Photography, in all of its forms, is first and foremost about capturing moments. Whether its the moment a pole vaulter clears the bar to break their personal record or the moment a droplet of water falls from a faucet, the job of the photographer is to capture that fleeting image, which, in real time, might only last a fraction of a second.
No one understands the importance of capturing moments and emotions more so than photojournalists. Everyday, photojournalists are thrown into any number of different settings and are expected to capture the spirit and energy of that place or event through the people around them. Sometimes these events are happy ones – festivals, same sex marriage celebrations, concerts – but more often than not, photojournalists are sent out to cover more serious stories, like shootings, riots and natural disasters.
During my time studying photojournalism, and through my experience in the professional world of journalism, I’ve learned a handful of tips and tricks about capturing moments. For example, certain events, like a basketball game or a track meet, are easier settings for capturing moments than others. There are specific players to focus on and a clearly marked space where all of the action is carried out. People even fire off guns and blow whistles to signal when the action is starting. But with other settings, like portrait shoots or nature photography, where the action isn’t spelled out for you, it can be harder to capture the magic.
- Do your research and plan ahead. There’s nothing worse than showing up at an event or a shoot not knowing where exactly you should be, who you should be focused on or who your point of contact is. Talk to someone who’s shot in the same location or for a similar event. Ask if they have any advice or tips. Listen to them. Take notes.
- Get to the shoot early. Give yourself some time to walk around the area where you’ll be shooting. Find some good spots to shoot from. Take a few sample photos to get used to the lighting situation and exposure. If it’s a planned event, introduce yourself to someone working it. Ask if there are any spots that are off limits for you, and if there are good vantage points they recommend. Get a name and a phone number in case you have follow up questions later. Good reporting is the first step to capturing pivotal moments on camera.
- Burst Mode is your friend. Most DSLR cameras now have a function called Burst Mode. This allows you to take consecutive pictures by simply holding down the shutter. This is especially helpful when shooting fast speed events like sports, when the action is happening so fast it can be hard to capture the pivotal moments. But use caution – Burst Mode can be addictive. It’s easy to stop paying attention to what’s actually happening when you have the luxury of capturing everything by just holding down the shutter. You don’t want to rely on it too much.
- All you need is luck. And to pay attention. Keep an eye out for anything that seems weird or off at your shoot. Is a rapper fiddling with his microphone during a set? Keep your camera on him and you could capture the moment when he realizes his cord is loose from the mic. Did the big football game against rival teams just end? Stick to the sidelines with a wide angle lens and you might get a shot of the stands storming the field or cheerleaders tumbling past.
- Get in the action. Don’t be too scared of getting in the way that you end up missing the best parts. If you’re at an event like a parade or a festival, don’t be shy about making your way to the front. Use your camera to divide the crowds – hold it above your head and announce your presence as you push through the masses of people. “Photographer coming through!” Just make sure you know about any areas that are out-of-bounds for you, so you don’t risk getting kicked out.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a shot. One of the most important tricks to capturing important moments is to not get frustrated. You’ll end up missing more shots than you make, but don’t worry. As we’ve learned from inspirational sports posters, you’ll miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, so with that in mind, keep snapping pictures, and don’t be too hard on yourself.