Free Shooting

There is not one way to approach photography. Most of us find a way that fits our temperament as well as our photographic vision. Some photographers spend a lot of time reflecting over each photo they capture. This is particularly evident with a so-called contemplative approach, which is very much a Zen-like way of thinking and, I would add, a slow style. (I wrote about the contemplative approach in my post Different Perspective) .

I, on the other hand, mostly find myself at the other end of the scale, applying a more intuitive and faster approach. It goes along with my restless nature and need for speed. However, from time to time I do try to slow down and become more thoughtful in the process of capturing photos. As I wrote in the post called exactly Slow Down some weeks ago (written as a reminder to self), it’s often too easy to “spray and pray” when rapid-firing the shutter without too much reflections. Slowing down, then, is about being mindful and staying with the subject and findings its inherent quality rather than forcing yourself and your vision upon it.

One approach isn’t better than the other—or any other way of shooting, necessarily. We each need to find the way that works for us. However, I do think it’s always valuable not to become too rigid in one kind of expression or approach. By changing approach, trying out new ways, we keep developing our photography. Yes, the quick and intuitive way of shooting is “my” way when I don’t have time to experiment and play. Nevertheless, I should by no means become confined to it.

This much said, though, I believe we often tend to overdo the thinking, maybe as a result of an uncertainty in how to approach a certain subject. As much as I a couple of weeks recommend to slow down and approach the capturing with mindfulness, I think it’s equally valuable to, at least from time to time, let go of all inhibitions, preconceived ideas and over-thinking.

I am a strong believe in what the renowned photographer Henri Cartier Bresson once stated: “Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards—never while actually taking a photograph”.

One way of letting go, is through something one could call free shooting. You have probably heard about free writing. This is the idea of letting your ideas flow to paper. No concern is given to grammar, completeness, or final usage—just opening the door and let it flow. No idea or statement is too crazy. The same approach can be applied to photography. Thus the term free shooting.

With free shooting you let your imagination go wild. Try any idea that comes to mind. No concern should be given to limiting your composition, exposure, or any other technical or artistic considerations. Don’t hold back. This approach often works when trying to capture a fleeting moment, taken many shots in a row, hoping one may deliver the perfect image. Just letting go. What happens happens.

Free shooting is a way of getting you juices flowing.

Some time ago I photographed a roller derby tournament. It was a perfect event for using free shooting. There was so much energy and speed with the teams flying around the track, ever faster and more competitive as the competition evolved. There was certainly no time for a contemplative approach or slowing down for a more mindful approach. I just raised the camera and kept shooting without knowing what I got.

Have you ever tried free shooting? Besides, what is your favourite approach to your photography?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon Eos 1D with a 16-35 mm lens set at 35 mm. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

80 thoughts on “Free Shooting

  1. All makes so much sense….Love the photo! My way is: just Do, ask questions later. Can get you into trouble but hey! The thing is …you need to ‘know’ your camera, got to be 2nd nature, makes life much easier!

  2. This is one of those priceless posts Otto. You use one of my favorite quotes as well from Henri Cartier Bresson: “Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards—never while actually taking a photograph.” I like your explanation and value of ‘free-shooting’ because then it does not really matter your photographic style (slow or fast), but instead valuing the mood of the shoot. Just let it go and see what happens. Great advice. Also, great shot 🙂

  3. Love how the ‘free-shooting’ image turned out. Perfectly captured the action and whether by chance or design, the composition looks perfectly balanced 🙂

    As Randall (Dalo 2013) says, “just let it go and see what happens.”

    I suspect that with my less-than-perfect vision, I’m mostly concentrating on trying to get the subject in focus when on a nature walk….even with using Auto-focus all the time and trying not to get any camera shake. But then on the other hand, if I’m in the city centre doing street photography, its often a case of shoot first (and several shots very quickly) and just hope I end up with something interesting.

    Sometimes I capture something interesting, sometimes not. My street photography is more an instinctive thought, quickly spotted, that arouses my curiosity. I’m thinking, what is that person doing, or what is his/her intent in that particular second. Low light photography, which I love, but don’t often get a chance to do, is more about trying to capture an emotional response which I felt when I first spotted the scene. I love the mystery of low-light B & W photography. I love the wonder of trying to ascertain what story I want to tell with minimal light on the subject.

