Sunday, 16 October 2011

Plan, Practice, Repeat... and ... "VOILA", a keeper

One of my favorite quotes about photography is from Ansel Adams. It reads, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

To be honest, sometimes there is a luck factor. We decide to go somewhere and shoot a scene that we have wanted to get to… we show up, and it’s like the script was written. The clouds were perfect, the sun was what we wanted, and the scene lay out as we had hoped.

But how many times does this really happen? For people that have been shooting for less than a few years, or are just weekend warriors, this is probably not something you think about too much. You are happy to get out with friends and to be taking photographs of a subject that you like to photograph.

As you become more seasoned, maybe you have taken 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 photos, you started to sell a few images, and are now investing in better gear; your desire to take better shots increases and you want to travel to some of these inspiring locations you read about. But you seemed to hit a wall; you’re not getting any better, it’s not for lack of trying, but for lack of something… But what is that “something”?

Well, it’s a combination of a little research, learning some basic tips and following the steps I discuss below…

Long Term
The best possible weather is preferred when shooting a location, that’s a no brainer. But what is that ideal weather? Only you can answer that. Rain is less than desirable time to shoot unless you want that desired effect. Sunny blue skies can be a plus, but then again, too high in the sky and your photos will not be ideal. Every location and every subject demands only a few types of atmosphere to walk away with a great photo.

First, decide where you want to go and what you want to photograph there. Find out what is the best time of the year at that location to photograph your subject of interest. Let’s look at the west coast of Canada. Some prefer to shoot mountains in all their snowy, sun kissed glory. Others prefer fall when the trees are still visible and the upslope fog really enhances mood. Neither are bad, its just personal preference.

For me, it’s later in August when I want to be there. This time of year is affectionately referred to as “Fogust”.

Short Term
Many of us don’t photograph landscapes and wildlife for a living; we visit places hoping to capture stunning images during our vacation travel. We want to book ahead of time, find deals on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars. That means you are going to have to gamble a bit with the weather and hope for the best. The tradeoff here is to wait enough to get a reading on the extended forecast while trying to keep things within budget. Ideally if it’s possible, wait till a week before and plan. If only we could all plan last minute…

Last year we went to my uncle’s cottage in the spring. While the weather was perfect as predicted. What we didn’t think about was mosquitoes and black flies. So what did we do, we turned our sour grapes about the local blood suckers into a beautiful glass of wine.

On the Day
So you have done all your phenomenal research and you end up at your dream spot to click away and fill up that 32GB SD card. Now what? Understand your subject and correlate the subject with the weather that has been bestowed upon you. If all you have is an overcast day, chase waterfalls. You can shoot the entire day with the cloud cover posing as a soft box. With some creativity, a lot more options open up. If you are set to have bright blue skies, shoot around dusk and dawn and scout locations during mid-day.

If your all set up at sunset on the lake ready to shoot a cloudy sunset and the clouds and storm clouds move in, take cover and watch for the light show.

The Final Moment
You have found your spot and setup your gear and tripod ready to hit that shutter. It might seem like a trivial thing but the exact moment you hit the shutter might make or break your shot.

When shooting sunsets on the beach, try waiting and time the waves. A receding wave going back towards the ocean looks more pleasing on the shot. Wait for the wave to come in all the way, and hit that shutter when the wave hits the farthest point inland, so that your shutter is open when the wave starts to recede.

While shooting wildflowers, wait for the wind to subside. It will help you from having those flowers blurred out.

Shooting an animal? They are unpredictable so take as many shots as you can. You may not get another chance. But look for the animal to face you. Have the sun behind you, wait for the glint in their eye and focus on them. The little details make all the difference in the world.

My point is… It sometimes boils down to a little practice, some planning, lots of shooting, and repeat… just get out there and enjoy yourself. So next time, try a little planning but be open to the possibilities