in my bag (yes, I’ve forgotten this one at least once)
·         Is my battery charged and IN my camera.
·         Am I sure the lens I need is with me and not on a shelf somewhere? At a quick glance, I’ve mistaken a 17-50mm for my 11-16mm wide angle before because they are the same size and shape.
·         Did I pack all the cords, filters, flashes etc. I think I might need? What about a remote trigger?
·         Do I have memory cards in the camera and spares in the bag?

On Site check all the camera settings before shooting
·         What is my aperture, shutter speed and ISO?  This one is easy to forget if you are going from one environment to another.
·         What White Balance is the camera set to?
·         Am I am bracketing mode or single shot mode? Since I shoot a lot of HDR, this is important for me to get right. I’ve missed shots under\over exposing them because I forgot I was set at +\- 2.
·         Did I remember to turn off (or on) Vibration Reduction?
·         Are there memory cards in the camera and are they formatted.

The list could go on and on, but the basic point is a few minutes checking your gear and your settings can save you from wanting to throw your camera into the ocean. Once in a life time shots shouldn’t be missed because you didn’t take 5 minutes to set up properly.

PS – I did drive back to Cades Cove later in the week and had a great time shooting there. The images you see are from the return trip.

You can find more info about me at and the our new podcast webpage


Libby said...

No memory card - ouch. Yes it happened to me several years ago, although I was just taking some city snapshots at the time, so no real big deal. I know run through a small checklist before leaving the house or hotel even for snapshooting.

I enjoy your Life In HDR blog. You have some distinctive work there.

Tom Baker said...

Thank You Libby :) I'm thinking of starting a new feature called F&($&#)( Ups from the Field - believe me I've made them all...if there is a way to thoughtlessly kill a great opportunity, I'm your man. :)