It's all well and good for me advise you Shutterfinger readers to be "free" in your approach to photography; it's quite another for me to show evidence that I'm willing to follow my own advice. I know as well as anyone that there's a certain comfort and familiarity with doing things the way you've always done them, using the same camera and lens you always use, revisting the places and subjects you like to phograph most, and so on.
The benefit of comfort and familiarity is that it can make you a better photographer--one who knows what he wants and how to get it. The drawback is that if you aren't careful your tastes can become too narrow, your style too predictable. You play it safe. You seldom screw up, yet you seldom surprise yourself either. And trust me, when I say "you," I mean me too.
So this morning I decided to shake things up a bit. Instead of waiting for a brilliant sunlight morning to venture into the city for a couple of hours of street photography, I chose an overcast day. Instead of having my camera set up to focus when I pressed the rear AF/AE lock button, I linked AF to the shutter button, the way most people do. Instead of using single-shot AF I used continuous AF. Instead of waiting for human subjects to enter my precisely framed compositions, I shot from the hip or raised the camera to my eye the instant I sensed an interesting gesture.
As minor as these changes might sound, they definitely took me out of my comfort zone. I had to re-think my approach, re-tune my reflexes, look at scenes in a different way. Not only couldn't I get the shots I would normally get, it was hard to capture new ones I liked. The delete button became my friend.
After an hour or so I began to notice that the new (for me) AF setup was actually a lot faster than the old one. I could focus on a moving subject in an instant and still have the image be reasonably sharp. I discovered that there was a certain spontaneity and energy to my off-the-hip compositions. I discovered that my images didn't have to be perfectly sharp or perfectly exposed to be interesting or successful.
(By the way, I also discovered that a large percentage of the people walking around these days are either holding a cellphone to their ear or are holding one in front of their face. These folks are so distracted that even a nervous novice street shooter could photograph them without being noticed--not that being noticed is the end of the world.)
Here's an example of what I mean about folks on cellphones. I was no more than an arm's length away from the gentleman in the foreground. He even glanced around and saw me with my camera, but just turned and kept on talking.
As for whether these changes were worth the effort or not, well, I'll let you be the judge of that. And if anything I've written should inspire you to alter a few of your photographic habits, then my job for this post is done.