For far too long after getting my first camera (and probably into my second one…), I went out to shoot, but really only took what came to me. I wanted to shoot, but would just go somewhere pretty and snap what I saw without putting much thought into the image. I’d get home and pick a couple that looked good and I was happy. It was only after getting a flash system that I really started putting thought into a picture before I took it.
For example, I may know that the Dallas Skyline looks really cool from this one spot. Before, I would head to that spot, set up the camera and shoot. I didn’t put a lot of thought into the angle of the camera, the time of day or the overall composition. Now, I always try to picture a shot in my head and then go out and get it, rather than just taking whatever the scene throws at me when I happen to get around to shooting there. I plan my shots well in advance now instead of just winging it. It obviously helps if you know the location already so that you have some idea of what you are trying to do, but even if you are somewhere new take a few moments to look around and envision a shot in your head before you get all set up. Sometimes just moving three feet in another direction will give you a whole new look on a location.
The photo used for this post (of the Milky Way rising over the barn), was a shot I planned several days in advance using a number of different tools to determine the exact time, location and conditions that would be the most favorable for getting the Milky Way in the shot, and at the direction I needed to be positioned to have the Milky Way at this particular angle in the shot. All things considered, I REALLY love this shot and I think the planning paid off.
Challenge yourself to go out somewhere local that you’ve shot several times before and get a fresh take on it. Try shooting at dusk, or dawn or even at night. Think about how you want the end result to look, then go out and get it. Maybe you know of a cool neon sign downtown that would look really neat at night with some car trails going through the frame. Or maybe there is a mountain just outside of town that the sun rises behind in the morning and would make for a really cool silhouette just before the sun peeks over the top. Think about any motion you may want, like water flowing and blurring out. Or maybe there is a pond with a perfect reflection of the forest behind it. Think about what you want that shot to look like once you are ready to hang it on the wall. These are the kinds of shots that I challenge you to work on.
You will find that you start looking for ways to make your shots better than ever before. The images you will start making will speak to you more instead of just being a snapshot of a location. Then, once you achieve the shot you set out to get, the image will have more emotion and meaning to you because of the thought that went into it ahead of time. Nothing feels better than to get hyped up for a week about getting one specific shot, then going out and nailing it! Have fun with this tip and see if it make you think more creatively going forward.