Three Steps to Your Best Pictures
Once you’ve found the photographic elements that are important to you, it’s time to take your picture. Don’t over think it! There are just three steps which reliably lead to great photographs.
- Wait for your moment
- Put it all together
It took me years to figure out how to previsualize. Turns out it’s incredibly easy to do, and it will make a tremendous difference in your photography. To previsualize, imagine your scene as a finished photograph before you take your picture. That’s it!
Why does this help? We’ve already talked about how challenging it can be to capture beautiful travel experiences with your camera. Previsualizing eases that challenge by letting you “see” your picture before you take it.
Asking yourself questions is an integral part of previsualizing. Ask yourself why you are drawn to the scene. Is there anything you want to emphasize? Is there anything you’d rather leave out of the frame? Answering these questions will help you find the best way to capture your scene. Maybe you’ll opt for a better angle, maybe you’ll decide to come back when the light is better, or maybe you’ll realize the picture isn’t worth taking after all.
The photo above from Nepal perfectly highlights how you can previsualize in order to capture a scene in the best way possible. Imagining my finished picture, I realized that I needed to do two things to create the image I really wanted: kneel down to the woman’s level, and include the candles in the frame. Kneeling down added the intimacy I was looking for, and including the candles added a sense of place which shows viewers where the warm glow was coming from.
Wait for your moment
As you previsualize, you might occasionally find a beautiful scene that doesn’t have any good ways to photograph it in the moment. This happens surprisingly often.
When I saw this child among the colorful buildings in the small Nepalese town of Bhulbhule, I knew that the elements which might make a good picture were all there. Standing in the street with my camera, I previsualized. I quickly realized that taking the photo from the child’s level instead of mine would help viewers form a better emotional connection. The new vantage point worked well, but I felt the overall scene was still unbalanced. I asked myself what might make the photograph better. I realized that having someone walk by on the left hand side would add the balance I was looking for and complete the picture.
So I waited.
Eventually, a woman did walk by and I got the picture I was hoping for. While the woman’s appearance was pure luck, knowing what I wanted to capture from this scene was anything but. Shooting this image was simply a matter of waiting for real life to mimic the photograph I had already imagined.
Keep in mind that you’re not always going to want to wait for someone to appear. When you travel to more popular destinations, you might want to wait for the crowds and tourists to dissipate so you can take your photo without all the people. In extreme cases, you might want to leave the scene entirely and return in the off hours, long after the masses have left.
Another reason you might want to wait is light. The quality of light changes throughout the day, and you might rather shoot at sunrise or sunset than in the midday sun.
Put it all together
Let’s talk about this shot from Mumbai. Jet lagged and walking around at dawn, I spotted a group of crows near the Gateway to India. I thought it might lead to a good photograph so I previsualized, asking myself why I liked the scene and how best I might be able to capture it:
- I liked the dark ambience of the early morning.
- I liked the way the clouds overhead created soft, dramatic light.
- I liked the Gateway to India because it immediately identified the area.
So I put it all together. I imagined my finished picture with the crows flying over the Gateway to India, and with the dramatic light of the morning clouds in the background.
Knowing exactly what I wanted, I set up my camera for high speed continuous shooting with servo autofocus. I knew these settings would let me rapidly take pictures while the autofocus continually searched for the best focus. Waiting for the right moment, I pointed my camera skyward and held the shutter button down every time the crows flew overhead. There were a lot of missed shots, but eventually I got the picture I was looking for.
Knowing what you’re looking for and having the patience to wait for it is the most reliable way to take great pictures when you’re on the road.