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What does it takes to make a great photo?

To make a great photograph you need to be extremely lucky or more likely, you need to be prepared to work for it. The amazing photos you see in books and magazines very rarely happen by accident. In most cases the photographer has spent time researching and preparing, and then been incredibly patient, brave or determined in order to attain that one image.

Blue Mosque-Istanbul-Sunset-Kav Dadfar

War photographers regularly risk their lives for a great picture. Wildlife photographers spend months, and sometimes years, learning and tracking animals, waiting for that perfect moment. Landscape photographers hike up mountains at dawn to make sure they catch the best light. The list is endless.

This photo (above) of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey was recently used as a double page spread in a British Travel Magazine. Here’s how I worked to get it – to make a great photo:

Research

If someone asked you to write an essay, you wouldn’t just start writing without doing research first. Photography is no different. As soon as I got details of the assignment I began to research Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is one of the most famous landmarks in the world and so it would be on any photographer’s shot list.

  • I began by looking at all of the photographs in image libraries to get a sense of what already exists
  • I read guide books and anything else I could find on the best places to photograph the Blue Mosque
  • I looked at Google Maps including the satellite version to try and find potential vantage points for the shot
  • I worked out the direction of the light at different times of the day as this would have a major impact on when, and what sort of look and feel I would want for the image

All of this research gave me some ideas of the sort of image I could be looking at and some potential spots to check out whilst in Istanbul.

Preparation

The research you do at home is only half of the work. Once on location, you need to allow time to try and find the best place and time of the day for the photo. I had a few spots which I checked out but I also knew, through my research, that roof top bars were some of the best places from which to photograph the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul-Turkey-Google Maps

I plotted a few points on a run out of the area to scout the location

So I spent a morning going to all of the bars around the Blue Mosque and asking if I could see the view. I then made a note of the best places and went back to check them out a little later in the day as the late morning light was very harsh. I finally found a place that I thought would give me the perfect shot and returned later in the afternoon when the light was much softer.

Patience

I find it astonishing how many times I’ve seen people turn up at a viewpoint or landmark, with all latest expensive camera equipment, take a couple of pictures and then leave. The majority of the time my best photo of a view is never  among the first few that I take. As I mentioned earlier it is very rare to turn up at a scene and have everything in place for you with the perfect light. This was no exception and I had to wait until the clouds broke and the sun starting shining through. If I hadn’t waited, I would have left with an “OK” shot that might not have been used by the picture editor.

Blue Mosque-Istanbul-Sunset-Kav Dadfar

Photo that appeared in the magazine after a bit of post production wasn’t in my first few shots

Next time you are taking a picture of a famous landmark, do your research before you go to the place and be prepared to go back if you need to. Then, once you’ve taken your first couple of photos, sit down somewhere for a while and just look at the scene and think about how you could improve it. Could you put a person in the foreground to give it a sense of scale? Or maybe you could get really low to show a distinctive angle? The key is to not cram too much in your shot list so that you have time to make each photo as good as it can be.

A renowned photographer once told me “Remember it’s better to have six fantastic photos of a trip than 100 mediocre ones”. – Kevin Cummins

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Kav Dadfar

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.