I don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason

I don't always spray and prayI don’t always spray and pray, when I do, there is a reason.  As I have previously stated, if this is the only approach you employ in all of your photography…good luck.  When used sparingly, I think it has its purpose.  When I say used sparingly, I am referring to a 3-4 frame burst limit.  You certainly can just hold down the shutter release, but you are going to get a fair bit of undesirable frames.

The life expectancy is not 100k actuation, but the MTBF (mean time between failures) is 100.000k actuations. That means the average number of clicks on which Nikon expects the D200 shutter to fail is 100k. Which means some fail after 10k, some after 300k.  So there is no reason except statistics to believe your shutter will fail. And there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics.

~Wouter Willemse

Since I have already refuted the time and detail aspect of the spray and pray argument, let’s look at the shutter actuations.  My Nikon D200 and D7000 both are at 47,000 and my trusty D60 is at 15,000.  I just did some checking and it looks like my D7000 is rated (not guaranteed) for 150,000, the D200 100k and I don’t think the D60 has a rating.  To replace the shutter on my D7000 is approx $160-$200.  That really isn’t that bad when you consider the price of the body itself.

I do employ the spray and pray approach with some portraiture, cadids, wildlife, and action photography.  I would rather error on the side of reviewing extra frames than missing something completely.  I am not sure how you can disagree with that.  I don’t think there is any amount of breathing, connecting, observing and breathing some more that is going to allow you to know what is going to happen the very next second.  Time and experience will no doubt give you an idea of what is coming, but to capture some of those most often subtle micro-expressions (I’ll borrow that term from Dr. Cal Lightman – Lie to Me…love that show)  you are going to need some extra frames.  I typically use a 3-4 shot burst when shooting.   If your subject is moving at all it may be necessary to true up your focus in between bursts.  You may also need to make minor exposure adjustments or reconsider composition.  This all depends greatly on the subject, scenery and the situation of course.

FOCUS – FRAME, FRAME, FRAME – FOCUS – FRAME, FRAME, FRAME, ETC.

I will risk the actuations when trying to capture a good candid shot.  If you haven’t noticed, sometimes it is just a frame or two difference between a poop face and a great expression.  If you have the ability to see into the future and anticipate when a particular moment in time is going to happen, you will be the best photography in the world.  For us normal folk, we may have to use a 3-4 shot burst to catch those expressions and/or special moments.

I will even give you an example.  These two shots are from a recent excision onboard the Cedar Rapids en route to Chicago via Amtrak capturing a 50 year wedding anniversary family celebration.  I was shooting candids of the passengers; it was story time.  You can very clearly see the difference between frames here.  In the first one, you can tell what is going on.

D7K Kremer 50th 159
Story

But with the second one (2 frames after the first image), it is even more clear.  There is a distinct difference in expressions.  Notice the forehead and eye/hand intensity of the gentleman on the right and the hand in front of the face of the gentleman in the middle – this is a very funny story.

D7K Kremer 50th 162
Really Funny Story

I am very confident that these were three frames well spent, as were the six on either side of them.  There was more than a dozen people in that train car and probably half as many conversation going on.  There were adults and small children.  Spraying and praying was very much apart of this venture.  I did observe; I guess I was breathing too, but more out of necessity and not intentionally.  With so much going on around me, I didn’t have time to completely immerse myself in every moment.  Between Cyndie and I, I think we captured a great deal.  We had just over 2500 frames between us; over two very full days, I don’t think that is excessive at all.

Final thought.  Spray and pray has its place.  It bugs me a bit when people discount it as an approach in photography or only say it works for one type of photography or another.  At the end of the day, you do what works for you as long as you get the shot.  If you are not getting the shots, well then, perhaps you need to examine your approach.

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To spray or not to spray; that is the question (praying is not optional)

I recently read, “Bursting the Burst Mode Myth: [What I Learned from Shooting with Film],” and had some mixed feelings.  The widely known spay and pray method may not be for everySpray&PrayTShirt photography application or for every shooter, but lets not completely discount the approach (I would say technique, but some photography purist would likely argue that designation for several hours; maybe even days).

While capturing as many frames as possible during a portrait session may not be the best approach, I wouldn’t feel bad about doing it as long as you are aware of what you are getting yourself into.  I wouldn’t suggest holding down the shutter release until the camera melts or you run out of memory either.  If there is any motion in what you are capturing you’ll likely need to true up your focus point again and possibly make other adjustments to your exposure occasionally.

The article speaks to cost with some of it being hidden.  Let’s explore that for a moment and see what you may potentially get yourself into:

  • TIME:  It’s digital so film isn’t the issue, but rather your time spent looking through all of the images.  I get it.  We are not tackling world peace here, you are reviewing images.  I don’t see time as a big issue unless you get all crazy and capture thousands and thousands of images.  Like most everything else, you get out what you put in.  A strong and organized workflow process can weed out extra or unwanted shots in short amount of time.  Overload that process and you’ll burn yourself out eventually on the approach.
  • DETAILS:  There is no guarantee that your photo will be free of foreign object seemingly growing from your subject’s head based on your approach.  Is it less likely if you spend one minute on one shot versus 15 shot in one minute?  Certainly, but you should pay attention to composition and not miss specific key details regardless of how many frames per second you are firing off.  I can also appreciate the thought behind connecting with your subject, but let’s be real – while you where taking a breath between seeing, composing, observing some more and then breathing again – 10 potentially great expressions/moments just happened and you captured none of them.  Get your breathing done ahead of time.  You should always make a connection with your subject, don’t get me wrong, but paying attention, connecting and capturing frames should be a fluid motion; if not, chalk it up to gaining further experience until it is second nature.
  • SHUTTER ACTUATIONS:  The other hidden cost besides your time is shutter actuations.  Unfortunately your camera’s shutter will not continue to click forever.  How long your specific model will last depends greatly on the model, its rating (not guarantee), your luck and we might as well add karma to the mix.
Nikon D7000 Shutter
Nikon D7000 Shutter – kenrockwell.com

I do agree with the articles take on group portraits.  The more heads in the photo, the higher probability that someone will blink at exactly the wrong moment.  Several frames will ensure you have the shot even it you have to switch out a head or two.  Sports is a no-brainer as is the point and shoot cameras with shutter lag issues (which are better these days thankfully).

There is a comment at end of the article that just rubs me the wrong way.  It states “the spray and pray method of shooting sends up a red flare” and it goes on to state that the photographer doesn’t know what they are doing.  If that is your only approach to photography, I would agree.

If you are going to spray and pray, have a good reason.  More on that tomorrow.