The dance begins again. Packing, unpacking, weighing my bags and double checking my equipment list. I am heading north to Alaska with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions for the next three weeks. Most important item besides my cameras? My Xtratuf Boots. Follow my adventure on Instagram @JonathanKingston
When I began shooting video more regularly, it did not take me long to figure out that in order to get smooth shots I needed a fluid head for my tripod and a shoulder mount for ‘run ‘n’ gun’ situations. The fluid head I am currently using is the Manfrotto 502 (HERE) and my shoulder mount of choice is the Zacuto Marauder (HERE). Two things that slow me down when switching from video to stills (or vice versa) are changing the tripod heads (which I found a solution for HERE) and re-mounting the camera to the various base plates for every system. For still photography, I have been using Arca style base plates for over a decade, and figured there must be a way to adapt the Zacuto and Manfrotto camera mounts to the Arca-style plate on my camera.
I am often asked how many good photographs I get when I am out on assignment. In the days of film, this question was framed “Jonathan, how many usable photos do you get per roll? ” Today the question is simply reframed “What’s your ratio of good photographs to bad?”
It took me a long time before I could articulate an answer to the above question that didn’t leave me feeling strangely drained and awkward. Not because I didn’t have an answer; there was a time in my life I knew precisely how many good frames I was averaging per roll of film and could return the figure as accurately as a cash register printing a receipt. What always rubbed me the wrong way about the question was that I never liked the connotations of my answer – whatever the number was. I disliked the idea that one of the metrics of how good or bad a photographer I was could be measured by how many good or bad frames I captured on a roll of 36, or on a memory card.
Many moons ago, I posed the same question to one of my mentors, Dewitt Jones. He returned my question with a knowing smile and let just enough silence fill the space after the asking to make me feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When Dewitt broke the silence he said “If your asking that, you’re asking the wrong question.” Feeling a little like young Luke Skywalker learning the force from master Yoda I replied, “What is the question I should be asking?” Dewitt answered, “The question you should be asking is ‘did I get THE shot’?” He then went on to explain, “You either get the shot or you don’t get the shot – it’s as simple as that.” The light began to dawn in my mind and I swear I saw Dewitt’s camera levitating ever so slightly on the table behind his chair. “It’s not how many good shots I get, the question is, ‘did I get THE shot?’”
So what is THE shot? For me the shot is the image, or group of images that most effectively tell the story. The frame(s) that capture both the reality and the feeling of the moment.
Cartier Bresson describes the shot as capturing the “decisive moment.” Rikki Cooke describes his process with the phrase “it turned my head.” Chris Rainier describes his approach as a “feeling in the solar plexus.” In fact, every great photographer I have ever spoken with uses different words to describe the same thing – excitement.
So what do I do when I have that feeling in the solar plexus? When my head turns to see the soft light gracing the pilgrims face?
Ask, See, Do
My process can be summed up in three words: Ask, See, Do.
Ask – I ask myself: What is the story here? What matters in this scene and what doesn’t? How can I highlight what is working and eliminate what is not? And importantly, when photographing people, I try to live by the golden rule by always honoring my subjects and asking permission whenever possible.
See – Do I see the story in my mind’s eye? Do I see this shot at my core level? Am I seeing this shot with my head or my heart? If I don’t feel anything when I take the shot, people looking at my photo aren’t going to feel anything. If I am filled with joy at the beauty before me or cry because of the tragedy in front of my lens, my hope is those viewing the image will be able to feel the same emotion.
Do – Can I let my technology and technique augment my vision as an extension of myself, or is it going to be a barrier between myself and the scene. If it is a barrier – how can I simplify to the point where it is not and still capture the frame? Do I need to put away the DSLR and pick up my point and shoot?
Great photography is knowing the story, seeing it with my heart and capturing it in a way that allows me to remain connected to my subject. Great photography happens when subject, heart and technique connect; and when they do, the result is pure magic.
I shoot both stills and video which often requires me too carry both a fluid head and a ballhead in the field. Not wanting to carry two tripods, I very quickly realized that it took far too much time and frustration to swap the fluid head for the ballhead under any sort of time pressure (as is often the case in the field) and guessed there had to be a better way.
I have always been a fan of Really Right Stuff’s products. They are the photographic gear equivalent of a high-end german car – engineered to perfection. As soon as I realized my problem swapping tripod heads in the field, I began combing their product lineup for some ideas. What I found is a solution so elegant, I wanted to share it. Continue reading How to use the same tripod for video and stills
October 9 – 12, 2014 – Sun Valley, Idaho
I am pleased to announce I will be teaching a travel photography workshop titled On Assignment: Sun Valley with National Geographic Creative photographer and former photo editor at National Geographic Traveler Krista Rossow.
Whether you want to take your travel images to the next level or begin approaching travel publications, you will learn how to go beyond simply showing what a place looks like to capturing what a place feels like. For complete details follow the button below.
Just under a year ago, I received a call from my friend Dewitt Jones telling me I needed to check out this cool new camera bag he was using. “It was made for you!” he exclaimed. The bag Dewitt was referring to was the new MindShift rotation 180 Professional and anything that Dewitt takes the trouble to give me a call about, I take seriously.
I have been kicking the tires on my new rotation 180 pro for the last week and am thoroughly impressed. I would venture to say it is the greatest leap forward in camera bag technology since the Domke F2.
In 2002 I was a freshly minted graduate from Brooks Institute, and had just received the opportunity of a lifetime – a one year contract to move to India and teach at a newly opened photo college. To facilitate a quick departure from the USA, I took all my possessions and in a feat of amazing, Herculean and smart packing crammed everything into a 6’×10′ storage unit in Santa Barbara, California. In my mind, I envisioned living and teaching in India for a year, then returning to southern California with tales of adventure and glory and picking up where my life left off.
This is not what happened.