The Fallacy of Spray and Pray
Updated: Aug 9
Blue Angel Daredevils
Photographers lust after that pro camera model with those high frame rates, so that they won’t miss that crucial shot. Guess again.
Let’s say you just got that new D500 and you dialed in 10 frames per second. How could you miss now? Well, let’s look at some simple math. The above shot shows two jets which are cruising at about 500 miles per hour. Their closing speed is 1000 miles per hour, which is about 0.28 miles per second, which is equivalent to almost 1500 feet per second.
That D500 taking a picture every tenth of a second captures those jets every 150 feet or so. Those aren’t very good odds to get jets right next to each other, are they? A similar scenario gets played out trying to capture the touchdown catch.
So what to do? How about relying on your own reflexes? You can be quicker than you might think.
Something I’ve noticed is that most photographers will close their left eye while looking through the viewfinder with their right eye. Stop that! Train yourself to observe what’s going on with your left eye. You need to be able to anticipate peak action, and you can’t do that if you can’t see it.
Next, you need to learn to compensate for the slight delay when you squeeze the shutter release before your camera takes the shot, called “shutter release lag”. This lag is usually about 40 or 50 milliseconds, unless you have one of those point-and-shoots that can take eons to respond.
There is no substitute for practice. No matter how much automation your camera has, it will never be able to replace your human intelligence or your anticipation of action. Learn your camera and lens; know which way to twist that zoom ring. Make it become second nature to you to zoom out until you locate your subject, then zoom in to properly frame the shot.
I'm not claiming that pro camera features have no value. I'm just saying that you can't necessarily buy your way to getting that great shot.
If this was all trivial, then where’s the fun and challenge in that? Go after that satisfaction of owning the shot that didn’t get away!