This past weekend I participated in Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photo Walk. We had pouring rain predicted for the entire weekend so the walk leader had come up with a rain plan to shoot in a local museum, The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I hadn't visited that museum in years so it was fun to walk through and look at all the nautical displays. I had fun shooting some abstract shots of a light house lens and also working with some detail shots of the displays. I tend to enjoy shooting abstracts so this was a lot of fun for me. I even tried some handheld HDR shots as the lighting was a little challenging in some situations.
However, other people in the group found the location to be more challenging and this made me think about how our own filters can really limit ourselves from getting the shot. One example of this was that one of the participants commented that he was having a tough time because he was trying to stay at 800 ISO on his camera because the noise wasn't great above that. Now I can't comment on the noise performance for his particular camera (a Nikon D5000) but this really stuck with me. Yes, maybe the noise does get worse above 800 on his camera, however it might also open up possibilities in the difficult lighting. I can't say for certain if he did pass on shots because of this but I did catch myself thinking that way from time to time. I was also trying to stick to around 800 as my "base ISO" in the shooting conditions and I did catch myself thinking at times that my shutter speed was going to be too low to handhold the shot. However, what I tried to do was to catch myself whenever I thought that way and would adjust my ISO. In some parts of the museum I had to go as high as 3200 and arguably could have gone higher. Now I shoot with a Nikon D700 which has incredible high ISO performance but the point is that I decided that getting the shot was more important than the noise. Are the 3200 shots noisier than the 800 shots? Absolutely, but I actually have a shot. I could have easily dismissed the possibility because I'd have to increase my ISO above what I considered "acceptable".
Since the walk I've thought a little more about this and applied it more broadly. Settings are one thing, but what about subjects or entire locations? How easy is it to dismiss a scene as not having anything worth shooting? Once you've put that filter up how likely is it that you won't find anything worth shooting? Even something did present itself would you catch it or would your filter keep you from seeing it?
Don't get me wrong, sometimes that filter is based on experience and a serious evaluation of the scene (conscious or unconscious). However, sometimes that experience can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes we just need to silence that internal critic saying that the shot won't work and be open to the possibility that there is something there. Will it always work? No, but sometimes by opening yourself up to the possibilities presented by a scene you can end up surprising yourself. I know I'm going to try to be more aware of my own filters and giving myself permission to experiment, even if it does mean I fail miserably.