Techniques

Questions are the Key to Better Imagery

by Charles Glatzer | April 29, 2008

© Charles GlatzerTo maximize the potential of an area and its subjects, always gather as much information as possible before arriving. To make the most of your shoot, talk to others who have been there shortly before, but never assume things will be the same.

Ask yourself questions about the specific location:

  • “Is the area subject to tidal conditions, and if so, what is the best method of access and time to be there?”
  • “Is the area remote and can I get out in a hurry if need be?” Notify others of your departure and expected return times and ask yourself if you should take a personal locator beacon.
  • “What is the weather forecast; do I need to bring foul-weather gear for myself and my equipment, and will the weather affect my safety?”
  • “Will the subjects be in the trees, on the ground or in the air?”
  • “Should I bring a blind, boots, insect repellent, hat, etc.?”
  • “Will I be there all day; should I bring food and water?”

The more questions you ask, the more prepared you will be.

Turkey © Charles Glatzer

This cooperative subject was photographed in many ways for diversity.

Make a checklist and always try to pack your gear the day before to help avoid forgetting something important (like CompactFlash cards)! When you arrive at a new location, scout the area and before exposing, look for the best vantage point, angle of view, and the direction of lighting relative to the subject.

While creating images (or if possible, before), create a physical or mental storyboard and visualize the images as a multi-page spread in a magazine—a photo documentary where you can present the subject in totality.

Again, ask yourself questions:

  • “What attracted me to this subject or location in the first place?”
  • “What images do I need to effectively document and communicate with the viewer about the subject, its habitat and behaviors? Perhaps courtship, sibling rivalry, territorial displays, feeding, etc.?” Photograph as many different aspects as you can; your images become the answers to these questions.
  • “Do the elements in the viewfinder enhance or detract from the main subject?”
  • “Have I covered the angles?” If the subject appears cooperative, try to quickly shoot four images: horizontal, vertical, full length and close-up. Thereafter, you can try for the definitive image of each position. What I do not want to hear from an editor is a request for horizontals of the subject, when all I have are twenty verticals with the head tilted in many directions, ARGHH!
  • “Am I thinking ahead?” If you see the subject walking to the right, anticipate the best vantage point and get there before the subject does. It is through imagery that we, as photographers, communicate. Think of the big picture in advance, and you are far more likely to come away with a higher percentage of usable images, including that killer vertical image for the cover or the unique behavioral shot.

Ask yourself about your vision; visualize the image before depressing the shutter!

I still hear more than I should during workshops: “What exposure settings should I be shooting?” What I should hear is: “This is how I envision the image; what settings do I need to achieve my goal, and how do I meter the subject appropriately to render the image as desired?”

By using manual exposure mode while varying lenses of different focal lengths you can ensure exposure consistency when photographing the same subject in unchanging light, giving you more flexibility to quickly recompose for horizontals, verticals, and close-ups.

In addition, when photographing it is quite difficult to disassociate ourselves from the experience unfolding before us. It is our unique experiences that dictate our emotional reaction to and when photographing an image. Perhaps, if when shooting we were to visualize the image from the viewer rather than the photographer perspective, the end result would appear more objective, or provocative.

Alligators © Charles Glatzer

This alligator feeding frenzy depicts a perspective many viewers will react to.

Nevertheless, questions such as these will help you to be a better communicator and photographer.

The faster you are able to assess the conditions as presented and employ the tools and techniques necessary to render the image as desired, the more likely you are to accomplish your goal. There are four things; knowing the fundamentals, being familiar with your equipment, pre-visualization, and preparedness that are paramount to consistently produce successful imagery.

About the Author

Charles Glatzer, a full-time professional photographer and teacher for more than 20 years, owns and hosts “Shoot the Light” Instructional Photographic Workshops throughout the USA and abroad. For more information go to www.shootthelight.com. No text or images may be reproduced for any purpose whatsoever without written consent from the author.

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