It's not often that you come across a technique that really changes the way you work but that's what happened to me a few weeks ago.
Back in January I bought a new camera, a Canon 5D mark 3. It's classed as a professional model and, while it's not so different from my old camera as to feel completely alien, it does have lots of extra options, especially in the autofocus settings. In the intervening six months I've trundled along using it in a similar way to my old camera and, I hope, getting some good results. However, I was aware that I probably wasn't getting the very best out of it. Then I saw a blog post by the wildlife photographer Andy Rouse advertising a workshop he was going to be running with Andrew James on autofocus, with a particular emphasis on Canon cameras like mine that have these fancy autofocus systems. I had found the answer to my prayers!
The 16th July arrived and I headed down to the British Wildlife Centre near Lingfield, Surrey, the venue for the course. Unlike many photography courses I've been on, the main focus of the day was a long classroom session (about five hours!) where we discussed the various autofocus settings on our cameras. After that Andy and Andrew showed us a series of images so we could analyse the settings we thought they'd used to take the photos. The game changer for me was the concept of using a setting called AI Servo to shoot almost any subject. Most people will use a setting called One Shot when photographing static subjects on the basis that the subject isn't going anywhere so you can fix your focus then shoot. In reality, while a portrait subject may not be intentionally moving around they will be swaying fractionally as they breathe, as will the photographer. When you're shooting with a shallow depth of field (those photos where the subject is sharp but with a lovely soft, out of focus background) it's very easy for your focus to slip as both photographer and subject move slightly. AI Servo mode is designed to continually check the focus and adjust where necessary so, providing you've placed your camera's focus point over the point you want to draw the viewer's eye to, it should mean a higher hit rate in terms of sharp photos.
After our lengthy classroom session we all headed off to the BWC's animal enclosures to try out these ground breaking techniques. We were lucky enough to be able to go inside the fox and Scottish wildcat enclosures which was fantastic. Rather than than shooting through a fence we had just fresh air between us and the animals and I was able to lie on the grass to catch a worm's eye view of these beautiful creatures. I was very pleased with some of my photos from the day, in particular a portrait of Frodo, one of the foxes, who obligingly look straight into my lens.
So has the course changed my way of working? In short, yes. I still use my old technique if I'm using a tripod to shooting something inanimate - it doesn't make sense to do anything else in such situations. However, for almost everything else I have converted to Andy and Andrew's technique and I can honestly say it's made a vast difference to my photos. With anything that moves (an animal or human for instance) I find I have a much higher success rate and I've caught images I would previously have missed. Dotted through this post are a selection of images I've taken since the course using this technique and you'll notice there's a big variety of subjects among them. This isn't a technique that everyone will need or have the patience to learn but, for me, it's been a genuine game changer and the course was worth every single penny.
I know this has been a rather geeky post for my friends who aren't photographers but this has been such an exciting step in my development as a photographer (I know, I get excited at the littlest things!) that I just had to share at least the results.