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Do you plan your photos?

December 23, 2009

Many of us go to family functions, holiday gatherings and on vacations with the intent of getting great shots only to return home and realize we missed them. Have you missed grandma’s joyful smile as she opened the sweater the grandchildren gave her or you missed your mother’s watery eyes as you sat to eat around the table together. Maybe you look back and wish you had a picture of uncle Joe’s growing anger as his team let a sure win slip away. There can be any number of superficial reasons for missing these memorable moments. What ever they are the fact is you simply showed up with a camera and the thought, “I want to get some good photos!” That was not enough.

Two simple tips will help you get the photos you want and more likely than not improve the quality of your photos as well.  First, plan your shots and second, use a pre-visualzation technique.

Planning your shots.

Think about the shots you want or the stories you want to tell AND what you need to do in order to get those shots or tell those stories.  This is what a wedding photographer does before each wedding, helping the bride and the groom determine which photos they want.  Then, based on the venue, the photographer decides how he can best arrange the wedding party to get the shots needed. The photographer also plans equipment needs and its location ahead of time.  I am not suggesting that you organize the family for every photo as each gift is opened.  What I am suggesting is that you need to think, before you leave, about:

  • Based on the guest list, who do you want photos of?
  • What is the layout of the rooms?
  • What will the lighting be like?
  • How crowded will it be?
  • Do you know if someone is getting a special gift? (get four photos, as they receive it, as they open, as they see what is inside, and the giver)

Depending on how the size of the room you might want a wide angle lens or a zoom lens. If it is going be crowded but well lit a zoom lens would allow you to focus  on a small number of people thus avoiding common distractions.  If working in low-light conditions, you will need a flash and maybe tripod.  Might this be grandma’s last holiday?(yikes)  If so, you want to get pictures of her as she interacts with family.  DO NOT stage everything but just be watching!  Is there a new member of the family who will be there?  A little pre-thinking and questioning will help you avoid delays of setting the camera and it will help you relax because you know what you want to do!  Furthermore, knowing what you want to photograph and the setting you will be in will help you get the photos that you want not simply the photos that you get!


Pre-visualization is a skill used to concentrate the mind on something; anything in order to prepare for it.  For-example, a good gymnast will not only spend time practicing a new dismount but will also spend considerable time visualizing his or her body and the position of arms and legs and the movements they make.

Pre-visualization differs from Planning Your Shots in that it entails considering a single photograph that you want to make. You consider the details of the shot and what is needed to in order for those circumstances to arise.  For example if you want a shot of grandpa sitting in front of the TV passed out he will need to have consumed a fair amount of turkey and/or your aunts eggnog. Moreover he probably needs to have been playing with the kids and have a reason to be in front of the TV. There are further details you have to consider if you are to get the lighting right.

Pre-visualization is usually used for those stunning shots of animals you see in national geographic. The preparation require to get the admittedly simplistic example above may not be worth it. If you have a shot you would love to get take a look at Scott Bourne’s articles on the topic (Patience Can Payoff and Pre-Visualization Exercises).

This works for vacations. I am currrently thinking about the photos I want as I plan a trip home next summer. I want to make a book of photos after our trip so I want to make sure I get all the photos I want!

Take a few minutes and think about the photos you want this week!


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