There’s one technique that I’ve found useful, when you’re waiting for the perfect photography moment, to never miss it.
Snap so many shots, you can’t miss.
You’re bound to get a good shot of those falling raindrops if you take 50 photos instead of one. Now, there are a few pre-requisites. First, you have to have the shot well composed. The shutter speed must be adequate, and the exposure dead center. If you mess up this, you’ll just end up with 50 bad shots instead of one. Focus can be a problem, because the camera may change itself automatically between shots. Switch to manual focus once you’re locked in if possible, or keep your eyes peeled for blurriness through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen.
If you’re working with a digital compact, switch to burst or continuous shooting mode first. With a DSLR, you can just click away. Here’s an example of what I shot yesterday of raindrops on my front porch:
Click to enlarge, and you can see I took no fewer than 35 distinct photos. All in a period of two minutes. But for something as chaotic as falling water, you need to do this to get the perfect moment. The masters in film photography did it despite the terrible expense, but the cost is nothing besides wear and tear on your camera in the digital age. You can delete all but the best afterward, but you won’t even get the best unless you shoot ten times more than what a normal person would.
As you can see above, my favorite was the second one. So why didn’t I just stop then? Because I had no idea what would come afterward. I just parked myself in the same space, and kept clicking away, because who knows what may appear? Perhaps the drops will form a heart shape, or collide with each other in mid-air?
If you really want to go overboard, you could film it instead, and then grab the best frame from the video. My Canon PowerShot A620 offers this. But a standard camcorder is only about 640×480 pixels, which is 0.3 megapixels (compare to 10 with my Canon Rebel XTi). The optics and picture quality are lower, and there are more compression artifacts. You won’t be able to freeze action with a 1/4000 second shutter speed like with my raindrops. And many frames will be blurry, because their meant to be watched in succession, not picked apart. An HD camcorder may be better. But overall, I don’t recommend it.
Generally, the higher-end your camera is, the bigger it’s storage buffer, so the quicker you can take shots. On my first camera in 2004, I could only take a shot every three seconds, max. But on my DSLR, I can shoot ten shots in five seconds, and then only wait a few seconds to take some more. And that’s in RAW mode. You want to use RAW mode if you can, because if there’s a problem with exposure or white balance, you can recover from it, and you have more editing leeway in general. But if your camera has a fast processor and you switch to JPEG, you may have a much larger buffer for burst shooting.
Now you know how to not miss the moment. You have to do this to get a good action shot; I’ve done it on all my best work, like Raindrops and Speed. Sometimes it takes dozens of shots. But if it’s a good scene, and you have the other factors right (exposure, focus, composition, aperture, shutter speed), then it will work and it’s the way to go.
Of course, you can’t even get the best shot if you don’t even have your camera at the ready. Read 8 Tips for the On-Cue Photographer for advice with that.