How to Get the Best Shot on Your Next Shoot

Recently I finished reading Paul Nicklen’s new e-book Photographing Wild (well worth the $15 price tag) in which he discusses something he calls the 20/60/20 rule.  The 20/60/20 rule is something I have long adopted and practised in my own photography; although I never thought to describe it or write about it. In fact, I have been doing it so long now that it has become instinctive for me and I find myself moving subconsciously through this principle as I photograph my subjects.

The principe of the 20/60/20 rule is that you should spend roughly the first 20% of your time on a shoot getting the safe shots. Compose the image as best you can, make it sharp, in focus and get the shot. Thats the first 20% of your time on the shoot invested. The next 60% is where you push yourself creatively and where you are likely to make your best images. Go beyond the safe shot you already have in the can and push yourself both creatively and technically to go beyond the obvious. This is when you can make truly great photographs that really stand out. Its a time to zoom with your feet, to change composition, try different angles, move higher or lower and to take a different approach to vary your captures. The last 20% of your time is about experimentation and doing things you might not normally do (such as a multi-second hand held exposures, or an in camera composite or such like). This last 20% is a time to experiment and to go a bit crazy to see what you can produce when the standard limitations and rules are removed. Images from this last 20% often don’t work, but occasionally they do, and something truly unique and powerful can be produced. The important aspect to this last 20% is that its free time to experiment and to learn from the results. Its a great way to ensure you continue to grow as a photographer.

Paul describes the process in some detail in his book as he implements it in his workflow (a short excerpt of which is included below).

When I’m working, I want to give my editor something that National Geographic will be guaranteed to publish. So if I see a bear coming out of the forest, I make sure it’s sharp and in focus, and do the best job I can on the composition, light, and mood. That’s the first 20%. If it’s sharp and in focus, it’s still a good image, but I don’t want good: I want great. And then I go to the 60%. This biggest chunk of time is where I sit and push my own artistic ability and technical skills as a photographer; this is how I force myself to come back with something that’s truly special. Once I’ve got that and I’m satiated, satisfied, and really happy with what I’m creating, then I’ll say, “Let’s try something different; let’s do a multi-second exposure just to see what happens.” This is the last 20% of the 20-60-20 rule, and it’s there for my growth as a photographer.

I think this is excellent advice that many photographers would do very well to take note of and try and implement in their photography. I often see photographers standing around on workshops wondering what to do next after they have captured the obvious photograph (the first 20%). If you take Paul’s (and my) advice and move into the next 60% and final 20% you will never be standing around wondering what to do next. Your photography will improve and you will learn more about what works and what does not work when composing your photographs. Perhaps best of all implementing this advice in your workflow costs you absolutely nothing.

I do highly recommend you invest $15 in Paul’s e-book ‘Photographing Wild‘. As well as containing some fantastic advice,  and wonderful photographs its also inspirational material for your next photography shoot.photographingwild

Photo of the Month February 2017 – Emperors

The photograph of the month for 2017 comes from my recent expedition to the Emperor Penguins on the sea ice at Gould Bay in Antarctica (Read the Trip Report). This particular image is very evocative for me of the life the Emperor Penguins lead out on the sea ice. The blowing snow that surrounds the huddled penguins really bring this photograph to life.I know some of you are eagerly awaiting the final details for my 2018 expedition to the Emperor Penguins and I hope to have these finalised in the next few weeks. If you have already registered your interest I will be in touch soon.

Choosing an Expedition to Antarctica – What you Must Know Addendum

The response to the recent series of articles I published on what you must know when choosing an expedition to Antarctica has been beyond fantastic – thank you.  As such, I wanted to expand a little further and publish a short addendum post to Part Four of the series and add in a couple more items of equipment you should consider before your expedition (my thanks to Anil for the first two excellent recommendations). If you missed the earlier parts of the series you can read Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four at each of these links.antarcticaunionglacier-02027Most expedition ships will provide you with a pair of rubber boots (Wellingtons) for zodiac cruises and shore landings. However, these boots are generally not insulated and provide poor warmth and support (even if you bring inner sheep skin liners). They are also frankly pretty disgusting having been used and abused by countless participants over many years. I recommend you plan to bring your own boots and that you purchase a pair of Arctic Sport Muck Boots. These insulated waterproof boots are absolutely ideal for expeditions to Antarctica and will keep your feet both warm and dry. They are also relatively inexpensive and useful to have around the house for occasions such as washing cars once you get home. Hiking boots and similar type boots are not suitable for zodiac operations and shore landings in Antarctica. You absolutely must have a boot that comes up to just below the knee and that is warm and completely waterproof. A pair of Arctic Sport Muck Boots will last you many years and will keep you warm, dry and clean. I actually also use my Arctic Sport Muck Boots on board whenever I am photographing from the deck of the ship.

The next item is actually more of a tip than a piece of equipment. You should ensure you mark your dry bag (along with all your possessions) clearly with your full name and contact details. All equipment tends to look alike on expeditions and its best to avoid any confusion by clearly labelling all of your bags and equipment. I even go so far as labelling my card readers as these are items participants tend to borrow quite often. Items such as camera equipment can me labelled with a label maker and clothing and bags can be labelled either with  a sharpie or with permanent tags.Antarctica-7003-EditOn the question or sunglasses or snow goggles for zodiac operations I tend to prefer sunglasses in all but the heaviest of blizzards. Sunglasses are easy to photograph with where as it is necessary to remove goggles to actually see through the cameras viewfinder. Personally I like and use sunglasses from Maui Jim as they have no colour tint and are heavily polarized. For goggles I like and use Zeal.SouthGeorgia2015-8184-EditAlthough I briefly touched on clothing in Part Four of this series I want to expand a little further on the outer waterproof shell you will need to wear for zodiac operations and shore landings. If possible, I recommend you purchase Goretex bibs rather than pants as these will afford your lower back much needed protection when you are bending over in the zodiac. There is nothing more uncomfortable than salt spray down ones lower back and a good pair of waterproof bibs will ensure you are protected from this unfortunate and uncomfortable eventuality.

It is a very good idea to take a number of microfibre cleaning cloths with you and to keep one handy in an outer jacket pocket at all times. Salt spray, snow, sleet and rain drops are all a fact of life in Antarctica and you will have to clean the front element of your lens regularly during most outings. A lens hood is also a very good idea for all your lenses as it affords some additional protection for the front element of the lens.

Micro-spikes and crampons are not required in Antarctica and are best left at home unless you have a very specific need for them. If you do bring spikes with you keep in mind that you will not be allowed to put them on until you go ashore.Antarctica1DX-7760I strongly recommend you purchase and download SanDisks Rescue Pro software to recover any images from damaged or accidentally formatted CF, SD and CFAST cards.  I have used this software on several occasions to recover images from cards that clients have accidentally formatted or from cards that are proving otherwise unreadable. This useful piece of software is absolutely worth investing in when you weigh the importance of your photographs against the cost of the expedition.

Underwater housings can be used in Antarctica with great success but you should check with your photographic leader before hand on what sort of opportunities you may have to use this sort of specialised equipment. Not all expeditions cater to underwater photographers and it is best to understand if you will have an opportunity to use this equipment before you schlep it all the way to Antarctica. As some of you are aware I recently invested in a Nauticam NDA-1DXMKII underwater housing for one of my Canon EOS 1DX MKII cameras and I plan to use this in Antarctica this November with a new pole-cam system. The pole-cam system has been designed to facilitate underwater photography without actually having to get into the water. I will have more details on this new custom made system soon.