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I’m fortunate to enjoy many forms of photography, and the enjoyment started with combining exploring and taking a camera with me, happily capturing images along the way.  Eventually I guess this naturally progressed to a very basic planning phase and combining photography with sunrise and sunset.  To this day some of my most enjoyable photography excursions are still going to a location with no particular purpose other than maybe a stroll with the family, but taking a camera with me.

However, I think there can be a limit to this approach.  Of course it can be a numbers game and being in the right place at the right time, but this approach I find can also be stagnant.  Eventually taking the same approach, going to the same places can lead to a ‘same input, same output’, result.  There will always be different light, different focal length opportunities but there is some creative limit.

I’ve been a member of a camera club for a number of years now, and one of the immediate impacts this had on my photography was a thought process to shots.  With a monthly competition theme I suddenly found myself thinking about how I could approach the themes.  It is almost an un-healthy obsession, regularly thinking of ideas and jotting (or my case – typing) down notes.  On the flip side it is a welcome distraction.  Many times where sleep has escaped me whilst things play on my mind I lie there thinking through ideas, anything to prevent me thinking about the very thing that was keeping me awake.  I now find myself taking this approach not just for competitions but personal photography projects.

Some of my photography projects are quite straight forward and I simply go to a location, get the shot and produce the final output.  So I by no means do the following for all my ideas, but I thought I’d share the approach I took for a particular shot I did for the competition theme ‘Night.’

  1. Notes.  Smartphones have spoilt us, so why not take advantage.  I use simple notes app for jotting down ideas, locations, maybe tide times, sunset/sunrise times etc.  In some cases the image(s) won’t be executed for some time so the most important reason for me to make notes is so I don’t forget.
  1. Scouting.  For this particular shot, I knew I wanted street light but with no distractions in the background.  I couldn’t simply find a row of street lights otherwise I would be battling light(s) in the background, so I oddly wanted a streetlight at the end of a run, with no background distractions.  This meant thinking and looking, but because I had made notes I had it almost subconsciously lodged in my mind and without thinking found myself looking whilst travelling but not for the purpose of the shot. 
  1. Drawing.  I’ve not done this step very often, mostly because I can’t draw.  In this instance though I needed a model (which was to be my Dad) and an assistant (my Mum), so it was useful to be able to show them the idea to save their time and time on location.  
Bad drawing of man under street light
Bad drawing of man under street light
  1. The test shot.  The challenging aspect of the final image was trying to balance ambient light (the street light itself) with flash.  I knew in my mind that street light alone would probably not be enough to light my subject without drawing in surrounding ambient light.  And I wanted a ‘spot light’ effect on my subject so the rest of the frame was dark to emphasise the ‘Night’ aspect.  When your model and assistant are unpaid it’s probably best not to have them standing around whilst you balance the light.  So I visited the said location and took a shot for the ambient light and recorded the settings, so I knew when it came to the shot all I had to do was add the flash.
  2. The result.  It’s a bit like painting and decorating.  The painting took very little time.  The prepping of the room took considerably longer.
Man under street light at night
Man under street light at night