This is for all of you out there, you know who you are, lovers of the motor drive and occasional abusers of it. This is for you especially and all others in general. The motor drive has its place, and provides some great advantages. It can also lead to laziness and poor shooting technique.
As a sports photographer I use the motor drive function on my cameras constantly. Anyone who has a camera capable of 8 or 10 shots a second knows exactly what I am talking about. But like all tools you can use it poorly. There are some sayings for these indiscriminate uses, spray and pray or film making to name a few.
Last week I was out shooting some macro and came to one of the Butterfly Bushes I visit. There I found of my favorite subjects, the Hummingbird Moth. After a few minuets of shooting I realized there were 5 of them and I got excited. Really excited! Then after a few more minuets I found myself hammering away on the motor drive with poor form. Let’s take a look at what makes for effective motor drive use and some of the pitfalls poor technique can lead to.
Since I started my career as a sports photographer and a lot of my work still is I have always used the motor drive on my camera. This style of shooting has influenced the way I approach macro insect work. I approach these insects like I approach an athlete so a lot of the lessons will apply to both. The more you shoot the more you will develop a style, so it is important that you get rid of bad practices to become a better photographer soon rather than later.
My number one rule for photography, and is especially true when using the motor drive, is to be intentional about every shoot. You never want to leave any part of your composition to chance. It is easy to get caught up in the challenge of getting great shots of a difficult subject and just shooting at any movement it makes. This does not get you good pictures unless you happen to get lucky. It will also generate a large number of images to go through in post. Hammering away can also lead to tunnel vision when you don’t know what is going on around you. You may not be sure how you are framing the subject among other things. The list goes on.
After the shoot under discussion was over my wife said to me she was wondering what was going on because she heard the camera going nonstop for a few minutes. What happened was I got excited, like I said earlier. I have never had the experience of having 5 of these creatures at once and I did not want to miss a single shot. In that desire not to miss a shot I probably did. After a moment or two I realized what I was doing and stopped.
Good motor drive technique is taking three maybe four shots. Take a short burst and then recompose for a half a second. Make sure your subject is still where you want it in the frame. You can see through the lens in-between shoots but it is not the most accurate way to judge. You also want to make sure you are still in focus. When a basketball player is going for a layup I take three or four frames under the basket. When a bee lands on a plant to eat I will do the same.
There are times when I will take more photos. But you want to do this intentionally. This is a case of understanding the rules so you know when to break them. If there is a running back coming around the end I may lay on the motor drive or when a corner kick in soccer is about to be headed for example. Or, for insects like the Hummingbird Moth who feeds while flying, hovering around plant and when trying to capture a butterfly or other insect in flight. But these longer burst are the exception, not the norm.
If you have a camera capable of such speeds spend some serious time in post looking at your takes. Study them to learn what is working to deliver good images verses what is ending up in the trash. Try to remember what you were thinking and doing while taking a given series of frames. Try new variations on what is working.
Photographs in this post