How Photographers Can Prepare Like Writers and Painters

Photography: xsphotos

Preparation is everything, we’re told. Which is why it pays to make sure you’ve got all the lenses you need, big, empty memory cards and the right camera body before you set out.

But that will only get you ready for the shoot.

How much can you prepare the images themselves?

Painters sketch drawings and writers prepare outlines so what can photographers do before they press the button?

Outline your Commercial Ideas
In theory, photographers shouldn’t need to plan too much before shooting. Unlike painters and writers, there isn’t a huge amount of time wasted for getting things wrong. Make mistakes with the composition or the lighting, for example, and you can adjust, aim and shoot again. That’s a lot easier than painting over a complete canvas… or rewriting a blog post.

And besides, some of the best pictures come from instinct, that wrench in your tummy that tells you that you’re looking at a chance for a great picture. That’s not something you can structure in advance.

All of that is fine when you’re shooting for fun. But when you’re shooting for money, time matters. The more time you spend correcting, the less time you spend creating sellable photos.

There might be something to be said then for creating an outline before shooting stock, planning your wedding formals or hiring a model. It’s what art directors do, after all.

Composition, Color, Lighting… and Magic
It’s also what successful photographers do. Andres Rodriguez, a top-earning microstock photographer, once told us:

I do enjoy looking at other photos and I make sure I take notes on why it was used and what I like about the photo, for example, colors, context, what magazine, composition, angle, DOF, lighting etc. I use these photos as inspiration for my own ideas.

A sketch for a photograph then, might be a little more complex than a sketch for a painting. Although you could take a pencil and paper and draw an outline of how you’d like the image to look (if you’re talented that way too), that would only help with the composition. As Andres points out, a photography outline would also have to include technical information such as light levels and color contrasts.

That’s not impossible though, and when you’re up against the clock, knowing exactly how you want the image to turn out — and how you’re going to make it turn out that way — should save a great deal of valuable time.

Test Shots as Drafts
It’s once you have the outline though, that things can get more fun. Repainting artworks or rewriting articles is always going to be a chore but re-shooting images should be, if not enjoyable, then at least educational as well as simple.

Skellie, who wrote a post about writing like a painter at, suggests fleshing out each part of the outline in turn during the writing process, and photographers could do something similar while shooting.

Once you’ve created the image (or images) you’ve outlined, you’d then be free to play around with each element you’ve listed. For example, you could adjust the composition slightly to see just how the effects of the image can change before you lose the power of the picture altogether.

In art terms, this might be like working backwards: first, you create the final piece, then you go back and create the drafts. It’s not too different from a process that Walter Hodges describes in an interview with Photo District News about shooting stock efficiently. Having set up the shot, he then tries to create as many images as he can without having to move the camera again.

Who knows, you might well find that one of those drafts turns out to be even more valuable than the shot you planned.

Take a look at the results of Andres Rodriguez’s planned shots here and see another way of shooting like a painter here.

[tags] photography, photography shoots [/tags]

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