Improve your photography by planning ahead

I worked as an assistant for a talented photographer who taught me a great deal about the craft. He generally had a vision of each shoot beforehand, and showed me that a little planning and imagination go a long way in capturing better photographs.

Novice photographers often arrive with good intentions but no plan of action. If you know the basics of photography and give some thought about potential photos ahead of time, you’ll see a difference in the quality of your work.

Let’s look at a few easy tips to help you on your photographic journey (BTW, click on an image to enlarge it).

Try something different
I took one of my favorite photos, above, while working at L.L. Bean. Our employee newsletter featured a profile of the manager of retail marketing, a woman who juggles many, many tasks. I wanted the photo to metaphorically show how much she did, and came up with the idea of having her juggle Bean boots in front of the company’s flagship store. Before shooting, I drew a sketch of my vision and then photographed a coworker juggling Bean Boots to see if the concept would work. Finally, I built a frame to hang some of the boots. It’s funny, people think this is Photoshop, but it’s not.


Arrive early for warm-ups
You’re going to a sporting event, but your seats are too far away for a memorable shot. Warm-ups often present some great opportunities for photos. In a previous blog, Take Better Photos with These 7 Tips, I wrote about shooting away from the action, and this is a somewhat similar concept.

Here, I snapped a photo of former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona walking back to the dugout during warm-ups. Yes, it’s not the same as getting a great action shot during the game, but when your seat is in the back row of the bleachers, this is a pretty good alternative. The same principle — shoot before the action starts — applies if you’re covering a corporate event or your kids’ soccer game.

Note how the color of Francona’s jersey makes the image pop a bit more. When I walk into a room looking for subjects, one of the first things I see are the colors of people’s clothes.


Have fun with your photos

During my tenure at L.L.Bean, the company opened several new retail stores, including one in Burlington, Massachusetts, just down the road from Lexington, where the Revolutionary War began.

A couple of weeks before the store opening, I grabbed a pair of Bean Boots, and headed to a reenactment of the war’s first battle. One of the actors agreed to pose for a shot wearing the boots, and we used the image on our employee website.

The caption we used suggested the Colonists won the war because Bean Boots had kept their feet warm and dry feet. But for the record, the first pair of Bean Boots came along about 140 years after the war.

Be open for other possibilities
I once read about an old-school photography exercise that directed students to walk for a predetermined time, then stop and take a photo from where they stopped. The exercise is said to sharpen your ability to find a subject, regardless of where you are.

And sometimes you look up, and a photo is waiting to be taken …

Each year, Maine maple syrup producers welcome the public to see the syrup-making process in person. After shooting some of the Maine Maple Sunday activities, I happened to look back at the barn, and saw this face peeking out.  Apparently the goat was intrigued by the activity. I went to photograph maple syrup, but came away with a goat photo. The paper I shot for put it on the cover.


Ask for help, especially with children

A kid on a tire swing is a photo waiting to be taken. Trouble is, kids don’t act natural around cameras.

I saw our young friend on the tire swing, and even with a 400mm lens, knew he’d see me taking his photos.

So, I enlisted his father to talk to him (okay, distract him) as I snapped away. The original, a slide, lost some color in its conversion to digital, but you get the point.

Some kids become hams when a camera appears, while others shy away, so having something or someone to hold their attention helps you capture a more natural moment.


Stake out your spot

Author Mitch Albom was speaking about his best-selling book Tuesdays with Morrie at a large conference I attended a few years ago. He’s a terrific speaker, and I wanted a photo. Unfortunately, because I flew to the conference, the only camera I packed was my small point-and-shoot camera.

So, I arrived really early, and took the best seat I could find: front row, a little off-center. An easy, but often overlooked way to get a better photo.


Hang around
I’d never seen Craigslist founder Craig Newmark until he spoke at a similar event I attended.

He’s a very bright guy, and an engaging speaker, and I thought there might be a good photo opportunity.

Unfortunately, the lighting onstage wasn’t enough for my little camera, so I decided to wait until he finished and the crowd began to disperse. He was on stage chatting, and I moved in close enough to use my flash and snapped a couple of quick photos.

Remember, the flash unit on most point-and-shoot cameras is good for about 10-12 feet.

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