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Make Your Last Shot Your Best Shot

Lately I’ve noticed a common occurrence when I review my images from a photo shoot. More often than not the very best frame is the last one.

I think it’s because I’ve been pushing myself further than I used to by consciously carving out my vision of the subject.

For example, when I was in Charleston, South Carolina, I scouted out a beach location that had a lovely pier and faced east. Perfect for sunrise. I got up extremely early, while it was still dark outside, went to my location flashlight in hand and got set up for the morning’s first rays.

When the sun came up it didn’t take me long at all to get the shot I had envisioned. Here it is.

Pier at Folly Beach, Charleston, South Carolina.

There were a couple of other photographers on the beach that morning too. They had come down from the nearby swanky beachfront hotels and made images that were probably very much like the one I made. Then they went back.

I bet they were just in time for breakfast. My mouth watered a bit as I imagined what they were in for. Mmmm, yummy bacon, croissants still warm from the oven, a cheesy omelet. I looked back towards the hotels and paused for just a moment before my conscience told me “NO! FOCUS!” and when I looked back the light had changed just a bit and I smiled knowing I was going to make images that were even better than my initial vision.

When I am at a scene, I always try to focus on whatever attracted my attention in the first place. In this case it was the pier. Sure, the beach was lovely and the sky was lovely, but it was the pier that made this place different from any other beach.

I moved closer and closer to the pier, simplifying the composition, using a different point of view and different lenses to arrange the elements of the scene until I got these two images, neither of which I had envisioned before the shoot.

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I carved out my vision of the subject and removed elements from the scene until I was left with only a small portion of what was in my initial image.

A similar thing happened when I was at Green Point in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada. I went down to an east facing beach for a sunrise shoot and made this image.

Green Point Beach, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada.

There was a very similar scene looking at the beach in the other direction.

Green Point Beach, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada.

But after that, then what? The thing that was different about this beach than any other I had been on were the pinkish granite stones the size of footballs. And I couldn’t help but give them my attention since they were extremely difficult to walk on. They were wet, each one moved as I stepped on it, and when the powerful atlantic waves came in I had to grab my tripod and rush up the beach for fear of being swept away. It was the stones that were the attracting feature.

So I changed my point of view by getting down low, used my wide angle lens to get in close, and removed all other elements from the scene to make this image.

Green Point Beach, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada.

The next time you go on a photo shoot think about carving out your vision of the subject and being conscious of what you want to express in your image by answering these questions:

  • What is your photograph about?
  • How can you arrange the elements of the scene to bring out your subject’s best quality?
  • What elements are best left out?
  • What is the true subject?
  • What kind of effect do you want the subject to have on the viewer?

Get closer and closer to your true subject, changing your point of view, and removing elements from the scene until you get that shot that expresses your vision.

You will find that your compositions improve as you go and you might find too that your best shot is your last shot.

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Anne McKinnell
Anne McKinnell

is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems.

You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

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