Use It Or Lose It!

“I’m an idiot,” I said to my wife as I examined the missed shot on the LCD panel. To my surprise, she did not appear as shocked at this revelation as I had imagined. I decided she must not have heard me the first time, so I repeated it at a higher volume.

With just a touch of exasperation, she sighed, “What happened dear?”

I showed her this little gem on the screen, clipped wings and all.

Yup, I blew it…

It was a stupid mistake. Normally, I’d see this little wing flap coming and create a composition to anticipate this type of shot. Yet I missed it like a guy who doesn’t quite grasp the way birds work.

These little mistakes continued to pile up over the next few days of our most recent trip, threatening to turn my Lightroom catalog into little more than an outhouse overflowing with my photographic crap. Sometimes it was a compositional error, sometimes I’d leave my shutter speed at 1/80th of a second for bird in flight shots, and still other times I’d neglect my exposure compensation.

The truth was, I found myself making all the same mistakes I often warn my students about at the beginning of a workshop. What was going on?

It was simple – I was rusty.

You see, this trip was the first “real” outing I’d had with a camera in nearly five months (I was working seven days a week, 12+ hours a day on the new Lightroom video workshop) and as the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

And while I hadn’t completely lost it (OK, opinions vary), I lost enough of it to blow my share of shots – at least at the beginning of the trip!

However, as the days passed, these little blunders were fewer and further between as I continued to put photons on the sensor.

Getting warmed up – helps to have a cute subject of course! (Sony a9ii, GM 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, F/5.6, 1/250th, ISO 5000)

In addition, these mistakes were compounded since I was learning a new camera (the Sony a9ii). I had used the camera a bit at home and at a local park a few months back, but since then it just sat on a shelf looking mildly depressed. So, not only was I missing obvious stuff, but I was also trying to manage a new system (although, as you’ll discover soon, that was on purpose in this case).

So, that brings us to the point of this article – how to avoid these pitfalls.

First, use your gear! Even if it’s just a few times a month at a local park. Get out and shoot a bit. I normally follow this advice myself and it stems off little errors once you’re back out and on a serious shoot. Plus, as of this publication, many of us are “travel limited” due to COVID-19. It’s a good time to keep up your skill set at the local park (assuming it’s not crowded of course – ours have been empty around here).

Also, I think it’s especially important to really go out and use your gear at least a few times the week before a major trip. The truth is, I see people struggle with simple, forehead-slapping mistakes all the time in my workshops. I think that most of it can be avoided with a good refresher a week or so before embarking on a major photo excursion.

Think of it this way – if you haven’t been shooting regularly, you’ll need to put in the time (and make a few mistakes) no matter what. Might as well get that out of the way before your next trip, right?

Second, never buy new gear just before a major trip! I mention this all the time in my books and I often witness catastrophic results in the field when people don’t heed the advice.

One of the reasons I was using my new Sony in Florida was because I wanted to really learn how to use it. I decided to shoot subjects I was both familiar with and had plenty of experience with in the past. Basically, I wanted test subjects.

The Sony a9ii and I were getting along fine after a few days. Check out the mid-air fish in this Snowy Egret’s beak! (Sony a9ii, GM 600 F/4 + 1.4 TC, 1/3200th, F/5.6, ISO 640)

The reason? I was planning to go back to Africa again at the end of the month (canceled of course) and I want to use this new Sony there. No way was I going without first getting accustomed to the camera! So, although I was fumbling a bit here and there in Florida, those problems rapidly became extinct. By the time I would have been in Africa, the gear would simply be an extension of my body (my wife claims my 600 F/4 is part of my arm).

Although Africa is off the table, I was finally able to really get comfortable with the a9ii – enough to even pull off a few slow panning shots like this. (Sony a9ii, GM 600mm F/4, F/20, 1/20th second, ISO 100)

So, two very simple bottom lines – use your gear and never take unfamiliar gear with you on a major photo trip. I know it seems incredibly basic, but there’s nothing that will make your next photo trip more successful!

