Rule 40: There Is No Shot Clock

Leonard Furniture Company

Even if you’re only casually acquainted with sports (which in my case is being entirely too charitable), you’re probably familiar with the shot clock. Once the ball’s in play, someone on the court/field/pitch has only a set amount of time in which to do something with it. In basketball, for instance, this is probably a good thing, since it helps to keep things moving. In photography? Not so much.

The problem is, I find myself shooting from time to time as though the clock is ticking. You’d swear there was a referee standing over my shoulder with a stopwatch, and that I’d be somehow penalized if I didn’t get a certain number of shots within an allotted time. I don’t always shoot like this, but I’d be lying if I said I never did… and I’m sure that you do, or have, as well.

Mind you, I’m not trying to discount the times that the tick of the clock can be heard very loudly over what you’re doing. Maybe you’re trying to wring the most out of the golden hours; maybe the model’s only available for fifteen minutes, or the client needs the shots in thirty; there might be storm clouds on the horizon and the car’s a twenty-minute walk away; maybe you know that toddler or pregnant mom you’re shooting is going to have to make a beeline to the bathroom any minute now. In each case, then yes, you’re going to have to work quickly.

In either case, however — whether you’re under time constraints, or you could get yourself good and lost and it wouldn’t matter to anyone but you — it can be both frustrating to you as a photographer, and also end up hobbling your end results, if you’re shooting as though your hair’s on fire.  Be mindful. And if you’re in a rush, be twice as mindful, since you won’t have time to re-stage or re-shoot because you’ve done something silly and utterly avoidable.

Here’s the bottom line: whether you’re shooting for someone else, or for nobody but yourself, the “client” (your art director, your editor, yourself) isn’t going to care about the sheer volume of stuff you dump on the desk or the drive at day’s end. If you’re shooting for someone else they’re just going to want to see your best work. But guess what? If you’re shooting for yourself, you don’t want to see your worst work either. That’s just frustrating, especially when you’ve done better, know you can do better, but haven’t done it through nobody’s fault but your own. Slow down and take your time. You don’t have to punch the clock, and you won’t be penalized if you take your time in taking the shot. If you can find your “zone,” you’ll find that you had more time than you thought anyway.

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