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5 Tips for a Powerful Picture Every Time

Play-At-First.jpgYou see plenty of landscape, portrait and commercial photographs every day on the web and in magazines. You can tell by the lighting, staging and seemingly overall perfection of everything in those pictures that days, maybe even weeks of planning were needed to pull of such amazing photographs.

With that much planning, all that is left to do when it is time to take the picture is press the shutter. The photographer behind the lens probably even knew exactly what time she was going to press the shutter. In short, the photographer did everything necessary to prepare for the picture.

But what about the other side of photography?

You have also seen equally powerful pictures that captured something spectacular in the spur of the moment. These are the kind of photographs that you may think you could never plan for because they present themselves with no prior notice or warning.

Van Wreck

Have you ever heard the saying that “luck favors the prepared”? No truer statement could ever be said about photographers and photography.

It’s true that luck can find anyone at any given time, but if you want to be able to pull off amazing photos with just a moment’s notice you need to be as prepared as a studio or commercial. But this approach to photography takes a completely different type of preparation.

Here are five photography tips for a powerful picture every time. These tips will help prepare you to perfectly capture once in a lifetime pictures time and time again.

1. Always have a camera

A prepared photographer needs to have a camera close by at all times. It sounds elementary, but any good top five list is going to start off with the basics first. If you don’t have a camera with you, you will not be able to capture that picture of a bald eagle in your backyard. Without your camera, you are left only with your story of a bald eagle. Odds are you have already have a camera on you or near you right now. Your phone! The first tip in photography preparation; always have your camera (any camera) close by.


2. Study light

Photography is all about light (and having a camera). Without light there is no photography. But there is so much more to light than just having it. As a photographer you must become a student of light. What color is the light? How strong is the light? Where is the light coming from? How long until the light changes? Where can you find more light right now?

Cowboy Lights Up

As you move through your day (camera at your side), take the time to notice the light sources around you. If you are in a meeting, look around the conference room. Is there light coming through the window? What kind of lights are in the ceiling? Are there desk lamps? What about the light coming from everyone’s computer screens? Could you open the curtains to let in more light?

By reminding yourself throughout the day to recognize and understand your lighting situation you are learning how to master light rather than have it master you. Then you are on your way to taking better pictures at a moment’s notice.

3. Visualize

While you are studying the light around you take a moment and pretend that you are taking a picture. While in that same theoretical meeting, look across the table at your colleagues. Imagine taking a picture of them. Which side of their face has more lighting? Are they backlit? How would you overcome that? Would your picture be better if you moved across the room? Is there a ray of sunlight that, if you could, you would ask your boss to step into because it would highlight her hair color so well?

By taking the time to play pictures out in your mind you are actually training your mind to think like a photographer. You are preparing your mind to be ready. It’s called visualization and athletes do it all the time. Ever wonder why a golfer takes so long to hit the ball? It’s because he is envisioning his swing, and the ball going where he wants it to go before he hits it.

Photographers and photography are no different. Train your mind by constantly imagining that you are taking a picture.

4. Think ahead

This tip goes hand in glove with tip number 3. You should always be thinking ahead, be it five seconds, five minutes or five hours. To be ready to take a photo at the drop of a hat you have to put yourself in a situation that has yet to happen.

Fire Chief On Truck

It’s like the pre-flight safety instructions you hear before a plane takes off. It does no one any good to get that information when the plane is in distress. Knowing where the exit doors are ahead of time saves lives. Knowing what ISO setting you will need if your kids break out in a song and dance routine for the grandparents can save Christmas.

Always be thinking ahead and absorbing your surroundings to better anticipate action that hasn’t yet taken place. Sports photographers may do this better than anyone. The better they understand how the sport is played the more likely they will be to capture the key moments in a game. A photographer covering a baseball game recognizes that there will be a play at first base and he will instinctively put his focus on the first base bag and wait for the play to get to him.

Play At First

To always be ready to capture a picture at the drop of a hat you have to be a student of life, and a student of movement and moments. Learn to anticipate and not just react.

5. Practice

The final tip is one that combines the other four and that is to practice being ready at all times. It may sound silly, but why do you think golfers, baseball players and airplane pilots practice? So that when it comes time to hit the ball, catch the ball or avoid a crash they have already placed themselves in that situation and performed the needed mind and body movements over and over again. Come game time (or in an emergency) instincts take over.

Luck favors the prepared and trust me, if my plane loses an engine I want a pilot who has already thought through what needs to be done to prevent the plane from crashing. I don’t want him fumbling over buttons and dials trying to figure out how to keep the plane in the air. I want him to instinctively know what must be done to save the plane.

As a practical matter, have a friend change your camera settings so that you have no idea how your aperture, ISO and shutter speed are set. Have your friend point at something (it doesn’t matter what because this is practice).Then quickly grab your camera and adjust your settings to best capture that object. Then, do it again with another object or person or passing car. Take your camera on walks with you and have your friends constantly test your skills. Make a game out of it until you instinctively know what to do.

Men In Dresses

To be ready to take a powerful picture at any moment you literally have to be ready to take a picture at any moment. Keep a camera near you at all times. Be aware of your light because it is always changing. Constantly visualize taking pictures. Always be aware of your surroundings to better anticipate action, and to perfect all of this, practice.

Remember, luck favors the prepared. Luck is not a strategy. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Please do so on the comments below.

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Scott Umstattd
Scott Umstattd

is a travel and documentary photographer and author of Fighting The Evils of Darkness: A Low Light Photography Survival Guide. His ultimate goal in photography is to capture undeniable photographical evidence of a UFO. In the event he is not able to do that, he trains other photographers to always be prepared in the event of an alien invasion. To that end, he created Picture Power, an online hideout for photography superheroes.