~Steve

NOTE – I’m only adding Sony to my bag, I’m not switching. However, I do have to use it to learn it, that’s why the images above are 100% Sony.

PS – If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books, Secrets To Exposure And Metering For Nikon, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography, and Secrets To The Nikon Autofocus System. I’m sure you’ll also love my new Lightroom Library Module video workshop and of course my Noise Reduction video workshop. They’re filled with hundreds of tips, techniques and information just like this. Check ’em out – click here (hey, it’s free to look).

Please tell others about this post:
This entry was posted in Photo Trips, Travel Tips, Using Your Gear, Wildlife.

149
Leave a Reply

avatar
60 Comment threads
89 Thread replies
68 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
67 Comment authors
Steve PerrySigmonDavid LillyChristian SommeillierJorge Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Sigmon
Guest
Sigmon

Steve, The egret in flight shot is exquisite. Is it my imagination, or is there a little more depth of field in shots 2 and 3 than I usually see with my Nikon 600 f4 + the 1.4 TC when shot at 5.6? What do you think? It just seems there is more in focus front and back. Thanks

David Lilly
Guest
David Lilly

Steve, You hit the nail on the head. You said you have not been in the field for five months. The reason is technology. This is the problem with most photographers, they spend too much time behind the computer. I your case the videos you spent so much time putting together in a year will be obsolete if not all ready. My point is : time spent in the field is always time well spent. Get to know a camera system and keep it for a couple of years. I still use the Nikon D 300s for travel and it… Read more »

Jorge
Guest

Please be aware that your comment section gets increasingly overspammed by Sony fanboys that want to bash Nikon. You should make registration of user profiles mandatory here because anonymous profiles can post anything. I have seen this style of posts on various photography forums and websites that i get to the conclusion this must be an agenda by paid Sony shills. PS: How to detect this scam is by asking those members about bringing up any evidence. I have asked for a portfolio and all i got was another answer how they praise the Sony stuff and downtalking the Nikon… Read more »

Jerry Jaws
Guest

That Sony A9ii is a beast for fast action and wildlife. I currently shoot with the A9 and 400mm 2.8

what you’re go to focus set up on the A9ii ? Also do you plan on in the future making a a9ii review?

Dale Elliott
Guest
Dale Elliott

Thanks Steve! Words well spoken!!!!

Jorge
Guest

I know this too well. Last time i was visiting the animal park i made similar mistakes. I got the wrong picture control settings, the wrong white balance, the wrong AF and metering mode, VR was off on my 200-500 mm lens and of course pictures got a little blurry when you view it on the computer screen. It was not because i didn’t knew my camera (i use my D600 since 2013) but rather that i forgot to check my settings before starting to make photos on a entirely differenct location, an entirely different day, entirely different light and… Read more »

Larry Harrison
Guest
Larry Harrison

Thanks for your advice, as always. Looking forward to the new video.

Donald Linn
Guest
Donald Linn

Steve; great info. It’s good to know the pros can make mistakes too. And it was good advice to know your equipment before a trip. keep up the good work.

Adi
Guest

Beautiful panning shot! I was surprised to see f20 1/20. Why those settings?

Dulac
Guest
Dulac

Thanks for your advises Steve. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts. I’m relearning Lightroom thanks to your very good video and I can tell you that if I believe I knew pretty well this app, I’m so happy to discover so much new tricks that will be very useful for me. Thanks again Steve.

Venkatesh VT VT
Guest
Venkatesh VT VT

Once again a great article Steve & thanks for the same.We were lucky to see few Peregrine falcons at a lake [email protected] during the past few months & had a great time shooting them close from a lying position .They allowed us to get really close while feeding (mostly pigeons ,parrots & and an occasional crow) )on the ground .We all used to crawl & shoot from a lying position.While shooting, it struck me that I should try portrait shooting too with my D 850 & 500 PF.I then ordered a vertical grip & was able to take some portrait… Read more »

Tanmoy Ganguly
Guest
Tanmoy Ganguly

As always practical real world advice, many thanks Steve!

