Have you ever wondered what makes a powerful photograph? The answer lies is in the creative ability of the image to tell it’s story.
Every image has a story to tell, this is the essence of photography. Some do this more successfully than others and it is the images which entice the viewer deeper into the frame that leave lasting impressions. A photograph should capture a viewer’s imagination, giving them a sense of what happened leading up to the moment and allowing them to complete the events to follow. An impression of the world in a frozen moment, influenced by the perspective and intention of the story teller.
This is true to all forms of photography, not least wildlife photography. Photographers often make the mistake of waiting for something to happen without having a plan on how best to capture the possible scenarios. The magic happens in how you capture the events and the story is influenced by how you tell it, in other words how you photograph it. You have to be prepared for what could happen and give thought to 1) angle, 2) depth of field, 3) lighting, 4) depiction of motion, and many other factors which all influence the story your image will tell.
There are three fundamentals, which I apply to every photographic scenario. I decide on what I want to capture, I decide how I want to capture it and I make sure I capture it at the right moment. This can be summarised into 3 steps in creating a powerful image.
Always have a plan! Do this by analysing the different scenarios you find yourself in and visualise what it is you want to capture. Then decide how best to capture it. This is particularly useful when predicting a behaviour of one of your subjects. If you wait for things to happen without a plan, more often than not you will find yourself out of position for what could have been a powerful image if taken in a particular way.
Start by predicting the behaviour based on the scenario. Next, visualise how to capture this moment in a way which will make the image as striking as possible. It may be that you want a shallow depth of field – isolating the subject in crisp focus. Or it may be that you decide to use a flash because the ideal angle has the sun behind the subject and you want to illuminate the anterior or front side. Whatever it is, if you first have the idea in your mind of what the image should look like, the successful execution will be far easier to achieve. This is exactly the same concept as a golfer visualising a shot on the tee box before hitting the ball. Once they have visualised the shot needed, they know exactly what to do to make it happen.
Once you know what you are after, now you need to decide how you are going to achieve the desired results. You will need to anticipate the critical moment and make sure you are ready. This means getting into a position to capture the frame you are after at the correct angle and adjusting your camera settings to best suit what you are trying to achieve. Consider some of the things you need to check. If you try to do this all in the moment, chances are you will miss the perfect frame:
- Decide on your exposure metering. Are you exposing just for the subject or for the whole scene?
- Decide where you want to take your light reading.
- Check the exposure level indicator in the viewfinder to ensure a neutral exposure, remembering the exposure triangle (ISO, Aperture Shutter Speed).
- Check your Drive Mode or the shooting mode. Do you need Single shot ( for landscape or portraits) or High Speed Continuous shooting (for action scenes).
- Make sure you have the correct focus settings.
These are just examples of things to consider and there are many more to consider if you are going to create a powerful image. Even if you are shooting on auto, anticipating the right moment will ensure you are ready.
Patience is everything. Without it you will settle for a moment, which was good but not great. If you have visualised the image you want, made sure your settings are correct and anticipate the behaviour, then all that is left to do is to push click when it happens and Capture! Well not quite but almost. When you capture the image you need to be as stable as you possibly can be. If you have visualised and anticipated the moment you can make sure that when it comes time to capture it, you can do so appropriately to ensure a crisply focused, correctly composed and well stabilised image.
Applying the Steps
These rules apply to all forms of photography. For example consider a landscape image. A landscape shot is made so much more powerful when planned correctly. The same scene will appear quite differently depending on the angle of the sun, the angle where you shoot from, the available light etc.
Visualise – Select the landscape and take the time to visualise how you wish to portray the scene. By having this image in your mind you will be able to select the correct time of day to shoot and how best to shoot the scene.
Anticipate – Before you arrive, anticipate what it will take from the camera to execute the moment effectively. Is it going to be at a time of day with low soft light? If it is then make sure you have adequate stabilisation gear to allow for a slower shutter speed without having to increase your ISO and run the risk of creating noise in your image. Once the moment arrives with the perfect lighting you will not have long. Decide on your settings before hand and tweak them as necessary in the moment without having to make major adjustments.
Capture – Even in landscape shots, you will only have brief moments when the sun is at the correct angle and the shadows appear as you want them to make the powerful image which you have visualised and will keep your viewers engaged. If you miss those moments it will be a pretty picture of an impressive scene, but will it draw your viewer into the mystical land allowing their imagination to run free? If you have followed the previous two steps you will have all the time you need to capture the image you want and keep people lingering over it, telling a story they will not soon forget.
Have a plan.. decide on how to achieve the plan… execute!