I remember reading the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman about two types of thinking we humans undertake. There's the quick stimulus-response instant reaction that lets you interact with day to day stuff by acting immediately in the moment, the fast brain. Then there's the slower, more carefully crafted thinking responsible for long term planning, the slow brain. The trick is getting the two to work together, using the planning brain to create an environment that channels your impulsive energy in the right direction, for example setting up your kitchen so healthy snacks are more convenient than junk food, or arranging your home so you can grab everything you need for work as you walk towards the front door in the morning when you're half awake and running late. The slow brain builds these channels, guard rails, wave guides, whatever you want to call them, so the fast brain can bounce around and get you where you need to go.
Lately I've been thinking about how that might apply to photography.
There's shooting fast, the quick snapshot, the hey look and click! The kind of picture where you take your camera out, turn it on, and say oh darn I missed it. Let's say for example you're on vacation walking around Barcelona with your friend when suddenly a fireworks parade rushes right past you. Hey, it happens! What do you do? Pull out the camera, press the power button and hold down the shutter button. You just captured the moment.
Then there's shooting slow. Lots of planning and equipment prep. Careful examination of every setting. Tripod, remote shutter, and when everything's as close to perfect as you can manage and the timing of the light is just right, you take the exposure.
Shooting fast, shooting slow.
The thing is, shooting slow can vastly improve your shooting fast and make for better snapshots. Any picture will benefit from some advanced thinking, really, and if that slow brain is at work making sure you're ready for the decisive moment, then you'll really capture those moments. You want to take a picture the instant you see something and your camera needs to be available in the right settings. You definitely, absolutely, do not want to and please don't slow everyone down or bring the proceedings to a complete halt just so you can fiddle with your camera and get that perfect exposure. You can't check your settings when you're shooting from the hip. Maybe you can check them when you're not shooting? Take a moment when nothing is happening and check your camera. Are you out in the midday sun? Take a second set a fast exposure time and high f-stop. Inside a museum? Open up the aperture. Be ready to take that cute picture of your kid and a dinosaur with what they call the artistically correct exposure.
Think about the lighting conditions you're about to encounter and what kind of artistic effect you might want. Motion freezing? Motion blur? Bokeh background? Sunstars? Are you looking at the architecture or your goofy companions? And how fast are they moving? Once you've answered these questions - and all answers must be expressed in the form of camera settings - when you've provided your camera with the answers you're ready to capture the moment the way you want to capture it. Hey-look-click and it's yours for life.
In summary, don't annoy your friends with fiddling and framing. Think ahead so you're ready to click-click-click and move on. You're more likely to get the ideal framing and ideal smile in continuous shooting mode. The camera records your interaction with the world as much as anything. So enjoy the moment you want to capture.
Don't underestimate the moment just before and after everyone says cheese.