You just can’t take great pictures without planning

Tips & Techniques

Many photographers, especially beginners, may tend to grab the camera and go shooting. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I believe careful planning can do a lot more to a picture than just a simple grab-n-go.

When I first started with photography, I took my camera everywhere I went. I got some okay pictures, and that was it. Essentially, I opened myself to the world’s offerings. The same was for my early portrait sessions. I just said “whatever” and improvised along the way. If it all sounds a bit careless and naïve, that’s because it was. Since then, I’ve learned the importance of planning in photography. Here are some ways you can plan your next photoshoot:

Landscape

Landscape photography is all about the scene. Sure, it is not the only factor, but read the name carefully: you’re photographing a landscape. It implies a scene. The beauty of this world is that scenes change all the time. A landscape photo depends on many factors: cloud cover, wind, humidity. Cloud cover will affect the amount of light & drama in your shot. Wind will either produce streaking clouds at long shutter speeds or make clouds painterly static. Humidity will determine the amount of fog.

Portrait

Portraiture is a genre where careful planning and research can lead to pictures that are more than just “pretty faces.” In Annie Leibovitz At Work, Annie Leibovitz mentions that she does extensive research into who her subject is. This can be considered part of the planning process.

Having photographed many portraits before, I need to emphasize the difference that planning has made to my work. Without planning, it is virtually impossible to come up with pictures that are a bit more than pretty. Sure, you can have all your subjects on a white background. But wouldn’t that be boring?

Before shooting a portrait, I dive into looking at the location, lighting, inspiration, and styling.

Location will determine how the image feels; a white background will be more official than a brick wall. A mountain will be heroic, while a seashore calm. Lighting will determine how the subject’s face comes across. Too hard and the subject looks like a villain, too soft, and the subject will end up like a renaissance painting. Add too much kicker, and the subject will look like a baseball player. A portrait lit from right to left will be more suited to the western world than a portrait lit from left to right. Inspiration will decide if I’m going for a particular look. Styling is important as it is a vital element of every human being. Photographing Ellen DeGeneres without her iconic outfit would come across as strange and not show her well.

Street

Street photography is appealing and seemingly easy because you “simply” go and take pictures, right? Well, I like to think that not quite. Street photography is one of the most unpredictable genres. Say, only 1% of the pictures are actually keepers. With careful planning, that can be 5 times as large. There are two types of street photographers: the hunters and the waiters. Being a waiter is a lot easier, as you can make more interesting photographs that way. Knowing where the interesting locations are and planning your route accordingly can be very helpful and make you a lot happier with your work.

In conclusion

To finish off, I’d recommend careful planning for all photographers, no matter the genre. Grab-n-go won’t get you far when it comes to producing great work. Yes, an image is only 1/160th of a second. To some degree, it is a lucky accident. But lucky accidents only happen in the right environments. You can’t sit and do nothing, hoping for a lucky accident. You can put yourself to planning and work to create the perfect conditions for a lucky accident.

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