There are literally thousands on photography tutorials on the internet (including mine) that explain the different elements that ultimately make up a photoshoot (resulting in your photos). I have read ALOT of them and most are very useful however, I probably only use about 25% of the stuff that I have learned from tutorials in practical every day shoots.
I am not by any means saying that you should not read these articles, or indeed read and then ignore the advice, techniques they offer, I am just saying that you should also develop your own style and never be afraid to experiment and take shots that are different, after all if everyone took every piece of advice they were given by the letter and never tried anything new then we would all be taking the same shots AND taking a hell of a long time over each photograph!
Below is a typical shoot that I will embark on from start to finish, this article is meant to be taken ‘with a pinch of salt’ and I am not by any stretch of the imagination saying that this is what everyone should do as I am sure it probably won’t work for everyone or be the same as other photographers out there.
I am not going to break the below down into different types of shoot (portrait, landscape, street etc) as these are the generic steps and thought processes I would go through for each outing (whether consciously or subconsciously) ;)
Pre PRE Shoot
In my mind there is a ‘Pre PreShoot’, this is the stage prior to thinking specifically about an actual photo session when I am looking generally for inspiration (especially if I haven’t posted anything on FPR for a while!). Without even specifically thinking about whether I want to go for a landscape shot, portrait session or an urban outing, I will look through a few specific sites, these include but are not limited to;
- FlickRiver – Great to get straight to the ‘most interesting’ photos on Flickr that day, any photos that catch my eye will be opened in a new tab and once I have been through the list on FlickRiver, I can then run through the catalogue of opened images and the photographers photostream. This is also a great way to find new contacts/groups with interesting work.
- Flickr – Great for inspiration, first off I will take a look at newly uploaded work from my contacts. I specifically add contacts that take original (sometimes weird) photographs and from a variety of genres. Looking through these photos I will often ntice the one’s that remind me of a location I can visit, offer a new technique that I can try out or that I simply like the look of and fancy giving a go (with a different perspective). I will then look through some of the groups I am a member of, these range from HDR groups, through portrait groups and all the way to specific makes of car.
- StumbleUpon – A great way to find photos that you otherwise might miss or skip through, you can download the tool bar for StumbleUpon and select specific categories.
- 500PX – A great source of inspiration as 500PX does truly contain some of the best photography on the web.
- Instagram – A great iPhone app to check out some original, raw photography taken with both the iPhone and uploaded images.
Now EVEN before I look on the web for some inspiration I have started to see the world in photo format, that is to say that pretty much everywhere I go I am looking for photos or saying “that would make a great photo if I took it from……..”. Driving about in the car, during conversations where someone might mention something that to anyone else would not be connected to photography at all, there are ideas everywhere and at all times.
One thing I have started to do is to note photo ideas down on my phone, this way I can refer to a list if completely stuck for ideas.
I’ll also often have conversations with people that are interested in a portrait shoot, they have their own ideas about what they want and quite often these are based on things that they have seen that I might not have, again, another source of inspiration from an unlikely source. As I have mentioned before, adverts in magazines for perfumes and films etc are a great way of getting ideas for future shoots.
So, once I have a general or precise idea of what I would like to photograph on a shoot I am able to think specifically about what I will need to take and where I need to go;
If I am going on a landscape shoot I’ll tend to have a couple if not one location where I need to head to (obviously). I take the weather into consideration as although it may seem obvious to wrap up warm, you also need to think about operating the camera (hard to do with gloves on!) and whether it is likely to get dark or is already dark when you go out. If your going for urban shots it is good to think about whether there might be other people about getting in the way, as with the below shot, this was taken very early on a Sunday morning when I was pretty sure that any sane person would be still asleep! If your going for low light shots such as sunrise/sunset then you will need a tripod.
One thing that I often overlook and did so only last week while taking the Millennium bridge shots is to gauge how heavy your kit bag is if you are going to have to walk any distance and remove anything that is not required. I carried a heavy rucksack around London for a good few hours and felt the effects on my shoulder for a few days afterwards.
Sometimes I’ll just have a general idea about what I want to try and capture such as a fence to demonstrate depth of field, living in the country there is an abundance of fences however finding the right one that fits the idea in your head is not always easy, never ‘settle’ for a shot if you have the opportunity to get another one, even if this means jumping back in the car or walking a bit to find another location.
I have a number of lenses that I have obtained over a few years specifically to allow me more choice with my images, these are;
- Canon 14mm L Lens – Great for wide angle shots, especially in low light conditions, awesome quality but expensive.
- Canon 60mm Macro – Superb close up lens and also great for portraits.
- Canon 50mm prime – My favourite lens when trying to achieve bokeh or depth of field effects.
- Sigma 17-70mm Macro – A cheap lens but given the right conditions and settings is great for long distance shots and also macro shots.
