There's a lot to learn with photography and it can very quickly become overwhelming. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, composition, light…. All of these areas require time, patience and practice. One topic that doesn't get talked about much is shooting with intention.
Shooting with intention means choosing the settings on purpose to achieve a predetermined specific result. It also means asking a LOT of questions. I would argue that having a clear vision for your photo is critical to making it compelling. Asking Why? What do I want to convey? What am I trying to say? What is this photograph about? (not to be confused with what is this photo of). What prompted me to pick up my camera? How can I best create the photo to represent my message?
What about when the scene is constantly changing you ask? People are coming and going, kids are running amuck. You can still shoot with intention, even in those tough, quickly changing situations.
Review the scene Before putting the camera to your eye, take a good look around and decide what you want to include and exclude from the frame. Is there something in the background that could potentially be distracting? Look beyond telephone poles and trees, and look to color and lines. If there’s a strong color in the background, it could pull the reader’s eye away from your subject.
Choose a Lens/Focal Length Different focal lengths have different effects on the photo. Known as compression, the focal length changes the perceived distance between objects in the frame, making them appear larger or closer together than they actually are. For example, if you’re using a 24 mm lens and are close to your subject, objects that are closer to you will appear much larger than those objects that are further away. Perfect if you want something to appear larger than life. Maybe not perfect if you’re making a portrait (oh, my nose!) If you’re further away from something and using a 300mm lens, the distance from the subject to the background is compressed, making the background appear larger and closer to the subject. Perfect for vast mountain ranges. This is why certain lenses are advertised to be for particular types of photography (portrait lens, landscape lens, documentary lens, etc). But, and this is a bit but…. don’t pigeon hole yourself. All lenses can be used for all types of photography. It all depends on your intent. Consider how your lens choice will affect the resulting photo and choose accordingly.
Review the conditions Is the situation better suited to a slow or fast shutter speed? Are you looking to highlight a starburst, requiring adjustment to the aperture? What kind of mood are you looking to convey? A bright, color-rich happy one, or a darker, moodier moment? These answers will dictate what settings you choose. If in an instant, you need to adjust settings to compensate for your subject moving into a new lighting environment, which setting will you change on the fly? Do you need to start with a slightly higher ISO or smaller aperture to give you room to quickly change the shutter speed? Dial in the settings.
Determine composition Put the camera to your eye and compose the photo. Anticipate where your subject will be and review the composition. Will you follow the rule of thirds, or break it? Where is the horizon line? Make sure it’s straight! What point of view will best represent your message? If you want your subject to be bigger than life, then get down low and shoot up. Do you want to create a sense of intimacy by creating a frame within a frame? You get to choose what is in the photo. Every item in the frame needs to be there on purpose to support your story. Look around to see if something should be included or excluded by changing position.
All the above steps are measurable, actionable and designed to set you up for success. The next step is decidedly more vague and much more difficult to accomplish.
Wait This is often referred to as the “decisive moment”. You have a vision. You know that you want a photo of little Johnny jumping on the trampoline with a starburst coming through the trees. But he barely has his sea legs and can’t even stand up. Wait for it. You’re in a city neighborhood and the building is great, but something is missing. Wait for it. Soon a person will walk through your frame, giving it context and scale. Another thing to keep in mind is that people have a tendency to repeat their actions. If it’s already happened, don’t fret. It will happen again, maybe better. The expression on their face will be more interesting, the composition will work out better. Anticipating what you want is only half the battle. Waiting for it to happen is the hardest part.
Remembering to shoot with intention can be difficult for me at times. Besides asking all the questions, I also need to pause. It's super easy to click and run, but that's rarely how a compelling photo is made. Stopping, thinking, and shooting with intention puts me closer to a better photo. It is always worth it.
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With gratitude, always.
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