A pianist practices the scales, running fingers across the keys. It’s exercise, conditioning, keeping in shape. Music is almost beside the point. This practice serves to make one a better musician.
Photography should be approached the same way. We must hone our skills and practice to improve. For hobbyists and weekend photographers this is especially true. But for professionals as well.
I make a point of carrying a camera wherever I go—even when I have no intention of taking pictures. That’s the photojournalist in me, as you never know what might happen. When I find myself waiting in the car while my wife is shopping, I’ll take out a camera and “practice.” I’ll follow a motorcycle moving through the lot and shoot in continuous mode. I’ll experiment with different White Balance and ISO settings. I’ll see how quickly I can focus manually. I’ll review the shots in the LCD screen, study the histograms, check the image sharpness.
When I get home, the photos will usually go directly from the camera to the trash bin. (I never delete shots in-camera, but instead format my memory card.) Since I’m not shooting film I have nothing to lose by practicing. The goal should be to reach a point where you become so familiar with your DSLR you could shoot blindfolded. Fingers instinctively move to the controls, adjust dials and settings. Memorize the menu structure. This won’t happen if you rarely hold the camera.
Last night I took twenty-three shots outside a supermarket and saved only this one.
I like the way the late afternoon sunlight illuminates the pearls. I’ll revisit it in a week or so and decide whether it’s worth keeping.
I think it’s particularly important to use your camera even when your surroundings don’t inspire you. When there’s no assignment or creative project, use whatever spare moments to pick up the camera and aim it. Even just holding it in your hands has value, like a caress.
Leaving it home is an opportunity forever lost.