I see Run and Gun Photography as a mindset — one that doesn’t work for every photographer, and that’s okay. It requires Creativity, Adaptability and Ingenuity. It’s about overcoming obstacles like gear, lighting, environment, etc., to capture the shot, no matter what.
As a military photographer, I’ve had to embody “run and gun” photography. When I’m photographing a military mission, my gear is limited to what I can fit in a bag. I’m limited to what lighting I can bring…if any. I’m limited on lens selection. I’m limited by time and weather conditions.
Even with all of these limits, Mission failure is not an option.
So when I’m not flying in bombers, jumping out of helicopters or documenting Space Force rocket launches, I’m continuously practicing my craft. I’ve found that street photography is one of the best ways to practice run & gun photography.
So I’m going to share with you a list of my top 10 run and gun photography tips!
Tip 1: Pack Smart
There’s a saying we use in the military: Ounces equal pounds (if you’re into US measurements). Which translates to mean that little bits of equipment that may feel light on their own, add up when you carry a lot of them. I like to add the saying: Pounds equal pain.
The more gear you bring with you, the more weight you may be rucking with for miles. A heavy bag gets extremely uncomfortable after a couple hours, even if you’re in great shape. Be economical and have a reason for each piece of gear in your pack.
Tip 2: Gear Maintenance.
Keep your gear in working order. If your gear isn’t working, you’re not working. Be sure that you have a functioning camera body and lenses before you leave the house to shoot. Cards should be backed-up and formatted. Batteries should be fully charged and in good shape.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to stop a shoot because your battery is dead or your card is full. Trust me. If this happens on a paid shoot, you might not be getting paid and you certainly won’t see repeat customers.
Tip 3: Preparation
How well are you truly physically and mentally prepared? I live by the saying, “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” When it comes to shooting outdoors, do you know what the weather will be like? If you’re going for a photo walk, is there an event downtown that will mean large crowds and no parking?
Do research on your location before you go, or you straight up might have a bad time.
Tip 4: Slow Down
Run and gun photography doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be actually running your whole shoot. Slow down and look around. Take the time to compose your shot. If you need a tripod or monopod for a specific idea, use it!
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
Run and gun photography doesn’t mean sloppy photography. Practice your techniques. The more familiar you are with your gear and the more you’ve practice, the faster you’ll be able to react. Which means capturing more moments.
Tip 5: Aperture & Shutter Priority Modes
I love shooting in Manual (M) mode close to 95% of the time. It’s absolutely crucial that you have an understanding of how your Shutter, Aperture and ISO work together. But I also won’t be a snob at the expense of the moment.
If you’re shooting panning shots for example. Try Shutter Priority and set your shutter at say 1/8th of a second. Your background will already be blurry, so you can let your camera adjust your aperture to get the best exposure quickly.
If you’re shooting street photography, try Aperture Priority. Set your Aperture to F/8 for example and shoot away! Your camera will automatically select a shutter speed, allowing you to quickly capture moments instead of playing with settings.
Tip 6: LED Light Panels
Battery-powered, portable LED light panels have become extremely cheap over the last few years. They’re small, bright and batteries last a fairly long time.
Here are some of my favorite LED lights that I use:
Tip 7: Clothing
Remember planning ahead and being prepared? Make sure your clothing matches the weather conditions. I wear layers to conserve body heat in cooler conditions. I can also remove those layers if I get too warm.
Don’t wear bulky clothing that limits your mobility. If you can’t move, you can’t shoot.
Also put some thought into your footwear. If you’re spending hours on your feet, whether standing, walking or running, it’s important to be comfortable. Don’t cut costs on shoes … you’ll thank me later.
Here’s my favorite shoes for street photography:
Tip 8: Wingman
In the U.S. Air Force we call someone who’s got your back a Wingman. The U.S. Army calls it a Battle Buddy, and the Navy calls it a Shipmate. Whatever you want to call it, bring a friend to shoot with you.
For starters, do it for safety. If you’re carrying potentially thousands of dollars in camera gear, it’s smart to have someone watching your back. You’re less likely to get robbed if there are two of you.
Secondly, if you’re not carrying a light stands to save on weight, your wingman can hold a light or reflector for you. And lastly, it’s great just to have another creative brain to bounce ideas off. Give it a try next time you shoot!
Tip 9: Zoom Vs. Prime
Which lens is better? Or should I say, which one is better for you? There are pros and Cons to each.
Let’s talk about Zoom Lenses. They’re versatile, allowing you to change your focal length to get a variety of shots with a single lens. That means if you’re carrying a 24-70mm, you don’t need a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, etc. It’s all in one!
But zoom lenses are usually limited with aperture. If you’re lucky your zoom might open up to f/2.8, but more likely f/4 or f/5.6. So you’re going to need to shoot with a higher ISO or slower shutter speed to compensate for the limited aperture values.
Now let’s compare prime lenses. Prime lenses usually have the ability to shoot in lower light conditions with apertures of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2. By themselves, they weigh less than a zoom lens, but are less versatile, meaning you’ll need to carry more lenses to cover multiple focal lengths.
Tip 10: Find the Light
This is my most important run and gun photography tip. If you forget all the rest, remember this one. This is the one that’s going to get you some truly amazing photographs. Ready for it?
Find the light. Maybe it’s a great neon sign. Maybe it’s the sunset peaking between buildings. Maybe it’s a LED billboard that lights up the whole block. Once you’ve found the light, all you have to do now is sit and wait for a great moment. Here’s the formula for any great photo you’ve ever seen.
Great Moment + Great Light = Amazing Photograph
Once you’ve found the light, you’re 50% of the way there. Don’t chase light because it will always get away. Find it, wait and be ready for when a moment presents itself. It’s hard enough chasing light and moment, give yourself an advantage by being prepared.
So those are my top 10 run and gun photography tips and tricks that I rely on every time I go shoot. Don’t forget to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss any of my run and gun photography tips, tricks or hacks!
Until next time, get out and go shoot!