How many times have you snapped a few pictures from the hip only to realize the lens cap is still on? How many times have you taken a few photographs, then come back later to find spots and smudges in them because your lens had a nice fingerprint or a bit of dust on it. I know these sorts of things have happened to me more often than I’d like to admit.
And that’s just the beginning of the silly mistakes we photographers can make. Another old favorite is taking photographs that are badly exposed because moments ago, we set our shutter speed or aperture to something appropriate at the time, then forgot about it—and now the situation has changed.
The point is, these things happen when we’re not paying attention, and they can completely ruin a photographic opportunity. Particularly when it’s an opportunity that is based on light that is changing rapidly or an action scene that won’t be repeated. It sounds funny right now, but it’s less amusing when you’re trying to get a photograph of your football team’s game winning touchdown, only to find out later that the lens cap was still on or some such, and now, there is no going back to fix the mistake.
Obviously, this can create some problems, and there needs to be an answer for it. So what is a good answer? For me, it’s been learning to develop good habits. It can take a long time to build good habits, but it’s a worthwhile effort.
For this particular problem, what I recommend is making yourself a mental checklist that you run through each time you raise the camera to your face. Check for your lens cap. Glance at the glass to make sure it’s clean. Glance at the camera’s settings to make sure they’re where they should be. If you’re in a situation where you’re shooting action quickly and can’t necessarily check everything each time you raise the camera, then do your checks each time there is a pause in the action.
The important part is to make yourself follow this mental checklist each and every time you can. Eventually, it will become an ingrained habit such that whenever you pick up the camera, you’ll spend a couple of seconds looking everything over before you take photographs. It’ll become an unconscious action, same as we don’t think when we press the shutter, and it can save us from costly mistakes.
Of course, this isn’t the only place to build good habits. There was an era where memory cards and hard drives weren’t as reliable as they are today—and even today, there can still be mishaps that lead to lost or broken digital storage. That’s why backups are another important habit to form. Always, always back your photographs up in multiple places just as soon as you can.
If you’re on a trip, then the priority should be to get everything on your memory cards backed up to hard drives when you return to the hotel room in the evening—no matter how tired you may be. This protects your images against lost or stolen memory cards. And when you get home? Shortly after plunking your bags on the floor, it’s smart to get cloud uploads started—and that’s no matter how badly you may want to unpack, take a shower, or crash on the couch to start recovering. Forming this habit virtually eliminates the danger of losing digital negatives that can never be replaced.
Good habits are hard to form—but they’re essential if you’re a photographer. They’re the enemy of silly mistakes and other mishaps that can prove disastrous.
Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.