Planning for a Better Photograph

Take Photos You’ll Want to Scan by Planning Your Shots First

Spent Some Time Thinking Carefully Choosing Your Approach First

Great photographs take planning. It’s a simple maxim, and yet as amateur photographers who may have only taken one or two really good photos in our lives, most of us feel like the art form is more about feel or “having a good eye.” But the difference between a memory card full of throw-aways and one with that shot you’d be happy to print, scan to digital, share, and preserve forever is about more than just natural talent. Pros, experts, and successful amateurs all argue that beyond knowing your cameras and lenses and getting familiar with light and composition through taking and studying thousands of shots, it’s the ability to have a plan and understand how to execute it with the help of others that enables people to repeatedly capture the image in their mind.

Planning might seem almost impossible given that some of the best shots we see every day on websites and in periodicals are of dynamic, vibrant scenes. The people in the shot didn’t pose, backup, and replay the action a second time so the photographer could get a better angle. And most of the time we’re sure they don’t take a photo and scan it to digital to redo the whole thing in post-production. And yet they make eye contact with the camera, their faces are perfectly framed, the smile or glance or movement of but a moment preserved forever with that one snap of the shutter. For example, a recent photo spread on the Boston Globe’s website covering the Indian festival of Holi shows close ups of revelers, chaotic action scenes with colored powder streaking across the frame, and the shining faces of children caught in moments of pure, youthful joy. How could planning bridge the gap between what I can do with my camera and the magic that professional photographers captured in these shots?

Professional freelance photographer Jason Lindsay makes the point that every shoot is unique, so it’s important to consider all your possible subjects and angles, and try and shoot them with your various cameras and lenses right away as part of a regimen of preparation. Then you can review these initial shots, which he likens to “sketching”, and share them with peers to get immediate feedback. The goal is to figure out what approach works best to capture the mood and objects you want.

Of course, part of that process must come from experience. Knowing what elements of the situation, such as the joy, chaos, and playfulness of the Holi festival, are most salient and essential for the photos, requires conscious, deliberate thought and experience. This is especially true when translating that analysis into decisions about what objects reflect those moods. In the Globe’s Holi spread, three types of shots dominate: clear extreme close-ups of faces covered in the colors of the festival, emotions plain on their faces face; medium shots of one or a few people moving and dancing, engaged in the activities characteristic of the holiday; and wide shots of large groups that give a feeling of size and chaos.

Although the hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures were necessary to put this 22-shot collection together, every photographer featured almost certainly had to execute a plan, perhaps based on a similar analysis of the salient emotions of the festival, to decide upon the technical approach necessary to capture them. One could even argue that the fact of these obvious trends in what emotions and types of shots different photographers captured suggests they all planned and responded to the same things.

Despite the gulf that separates the weekend amateur photographer from a professional, one of the biggest variables that we can control and which will lead to more photos we want to print, scan to digital, save, and share is preparation and planning. Some extra thought goes a long way to putting you in the position to snap the perfect shot.

Lathmar Holi Festival-The Big Picture-Boston.com
Tips From a Pro: Great Shots Take Great Planning-Popular Photography

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