    I was chatting to another amateur photographer in my apartment building the other day and he said he goes to a particular landscape location to capture the scene and light at a particular time and then, he’s able to edit the image to bring out all the spectacular light and colour. I suspect he’s more interested in the technical side of making a spectacular image, not a random shot with whatever the light is on the day with no (or minimal editing) as I prefer to shoot. I’m not sure I like over-processed nature images – just a tweak of the contrast and maybe focus.

    1. You comment only shows that there are many approaches to photography. Not all fits with everybody’s temperament or way of being. However, your different ways of shooting, whether street photography or during nature walks, also shows each of us can benefit from changing the approach.

  4. I love the comparison of free-shooting with free writing, which often yields wonderful prose or poetry. I’ll have to consider both approaches, contemplative and free-shooting, when I’m out on photo walks. 🙂

  5. You’ve just given me a new way to see a few photos I have in my files. One afternoon, I was chasing butterflies at a wildlife refuge. I took photo after photo, mostly on the run (literally) and many were truly unacceptable: especially the ones where I didn’t get the butterfly in the frame.

    But a few were strangely mysterious, and while they didn’t meet my usual criteria for being in focus and so on, they were sort of intriguing — so much so that I gave one a title and tucked it away. Maybe I’ll post it on my photo blog, and see what the reaction is.

    1. I meant to ask: is it my bad memory, or have you changed the title of your blog from “In Flow” to “In Flow With Otto”? I like the way the title flows now.

    2. We often have preconceived ideas about what is a good photograph and what isn’t. Instead we should look and evaluate with open eyes. And then maybe you will find photos that are strangely mysterious. Sounds like fun photos.

  6. For me as a mostly wildlife photographer, free shooting is sometimes all you can do. If the animals are moving fast, or the action is happening right then, I just shoot. I am getting better at not being a spray and pray shooter however. But, if the animal is resting, or still, or if I want to capture the landscape, then I am getting way better at thoughtfully composing my shots.

  7. I think my approach changes from time to time. Some days I take a slow and contemplative approach. Other days, I free shoot like a crazy person. I think some of my most creative photographs come from those days I am free shooting and not overthinking everything. They are not always the shots that other people like, but they are usually the photographs I like best. Thank you for another great post, Otto. Your posts always give me something to think about. 🙂
    I love that image. It expresses the movement and action so well.

    1. As I have said to others, I think it’s a good idea to vary the approach. But I also believe by this free shooting, as I call it, you do get different and maybe even more creative photos, as you have experienced.

  8. I’ve never tried free shooting, as you call it Otto, but it sounds like something I want to try. In nature I “think” I’m doing that only because its so easy to get lost there. Shooting as you’ve done here at the roller derby would require a very ZEN mind – how do you do that? I love the action in this capture!

    1. I do not think at all when shooting action. It’s all about letting go of everything and just reacting whenever you feel like there might be something. There is absolutely no control. 🙂

  9. Having cut my photography teeth on film some 45 years ago I got into the habit of trying to make every shot count, so spray and pray doesn’t really come naturally even in the digital age. But I still like the idea of letting inspiration pick the pictures once I’m out rather than agonize over every pre-planned pixel. Henri Cartier Bresson was right.

  10. I often do something like this when my dog is playing. I take lots of shots, often using the ‘sport’ mode…hoping something cute turns up. It usually does.

  11. A fantastic shot! So dynamic and love that moving close composition. It makes me feel you are coasting along too.

    I think whatever works for you and does not have to be the only way all the time should be the way.

  12. The Bresson quote is very strong! I think in your last couple of posts you’ve encouraged a variety of approaches and the encouragement is to see your photos and know that you experiment and have fun as well as taking a slower, more contemplative approach, and all of your results are very special. You do inspire!

    1. My goal with this blog is really to inspire. However, as everybody else, I often doubt myself and my abilities. Then it’s all the more encouraging to know it sometimes work. Thank you, Debra.

  13. Interesting and enjoyable as ever Otto. I’m much more on the contemplative side of the spectrum but with my nice light Sony A7R, I’m finding it easier to be a bit looser and freer with my shooting.

    1. It is true that equipment makes us work in different ways. That’s one reason I sometimes prefer to photograph with a point-and-shoot or a traditional analogue film-based camera, rather than my professional DSLR.

