Shooting without a memory card: The Practicing Photographer

Published by | Friday, July 5th, 2013

It’s the classic movie depiction of writer’s block: a frustrated writer sits at a typewriter, occasionally tearing a page out, crumpling it, and throwing it into an overflowing wastebasket. Every writer has been there—and now and then, every photographer experiences its equivalent. You go out with your camera and just can’t seem to shoot anything that feels fresh or original. Your inner photo editor reminds you that you shot a similar photo last year. Or saw a similar shot in a book. Or on a website. It’s enough to make you want to crumple a sheet of photo paper and throw it in a wastebasket.

In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long shares your pain and suggests a remedy: spend an afternoon shooting without a memory card in your camera. Go through the mechanics of photography—compose, adjust metering, zoom, or change lenses—but without using any digital film to record the results.

Practicing Photographer - Shooting without a memory card

Crazy? Maybe. But it’s an exercise worth trying. As Ben points out, it’s easy to overthink your photography—to obsess so much on the need to Make Great Art that you affect your ability to see photographically.

Baseball fans recognize this syndrome. Oftentimes a slumping hitter will say he’s overthinking the sport—concentrating too much on mechanics rather than letting years of experience and practice control his performance. One technique slumping hitters use is visualization¬: picturing themselves taking a good swing and making solid contact with the ball. In a way, shooting without a memory card is a form of photographic visualization. You’re going through the motions with no risk of striking out.

So if you feel like you’re slumping photographically, try this exercise. Note that some cameras may require you to tweak a menu setting to enable shooting without a memory card. And as Ben says, don’t worry if you miss the World’s Best Shot because you didn’t have a card installed. There will always be another at-bat.

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3 Responses to “Shooting without a memory card: The Practicing Photographer

  1. Nick says:

    That’s a really great idea. It’s also similar to musicians playing instruments for practice, like a guitar without strings, just to get the “feel” down into their bones and fingers. And visualization for sports/physical performance has been around forever and is widely used among the elite athletes.

    I wonder if people could go one step further and practice taking pictures without a camera? I suppose that would look more than a little strange, though…

  2. lisa segal says:

    I took a Speedlite class with Syl Arena and he said the same thing – only he suggested taking “mental photographs”. So, now when I am walking around without a camera,, I frame and “click” my imaginary shutter. I look at light, composition, angles etc almost all the time.

    Thanks to Lynda for all of the great tutorials and tips. I would also recommend taking a class or workshop with Syl Arena as he is a great teacher.

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