Finding Joy in Capturing the Moment

Before you photograph new subjects, study up on them. For this stop-action shot, I set the camera to a high ISO (400) and to the shutter/action mode so I could set a fast, action-stopping shutter speed. A shutter speed of 1/2000 second crystallized even the water.

In this column we’re going to turn our backs on the technical stuff and get a tad touchy-feely. Don’t worry, we’re not going to hug or hold hands and share secrets. But we will take a peek inside our photographic selves.

Are you having fun taking pictures? Do you enjoy it? If not, let’s figure out what to do. Why? Because I’m a strong believer that the quality of your pictures parallels the enjoyment you have in making them.

Let’s start off with a self-evaluation. Find your place on the joy-of-picture-taking scale. The scale ranges from 1-10, from joyless and frustrating to very enjoyable. Where do you see yourself? Which direction are you moving?

If you rated yourself 8 or higher, you’re excused – go take some pictures or jump to another part of the magazine. You 6s and 7s should read on, just to keep me company and maybe pick up a few ideas so you don’t drift lower. The rest of you stick with me. I’ve been there and I can help.

I’m not going to psychoanalyze you because I don’t want the favor returned. But you might benefit from a little self analysis on why you take pictures. It might simply be a hobby to fill time, a way to fill a creative need, a way of documenting and building family relationships, an obligation of some kind, or like so many phone camera users – a way of sharing experiences and life.

Prepare to increase your likelihood of success
Success leads to satisfaction. Planning leads to success. It’s that simple. But there is a fly in the ointment. The apparent ease of photography – you press a button and there’s a picture – means many of us ignore planning. Hey, all we gotta do is press the button. But if you’re reading this, you know it’s not that easy.

Before an event, read up on techniques and tips suitable to your situation and camera type. Find out what you’re going to encounter, and think about what camera settings you’ll need to use (and make a few notes).

Before you leave home, set your camera for the expected subjects. Going to a Little League game? Set the ISO to 400 or 800 to enable fast, action-stopping shutter speeds and the camera mode to sports or shutter-speed (with the shutter speed at 1/1000 second or higher) to stop the action.
Going to a family picnic? Make a mental list of shots you might want – the groups of people you should arrange, the food dishes being set out, the cooks in action. Do you need overall shots to set the scene and close-ups to personalize it? Maybe a few low or high angles for variety? I’d suggest using the program or auto mode for its versatility to cover the wide variety of shots you’ll be taking.

Get the idea? With a little preparation, you can hit the ground snapping and make your picture-taking experience much more enjoyable.

Minimize frustration
Start by photographing the things you like, not the things others – be they media mentors or friends – want you to photograph. Don’t waste time trying to capture the grand landscape if you prefer photographing kids, flowers, cats or whatever. I regularly photograph home still lifes randomly generated by my style of housekeeping. Finally, accept that some situations simply won’t yield good photographs and move on.

Technology? Don’t get me going. Nowadays you’re taking a picture with a lens connected to a computer more complex than the main computer in the Apollo lunar lander. So if you don’t want to crash land your camera this winter, set aside an hour each week to sit with it and its manual, and fiddle with the menus and controls until you can easily navigate the important settings. Learn these three settings first:

• Exposure/scene modes
• Focus modes and control
• ISO setting

If you find your advanced camera too challenging, turn it into a simple camera until you catch up with its capabilities. How do you do that? Do what any good airline pilot does: set it to autopilot (well auto or program mode) and shoot away. Ninety percent of the time, those settings
capture great pictures.

Find your inner child    
Once you’ve taken pictures your normal way, start playing around like a kid. Tilt the camera cockeyed so people and things seem to be sliding out of the picture. Lie down on the ground and take some pictures of the cat, the bird bath or the flower towering over you. Shoot through the trees so the waterfall seems hidden as if you’ve just discovered it. At parties, use a slow (1/8 or 1/4 second) shutter speed with the flash to photograph people dancing, dashing or disappearing – they’ll paradoxically appear both blurred and sharp.

Pretend you know nothing about how a picture should look and create extreme or unusual compositions: a head squinched into a corner of the photo, an extreme close-up of an eye, people captured from the knees down, reflections of people and things. Practice your modern art imitation using an abstract, rust-streaked fender.


Wait…there are more tips
Go to and click on finding photo joy, to find a few more helpful tips and several more pictures that discuss how you can keep enjoying photography.

story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

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