Rekha Laxman Bhosale
Guest
Rekha Laxman Bhosale

I totally agree with you. You reminded again that don’t take new gear just before going to photography tour but if I’m using only Nikon 200-500mm with Nikon D500 and thinking to use Nikon 500mm prime for my next tour. Should I practice a month before going to photography with 500mm prime lens?

Doug
Guest
Doug

Glad to hear you’re not switching from NIkon, Had me worried there for a minute. Not the time to have to sell all my gear. LOL

Nihal Weerasena
Guest
Nihal Weerasena

I totally agree with you. Especially coming from a professional like you it is a further endorsement….practice makes it perfect.

גדי גבע
Guest
גדי גבע

I agree with you that practice should be the best way to keep your skill

Bill
Guest
Bill

So true

Jeff S
Guest
Jeff S

I’m a musician as well as wildlife photographer. I tore a rotator cuff and had to take almost a year off from guitar and banjo playing. I understand all about the rusty part. Yes, any skill is easily lost if not used. Keep your head up.

Vick
Guest
Vick

Love your web videos. My question is I’m currently with a D850 which as you know is 45mp. I print up to 24×36. How do you think this will affect my sharpness if I go down to 24mp?

Steve
Guest
Steve

I think you’ll switch. The Sony offers features the competition can’t match. BTW, the egret in flight shot is spectacular!

Rudi
Guest
Rudi

Which features should that be? I mean I own a 7RIII but sorry, handling is more like a toy than a real camera that you can operate without taking it from your eye! You can program every sh…t but those things which are really necessary.

Jorge
Guest

I would never ever switch from Nikon to Sony. I have 8 Nikkor lenses and i am still not finished to buy additional ones, multiple speedlight flashes, studio flashes with commander units. People think switching is like changing your underwear. No it’s not. And Sony cameras aren’t a great tool. The EVF and back display is of lower quality, it is not even a touchscreen, they have less sophisticated weather sealing, usability and ergonomics are far behind Nikon.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Let me quote Thom Hogan on the Sony A9: >> Sony’s introduction of the A9 trumpeted a number of technologies and features, but the ones that really put the camera in a new class compared to Sony’s previous offerings are these: *20 fps continuous shooting with 241 shot raw buffer *Electronic shutter for silent shooting *Uninterrupted viewfinder (no blackout) *All this with a 24mp full frame sensor sitting on a five-axis image stabilization platform. And yes, autofocus at 20 fps. *To put that in perspective, the Canon 1Dx Mark II and Nikon D5 are both 20mp full frame, top out… Read more »

Jorge
Guest

You sound like a Sony marketing guy that has only knowledge about reading spec sheets and making spec sheet comparisons. I can assure you that anybody having a D500, D5 or D850 don’t care because great photos are made if you have skills and know of how to use your camera.

To bring you back to reality: The A9 does only 5 FPS with mechanical shutter…

Octavio Tejeda
Guest
Octavio Tejeda

Steve,

I am in Florida now. Any area, park, zone, etc that you may want to share forwildlife photo opportunities?

