Back in the day, when I shot film, I would never have shot an assignment or important images before testing the concept and the gear beforehand. Medium and large format studio shooters used expensive Polaroid film to make test shots before clicking the shutter with real film while the rest of us would shoot test rolls before trying new technique or new gear.
Along comes digital capture with instant feedback though LCD screens and everybody thinks that testing wasn’t required anymore; you could just test as you went along. This created a secondary phenomenon in which some shooters thought they no longer needed a back up camera After all any problems would be immediately visible but some of us never thought what would they do if there was a problem. And believe me gear failures occur, even with brand new equipment. The big problem is that not all LCD preview screens are accurate as far as color and contrast and especially not as the color correct monitor sitting on your desk that’s used to process images in Photoshop or Lightroom. Surprises lurk, so you need to test.
I did some testing at a car show in advance of making a trip New Mexico the following week. One of the things I was testing was a new wide-angle zoom lens that I though I would just love but in actual shooting was so wide that it was impossible to shoot any of the cars without getting too much extraneous detail, including people walking into the shot. And the camera LCD screen also showed there was some slight vignetting even with the built-in lens hood off the lens but when I looked at in on my monitor it was much bigger than I thought. This lens was not going to New Mexico but I found out now, not when I was in the land of Enchantment.
Then again testing also helps you plan ahead for the inevitable moments of stupidity. In addition to the SLR and wide-angle lens, I brought along a pinhole camera that shot a wide aspect ratio. I was happily shooting away right up until lunchtime, when we took a break to eat lunch I accidentally knocked the camera onto the floor. I’ll admit that I’m a but of a klutz.) The camera’s back popped off! And yes it was loaded with film. As luck would have it landed with the back side down, so I slipped the back on and went into the Men’s room and turned off the lights to more securely fasten the back. What this unplanned test showed me was more than the exposure and the angle of coverage I could expect but that I needed to bring some gaffers tape to keep the back securely closed. PS. I did loose one an a half panoramic frames but at least I had some images.
There’s an old expression that goes—Good carpenters say that you should measure twice and cut once. I think that we should test twice and shoot once. And remember, there are no perfect photographs but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
Barry Staver and Joe are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s currently out-of-print but while new copies are available at collector (high) prices you can purchase used copies at giveaway prices—less than five bucks—from Amazon.