Last July I got an e-mail from Carol Freeman in which she mentioned that she’d been limiting her photography due to the heat wave that’d hit Chicago. She’d become, she said, a 30-minute photographer, and, she added, she’d realized that she’d been that photographer for quite some time.
I wasn’t ready to take issue with the conventional wisdom that says you work a scene until its possibilities—and you—are exhausted, but I was intrigued by Carol’s take on the subject of time spent in search of images.
“I’ve been getting great results,” she said when I phoned, “and I realized that there had often been times when I was either rushed or forced by the weather to limit my shooting time, but despite that I still got a lot of really excellent and successful photos.”
There was one other revelation: “Sometimes my best shots are the first shots I take at a location. I’ll walk into a preserve, see a bird, take a few photos and those are the best shots of the day, ten minutes out of the car. I’ll walk around for another hour and a half and not get anything better than those.”
So time spent, she says, should not be a factor in anyone’s photography. “You can spend 30 minutes, and if they’re a quality 30 minutes, that’s all it takes on that particular day.”
All the photos you see here were taken in 30 minutes or less, save one which was taken in less than 45, but shooting within a time frame is not Carol’s practice. Photography is too much of a joy for her to put limits on it, and she will spend up to three or four hours in the field, even though those three- and four-hour days don’t come along too often lately as the demands of running a photography business result in her spending more time in her office than in the great outdoors.
“I’ve brought it all down to scale,” Carol says. “I’ll often work the flower, not the scene; and if I have only a half hour between meetings or other work, that time will be more than enough. I’ll think, I’ll do this flower today, tomorrow a different one.”
She feels that it’s important to overcome what might be called subject anxiety. “We’re so anxious to get to the next place, to see what might be on the other side of the hill. But I find if I go with the first thing that catches my eye and explore the reason it drew my attention, that’s often the prize of the day.”
So if Carol were to provide some guidelines for the would-be 30-minute photographer, they might go something like this:
• No need to travel far for your 30-minutes. Your yard, a nearby park, a local nature preserve will do.
• Sit and wait, devoting your energy to observation. Let nature come to you—and the bees, spiders and butterflies will. And if you pick the early morning for your 30-minute shoot, the morning dew and frost will be there, too.
• Bring the gear you’re most comfortable with; this is no time to learn a new camera or what a new lens will do.
• Close-up photography allows you to explore a whole world in a small space and a short time. Think Micro-NIKKORS.
Of course one approach doesn’t preclude the other, and there can be 30-minutes of shooting on some days, longer sessions on others.
Ultimately it may come down to having the confidence that no matter how much or how little time we spend, we’ve gotten the best images the day has to offer.