  14. This is undoubtedly old hat for you, but I didn’t appreciate the difference that emotional or spiritual connection a photographer has through his/her camera while capturing a scene makes when rendering the final image. I clearly have a lot to learn…

  15. I tend to free-shoot a lot – usually I do not have a lot of time to set up shots when trying to keep up with a group of, shall I say, not so into photography people. Oddly enough, it seems to work out pretty well for me. Thanks for the thoughtful blog.

  16. Marvelous idea! I am lousy at free writing, but I can really see the sense of freedom free shooting would unleash. But then, I tend to do a lot of spraying and praying, which results in the great quandary when I got the images on the computer…which to keep, which to dump? What has merit, what am I missing?

    1. That is really the problem with spray and pray; all the editing after the fact. Free shooting is somewhat similar, yet, how you approach the shooting is quite different, in that you deliberately try to not take control at all. 🙂

  17. I have a niece that has just gotten into roller derby, and is in training to become a jammer. You bet that I’m looking forward to free shooting there.

  18. The thing that I like best about ‘free shooting’ is that once the pictures are before you on the screen, you eye them up as thumbnails and THEN choose the best shot, it’s like photographing it TWICE!! you ever get that feeling?

    1. I actually do look at all photos at full size when deciding which to pick or leave. But I can see that using thumbnails is a like free shooting a second time. Might have to try it. 🙂

  19. Hi Otto, Excellent ideas. I find myself doing both. One day I worked on panning shots of the cable cars which turned out to be an exhilarating “hit or miss” of what I think was free shooting. The opposite feeling is when I hunker down, for example, for a macro set-up which takes me into a whole other meditative realm. I find both satisfying and probably am choose to be more on the quiet and contemplative side of photographing. Great post with lots to think about. I love your quote by Cartier-Bresson.

  20. I like your opening thought: ‘Most of us find a way that fits our temperament ‘ and the point is very well illustrated from your personal example. The photo introducing this post is a fine expression of speed, energy and vitality. It is unlikely that I would have undertaken this project> – which I think reflects that difference in temperament. Perhaps there are personality comfort zones as well as technical ones?

  21. I think I use both ways…but mostly the contemplative one. I will have to try the free shooting more determinedly – to get the feeling. Thank you for your constant inspiration!

  22. Great advice as usual, I am not a photographer, but I bring my camera out on special days, sometimes if you want to take a picture, and catch the moment you got to be ready, any hesitation and the moment is gone!
    A sort of Zen mind attitude has to be in place, otherwise you miss the shot. 🙂

  23. Great post, Otto, and what a fantastic shot this is!
    I have tried free shooting. Not my favorite thing to do, but I have gotten a few “happy accidents” when doing so.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  24. I like your analogy of free shooting with free writing. Free writing is something I’m very familiar with, and I suppose my photographic approach is similar, though I’ve never thought of it that way before. Lately I have been trying to slow down and be more deliberate (i.e., contemplative) in my photography. But I think that at heart I will always be more of an intuitive, free shooting photographer.

  25. I have never tried free shooting, Otto. With your words in mind, I’ll give it a try very soon! Yet another very inspiring post. Thank you. Warm greetings from Cley. x

  26. Hello Otto,
    What a beautifully timed post (by the time I’m reading it) as I have just bought a DSLR and enrolled in a course. I thought a lot over the weekend how this camera requires more planning and time to capture something as opposed to the quick point and shoot I’m used to after my iPhone photography course. So your idea of free shooting and letting myself be free from the need to perform with my new instrument is a refreshing way to see it before I get too hung up on the perfect exposure, and the ‘trio’.
    Thank you, and as always, so well written and food for thought.
    All the best,
    Di 💐

    1. Congratulations with a new camera. And I am sure you are gonna have fun with the course you have signed up for. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be more complicated with a more advanced camera than whatever you had before. Just put it on automatic – and shoot freely. As you get to know you camera better, you can always getting into the more technical aspects of it. 🙂

  27. What a great photo for getting the energy of the rink. And another good reminder from you. I think getting one’s body into the shooting can be good, too, and a good way to loosen up.

  28. Two weekends ago, I was in a little canyon in the Texas hill country filled with delights. But it was late, the sun was setting, and there wasn’t much time before everything would be shadowed. So, I just started shooting: the cliffs, the creek, the plants. And look what happened. There was no planning or thinking involved: only multiple shots of whatever caught my eye, including the water’s flow. I didn’t quite understand free shooting simply by reading your post, but I think now I have a better idea of the sort of results it can produce.

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