Gary
Guest
Gary

Oh so true! Like my Salt Water Fly Fishing in Far North Queensland, I usually travel there May – late September, (dodge our winter in the south) Then realised I should have at least had some practise in the park before I left! As for the camera, your right, we have to be the “Mario Andretti” of the controls and need to do that without taking our eyes away from the view finder, like faded muscle memory of the above, the brain needs practise as well keep safe, and hope all you guys dodge the Covid19 bullet ! Stuck indoors… Read more »

Fred
Guest
Fred

I cannot agree more with your comment about new gear; I took a new Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 to the Pac North Wet around New Years….MISTAKE!!! Should have just kept the 24-70 f/2.8 on the D850. I was not happy with the shots from the Mount St Helens area; glad I used the 24-70 in Seattle when I was up there. 2014, my first trip ever to Crater Lake in Oregon; left my 18-200 DX VR home, had a Tamron 18-270 on my D7100 instead. I am still kicking myself because of how soft the pics were from my copy of… Read more »

John Munro
Guest
John Munro

Boy do I know what you are talking about. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt but never wear it. Before I go on a big shoot like Bosque, a safari, or travel to other wildlife hot spots I go to my local National Wildlife Refuge and practice, practice, practice until everything becomes second nature again. If I still have some issues I go back to refuge and work some more. In a way I don’t find this work as I always enjoy a good NWR.

Bruce Low
Guest
Bruce Low

Yes you are clearly completely crap Steve…wink is that what you’re saying? No, seriously I found the big improvements I made last year were to make a habit of taking my D500 and 300PF out with me every day to our local river. So helpful to see what was about and practise BiF skills and settings from your excellent books and vids. Love the pan shot, too. Keep up the good work and education! Thanks

Chris Larsen
Guest
Chris Larsen

I totally relate to your article even between my two Nikon bodies. Purchased a Z6 three months ago and I really love it. While the autofocus is slower on the mirrorless, I tend to select it over the excellent D500 only to find I fumble with settings when I do take it out once in a while.

John H Bowen
Guest
John H Bowen

Well Steve although these I’m sure are frustrating for you as a professional but it is reassuring for the amateurs like myself that even those who we’ve learned so much from can make the same mistakes. There were a couple of adverbs you used to describe yourself that are words I refuse to accept as part of the english language they do not describe anyone no matter the situation. I have been at this hobby on and off for some 60 odd years and am thrilled when one of the lessons you have given me produces a result remotely close… Read more »

Tim Moore
Guest

Please stay with Nikon. You have proven it is mostly the skill of the photographer, not so much the equipment, that results in excellent results!

Dale Lewellyn
Guest
Dale Lewellyn

You’ve really taught me a lot with all of your books, but this may be the most important lesson of all. I get so frustrated when I make Kindergarten mistakes, and I know it’s mostly just because my camera has too much dust on it.

John Minkowskyj
Guest
John Minkowskyj

Great advice, Steve. I’ve done this in the past. Gone out with new equipment without trying-it-out.
Same results. The worst time was with concert photography, i didn’t react well with the low lighting.
Try your equipment first, till the results improve.

Leon Ferrante
Guest
Leon Ferrante

When you used the Sony was the 600mm f4 a Nikon or Sony lens.

Activert.org
Guest

I just came from a trip to South Africa. I never used auto ISO in all my photography except in this trip. I left my Auto Iso on for the exposer and I took care of the rest. I was looking at my photo today and I think all my neighbors heard me streaming. some of my best compositions are badly overexposed. I can feel your pain especially when we miss something in a long planned trip.
Thanks for sharing your mistakes with us so we can think about improvisé the next time

Ken Holmberg
Guest
Ken Holmberg

Your above meticulous / perfectionist approach is always appreciated/enjoyed! Keep Safe!

Conrad Cockcroft
Guest
Conrad Cockcroft

Evening Steve, a wonderful article and some of it sounds so familiar! My mistakes I attribute to ‘old age’ as well as getting so carried away with all the beauty of the surroundings! But, it is like riding a bicycle, one never quite loses the touch! Wonder shots, as always Steve. Warm regards from the South African West coast. Conrad.

