How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

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Greater success with your event, street, travel or any other genre of photography can depend a lot on how prepared you are before you leave the house and how observant you are at the location you are making pictures. Here are some tips to help you be better prepared for your next photo shoot.

senior Thai woman taking part in a street parade holding a painted parasol - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

A participant in the annual Chiang Mai Flower Parade enjoys having her photo taken.

I’ve based this article on street and event photography so I can use my photos to illustrate specific situations.

Planning

Planning your photography session in advance can make it a much more rewarding experience. You don’t necessarily need to start making spreadsheets and contingency preparations if you’re going out to photograph a local farmers market or craft fair. But a little groundwork can make times you are out with your camera significantly more enjoyable.

Having some prior knowledge of your subject, the location, and the type of activity that happens there (if any) will increase the opportunities you have to capture better photos. Even the way you dress and the footwear you choose can potentially have an influence on your photos. Certainly, the amount and type of camera equipment you choose to carry will have an effect on the outcome of your photography excursion.

Women in traditional Thai costume prior to the start of the Flower Parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Girls talking before a parade starts.

For example

Performers rest prior to the start of a Chinese New Year parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Performers rest prior to the start of a Chinese New Year parade.

Before heading out to photograph the Chinese New Year Parade I checked so I knew the starting time, location, and the route it would take. I arrived at least an hour early for some behind the scenes moments when the morning light was rich.

Some prior knowledge of the type of subjects and activity I would encounter enabled me to anticipate the flow of action. So I was able to capture the dragon as it moved through the streets and received cash gifts from locals in its mouth.

A woman places money in the mouth of a Chinese New Year dragon during a street parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand. - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

A woman places money in the mouth of a Chinese New Year dragon during a street parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Prepare yourself too

I was wearing a good pair of sports shoes as I knew I would need to run at times to keep ahead of the parade. With many parades and festivals in south east Asia, there are often few restrictions for photographers assertive and considerate enough to just go with the flow of things.

I traveled light, without an abundance of camera gear. There’s always a choice between carrying more and having it weigh you down and making your movements more difficult and not having the right lens with you. I typically prefer to take two lenses so I have one on the camera and the other in a small belt bag. This way I am free to move and can often get closer to the action than if I was weighted down with a shoulder bag or backpack full of gear.

Chinese New Year parade and photographers - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Photographing the dragon during a Chinese New Year parade.

Researching is easy these days. So planning and being prepared before you head out with your camera takes very little effort but can make a huge difference to the photos you’ll make and how much you enjoy your experience.

Anticipation

Once you’re on location it pays to take a little time to observe and anticipate how you can obtain the best photos.

  • Walking around, watching people, and considering what you think will be the best spots to take photos from is an important first step. Think about lighting and composition.
  • How many places will you be able to clearly see your subject?
  • What will the background be like?
  • Will the lighting work for the style of photo you want to make?
  • Are there any vantage points that allow you to get above your subject?
  • Is there some place safe to get down and lie on the ground for a low perspective?
Chinese New Year parade with a ceremonial dragon - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Try to position yourself where there will be a good background.

Find a good vantage point

Once you’ve found a good location it can often pay to stay there for some time. Consider the flow of the action and if you can get a good variety of photos from your position, don’t rush off. This is particularly relevant when you have a pleasing combination of good lighting and a background you can incorporate into strong compositions.

If you are constantly changing locations you may find that you have to adjust your exposure frequently and your background is different which will require more attention to your framing.

Sometimes moving around is necessary to follow your subject. It’s good to be aware of your surroundings and considerate of who else is around you, especially if you are on the move a lot. At events with a lot of spectators, you don’t want to block their view but you also want to make sure you and your equipment are safe.

How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Watching dancers practice prior to the start of a parade I observed the pattern of their movement and positioned myself so the background and light were best, and then made a series of photos. The image on the left illustrates reasonably well what’s happening. But because I had paid attention to the dance I knew the girl would arch her back and I would be able to photograph her face and a more interesting pose.

Get out of the flow of traffic

Putting yourself in position a little away from the traffic flow, when there is one, will allow you to work more freely also. I made this series of photos of cheese vendors at Istanbul’s spice market by standing in between two of the stalls where there were no other people. I got the nod from the men selling the cheese nearby that I was okay to be there and was even offered a slice of very tasty cheese to try.

Vendor selling cheese at the Istanbul spice market - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

It’s good to get out of the traffic flow so you can take photos without being bumped or disrupting business.

As I savored the flavor of the cheese I observed the action of the vendors offering cheese to passers by and got a feel for the rhythm of activity.

close up of cheese being sold in a Turkish street market - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Once you find a good location make a series of photos.

Being out of the flow of foot traffic (which was very busy) allowed me to take my time without being bumped and jostled. I made a series of photos that illustrate this part of the market better than I could have with a single image taken as I was just passing by. This series of photos were made with my 50mm prime lens.

Istanbul spice market cheese - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

A few tips for taking the photos

  • Concentrate. Don’t hesitate or be distracted from your task. Stay focused and single-minded about getting the photos that you have come to make.
  • Don’t worry about making mistake. These will help you learn. Keep all your photos on your card so you can compare them once you have them loaded to your computer.
  • Choose your moments carefully. Machine gunning your subject will result in an overwhelming number of bad photos which can be discouraging.
  • Use a narrow aperture and a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur. You might need to raise your ISO even if you are working in bright conditions.
  • Use manual focus and zone focus to ensure greater success.

Kebab Seller, Istanbul, Turkey - How to be Better Prepared for Your Next Photo Shoot

Conclusion

With a little research and planning, you’ll be better equipped mentally to approach your chosen subject with confidence. Observing your surroundings and the flow of activity once you’re on location will help you find the optimal spots in which to position yourself to obtain the best photos. Then, employ some solid photographic technique to ensure you make some great photographs.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and filmmaker. He began his career in newspaper photography in the late 1980s and has freelanced, covering many different genres of photography ever since. He prefers photographing portraits and doing documentary style work. Please take a look at our Indiegogo campaign for some great deals we're offering on our online and in-person photography workshops. Kevin is offering DPS readers a generous discount on his popular online course “Ten Top Tips - Be More Creative With Your Camera”. Click Here to enroll for just $10. Learn more about the photography workshops Kevin and his wife run in Thailand.

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