- Tamron 70-300mm – Excellent all round lens which offers great flexibility for everyday photography.
- Samyang 8mm Fisheye - Love the effect of this lens and it’s great for interior shots and street photos.
As you can see each lens gives completely different options and results and this was a concious decision when I chose them. I primarily use either the 14mm or the Fisheye but its good to know I have a variety of choices available should I see an opportunity.
I also carry a number of other photography items;
- Canon 50d camera (bit silly not too!)
- Spudz lend cleaning cloth – great as it clips to your kit bag.
- Canon remote – to help reduce camera shake on long exposures, also enable timed and repetitive shots.
- Bean Bag – to use for low level shots instead of a tripod, also easier to setup and adjust than a tripod (and lighter!)
- Canon 430ex Mk11 External flash.
- Spare batteries – both for the camera and the flash.
- Spare memory card – never good to be limited with your shots.
- Tripod – For obvious reasons ;)
- Filters – 10 stop, ND Grads, Colour filters, Star filter and Zoom burst
Now all of the above may seem overkill for an everyday outing but as long as I dont have to walk for miles I like to know that I have all of the above in case I need it – better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!
Now, as I mentioned initially, I have read hundreds of tutorials and written quite a few for FPR, I would say that I use a little bit of each of these on a shoot however I like to break the rules as often as I can to achieve original results.
I have only ever used 3 modes on my camera and always shoot in RAW;
- Aperture Priority
- Shutter Priority
Manual is the mode I select pretty much 99% of the time as I like having full control over the camera. I use aperture priority for creating a depth of field in good light conditions and in some low light situations to try and increase the shutter speed and shutter priority for action shots (if manual is not proving successful).
I always try to keep the ISO to a minimum (100) and this often means lengthening the shutter speed or adjusting the aperture accordingly. It usually takes a few test shots to get the correct settings when using Manual mode but I find it more pleasing to think that I had little or no assistance from the cameras automatic calculations.
I also usually bracket my photos, either for use in HDR images or simply to have the option to play with the different exposures in post processing (I think that bit is just me though!?).
I’ll often also take several photos of the same scene not only with one lens but with a variety of lenses to gain different perspectives and effects, this way I have the choice of which one (if not both) to use for my portfolio, galleries and future posts on FPR.
I am a great believer in taking shots that others may not necessarily see, this often means getting into places that are a bit awkward such as wading into a stream to capture a waterfall close up rather than taking the shots from the bank (where everyone else would likely take the photo from). Another example is the Millennium bridge shots, I tried to take photos of the bridge not only from a panoramic point of view but also from low angles, along the railings that line the bridge and from behind the bridge where not many people would bother going. Remember – out of the norm photos are the one’s that cathc peoples eye.
Another area I am interested in is HDR photography, I am not going to get into whether this is good or bad and to be honest, I don’t care waht other people think about it, it’s down to personal preference. I will often look for texture, colour, reflections and interesting shapes when planning composition as HDR works best when these elements are within the frame. I bracket three shots at 2 stops usually based on an original photo using manual settings, pretty much all other processing of HDR is carried out on the PC. It’s important to keep the camera absolutely still during the shots to assure that the photos you are bracketing are all exactly the same, this is why a tripod of bean bag are essential and a self timer or remote are advisable.
My tripod is the second most useful piece of kit that I have, I would actually go as far as to say that I use it too much during the day and even in great lighting conditions, this is a bit more to set up and is time consuming but at least I know the photos will be free from blurring (unless I want that effect) and I can also position the shot perfectly. A tripod is quite a heavy bit of kit and so using a bean bag as an alternative on shoots were a lot of walking is necessary can be more practical however without an object to place the bean bag on at the right height is an obstacle that should be considered (unless you want a load of shots that are all ground level!).
I primarily use 2 pieces of software in my post processing, these are;
I use Photoshop to process single shots (RAW) which I adjust the sharpness, cropping, saturation, exposure etc. I also use it to finalise the processing on bracketed shots processed through Photomatix. Over time I have recorded several actions that I pretty much always perform so that I can save time during the process to sharpen, add layers and remove noise.
Photomatix is used to process and combine the bracketed shots into an HDR image, from there I save the image as a TIFF file and continue to edit it in Photoshop.
Once all of the above is complete I will either upload the images to Flickr and add them to some groups for comments and feedback, use them in a FPR article or both. If used in an FPR article then I would also tweet the article url and Stumble the article using the icons available, the post would also be placed on Facebook automatically.
So, that’s it, my photography process from start to finish, I am sure that there are elements above which people will say are not correct and that if you look at the scientific approach I should be doing it differently but that’s what’s great about a creative art such as photography, there is really no right or wrong way of creating a photo as long as you are happy with the end result! ;)