Ralf Crumbach
Guest
Ralf Crumbach

1) I remember being at an event where Bill Frakes was one of the featured photographs. He said that he would be “Old school” and preferred manual focussing. He told that he does everyday some (manual) focussing practices just to keep fit for the task. (The practicing might be as simple to go out in front of the hotel and try to focus on cars passing by on the street). 2) From a different event, I remember Gregory Heisler talking about an important shooting where disaster stroke and not all (lighting) equipment arrived at the place for the shooting. He… Read more »

Jorge
Guest

I am astounded why the general internet forum talk is full of gear and new gear but most of those photographers don’t realize that using the camera is like playing an instrument or learning of how to drive a car. You need to coordiante your actions and learn how and when they get important. This takes time and the willing to learn from mistakes.

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

Please don’t go all Sony on us☹️

Eric Bowles
Guest

Great post, Steve. I friend was planning to go to Homer, Alaska to photograph eagles. This New York resident spent weeks photographing pigeons in flight in order to prepare for photographing eagles and making the time count.

It’s amazing how much better you get after a week or so of good solid practice. We talk a lot about the percentage of images that are sharp or in focus, the number that are timed right, etc. Practice makes a huge amount of difference and is required to be really sharp.

Ziggy
Guest
Ziggy

Good points.
May I suggest that you go out specifically for a shoot that’s for learning. Chimp all you need. Take along a laptop for close examination of sample shots and in particular showing where the focus points are.
Maybe just pick one setting pair and test the differences it makes.

OTAVIO ERNESTO
Guest
OTAVIO ERNESTO

Hi Steve. I was about to consider myself a lost case …. Thanks a lot!

Chris Leach
Guest
Chris Leach

Hey, Steve. It might sound mean, but I am so glad to read that you struggle occasionally too! I find too little time to shoot and feel like a fool when I come back home to look at my images to see that I took 100 frames of an owl never having changed my settings. Where is that ISO insurance? Why didn’t I change shooting angles? Why did I leave the shutter speed at 1/3200?….etc. So, thank you for making me feel better about myself! Just love your advice which, when I do remember it, has made me a better… Read more »

Jerry Hammond
Guest
Jerry Hammond

Really enjoyed this post. I can “hear” Rose being silent when you call yourself an Idiot. I feel your pain! NTL, love the photos and the advice.

david tibbals
Guest
david tibbals

Steve, I hope you will do some comparisons between your Nikon and Sony gear. Pros and cons from a wildlife photographers perspective.

Howard Kearley
Guest

this post made me smile, clipped wings and all! good to see you got it together, digging the panning shot.

Rich Cower
Guest
Rich Cower

Nice shots Steve….and as always, great advice. thanks!

Elaine
Guest
Elaine

You have not lost it even with the wing clipping tack sharp. Good photo.

Nikhil
Guest
Nikhil

Great advice and all very relatable. I am glad to see that it’s not just me. Rustiness affects even the pros. I did all the mistakes described here, the first few hours I was in Africa last year, but it got better over the course of the trip. Right before the trip I upgraded my gear from Pentax + Sigma 150-500 to the Nikon D500 + Tamron 150-600. I saw all your videos about the Nikon AF and camera settings. I use most of them. I also decided to put my expensive equipment to good use by photographing birds hanging… Read more »

TOM Bev
Guest
TOM Bev

Always look forward to your posts, Steve. As a long time amateur I can appreciate the rust issue. I winter in AZ and chase actively chase the “hummers”. Your “Secrets to Exposure” was invaluable for me as I try to capture those “wall hangers” with my D850. Please….keep ’em coming.

David Burns
Guest
David Burns

Good advice as ever. I love the slow-pan Egret!

Mark Friedman
Guest
Mark Friedman

Hi Steve,
What a great shot of the raccoon! It looks like it was up in a tree and if so, how did you get to look at it at eye level?

BTW, a few years back, when I was considereing lightening my load I looked into Sony and to my surprise discovered that although the body was lighter than my Canon DSLR the lenses were not. And in some cases were even heavier. The overall difference in weight for the equivalent kit was negligible.
Mark

Yuwei Li
Guest
Yuwei Li

So TRUE!