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Whether you classify yourself as a landscape, architectural, wildlife, portrait, wedding, commercial or other category of photographer, drawing out a few sketches can go a long way towards capturing photographs with a purpose. It’s all about honing a creative vision that can take your images from average to inspiring.
If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in a rut, wandering around a local park or street asking yourself, “What am I going to shoot now?” then you need to start planning and sketching out some ideas. It’s part of my philosophy to stop taking pictures and start creating images.
I know what you may be thinking, “I’m a photographer, not a sketch artist. I can’t draw.” Guess what, neither can I. As you can clearly see below, my sketches look more like the casual drawings of your 4-year-old son or daughter. They’re horrendous pieces of work shaming to the whole art community. But they work, and here’s why.
The first thing sketches will add to your photography is to help answer the questions, “What am I trying to convey?” and “Why take this photo?” When you sit down to plan out what it is you are looking for, you’re creating a vision. You’re forcing yourself to think about what might interest viewers, instead of just mindlessly snapping away and hoping to get a good photo in the process. I like to put together an editorial progression in my images, to tell a story. I always work to create a beginning, middle and end to the shoot. I find it helpful because it keeps me on a time table and let’s me convey something more than a casual snapshot could.
There’s a good chance that most of you are visual thinkers. Most photographers are. We put together images in our brain when people describe something to us; we remember exactly what roads to take to get home, but couldn’t tell anyone their names; we never forget a face. Recognize and cultivate if you are this type of thinker. Sketching helps activate your spatial thinking. Instead of just saying, “I’d like to show my model running around a snowman,” actually draw it out. It might just help you recall the mental image you had when first considering the shot.
So where do you start putting together ideas for a concept? I have a collection of photos or URL bookmarks to photos I keep on my computer in my “Vision Folder.” Whenever I’m browsing the work of other great photographers, if I see something I really love, I add it to my folder. The key here is to let the image inspire you, and create your own concept from it. While copying another’s work may be the highest form of flattery, it’s also cheap and doesn’t help fuel your own creative vision. Simply, don’t copy. Instead, create from inspiration.
What I particularly like to do is take the single image and ask myself what the story is behind it. What is the person doing or thinking? What did they do before the photo, and after it? What is it that I really like about it? It’s how I create my own editorial story, or often become inspired to create a totally different concept by discovering it’s actually the angle of the light or some other factor that captured my interest in a particular photo. Once I know that, I’ll begin furiously sketching and writing the wording to go along with it.
Some of you landscape and wildlife photographers might be a bit skeptical about how a sketch is going to help you out, when often a great capture comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Admittedly, these sketches are far more helpful to the commercial, portrait and wedding photographers. What they will add to your own photography though is the constant thought about composition. If you’ve drawn out how you’d like to photograph a deer in the lower left corner of your frame with a grass field stretching to the right (and you are familiar with a similar location), the sketch helps as a constant reminder of composition.
After a successful photo shoot, compare your sketches with the photos you captured. Did you get all the shots you wanted? How closely do they compare? Did they inspire you to try a new idea, angle or perspective? Even if I never end up referencing my own sketches during a photo shoot, the act of having drawn my ideas down will often make me remember them when I would have otherwise forgotten. Ultimately, they lend a greater vision and purpose to my photography. Prepare your thoughts, grab a pen or pencil and a pad of paper, and you’ll be on your way to creating and capturing images with a vision.