Cat-like reflexes are not just for cats and ninjas. Speedy reaction time is incredibly important for a photographer. You have to be able to get your settings, focus, compose and press the shutter in an instant. The faster you are at the process, the more likely you are to capture those decisive moments that Cartier-Bresson talked about.
This is something to always be practicing. Your reflexes are such an important part of your work, especially if you shoot photojournalism or portraits, where moments and expressions last mere seconds. How you practice is completely up to you, but here’s a suggestion of a fun game that really tests your focusing and shooting skills: peek-a-boo!
If you have access to a child, then you can play this game with them. A child-like adult works too. Then it’s simple: encourage them to hide behind something, and quickly peek out at you from either side. It’s up to you to try to focus on them, and get off a shot before they duck back in. It is surprisingly challenging, and will definitely reveal any weaknesses in your technique!
The bonus is that this is just plain, good fun. I was shooting at a wedding and saw an adorable little boy. He was camera shy, and hid behind his father’s legs as soon as he saw me approach. So I started to play peek-a-boo as he peered out at me. Within minutes he was laughing and smiling and fully into the game. He actually enjoyed having his photo taken, and I got some great practice in!
- We use the center-point focus + recompose method. Only the center point is used to focus, and then, after focus is locked, we make a small pivot of the camera to recompose. We’ve found it to be far faster than manually selecting a focus point for each image, and as long as you make only small pivots, you still get the image in focus.
- You can use the shutter button, half-pressed to focus. Or many DSLRs allow you to use a seperate button to focus (the * button on Canon cameras, for example). We’ve tried both methods, and personally found the shutter button focus method to be faster, because you only have to press one button to focus and take the image, instead of two. Those milliseconds really do make a difference!
- Try out a variety of techniques and methods as you practice, to see what works best for you!
Do you have any ways you practice your shooting reflexes? Have you found that you’ve improved over the years because of it? Share with us in the comments!