Plan, Then Shoot

Shooting spontaneously is great, and can produce stunning shots. But with most of us time limited, a bit of preparation ahead of time can maximize your chances.
Many people have the impression that photography needs to be spontaneous to be creative. This is true for some people and for some of the time. But like all human activities, sometimes a bit of preparation can increase the likelihood of creativity triumphing over mediocrity. Call it creative foreplay rather than planning, if it makes you feel better.

Studio photographers plan ahead all the time. They may need to book a makeup artist, get in props, hire equipment, construct sets and more. All of us also plan ahead in some ways, such as packing our camera bag and making sure the batteries are all charged up.
I am mostly a landscape photographer. Planning a shoot can be little more than checking the weather forecast and consulting a map to know how to get there. But it can be much more.

Landscape photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Let us just consider landscape photography for now as an example. Before a landscape shoot, we could do the following:

  • Check the weather, plus high and low tide times if in a coastal area;
  • Determine sunrise and sunset times, plus moon rise and set and phase. You can also determine the azimuth points around the horizon of the rise and set points;
  • Google for shots of the same location;
  • Go look for books at the library;
  • Use Google Earth to examine the ground;
  • Consult a topographical map to look for potential vistas, shooting locations, approach routes, etc;
  • Writeup a list of the shots you want to take.

The above list is, of course, only representative and similar lists could be prepared for other types of photography. A bit of preparation helps to maximize your chances of success. For example if you know that the moon will rise at 3pm in the afternoon and that there is a particular location with an appropriate vista then you can arrange to be there a bit before three. Without knowing it you will not be sad for what you missed but you just might have completely missed what might have been a stunning shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not plan all the time. Sometimes I just have to get out and so I grab a selection of gear and just drive. But sometimes planning lets you get far more out of whatever time you have available for shooting.

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