One of the keys to successfully taking good photos is dedication. Almost every day I go out for a walk and take photos. However, there is a lot more that goes into frequently creating unique and interesting images. The three ingredients that I am going to highlight today are planning, preparation and patience.
I want to know as much as I can before I go out. I utilize websites that feature information on weather, including marine weather and space weather, moon position, sun position, live-cams of the lakeshore and more to decide when the best time to shoot is. Further, I look back at photos I have taken in the past to get an idea of how elements line up and/or challenges I faced. All of this information helps me decide where the best location to start looking for photo opportunities is and also helps me with proper preparation.
Once I have an idea, I search for the location that will work best for the shot. When possible, I try to go to a spot where I would like to take photos in advance. I take reference photos to help me remember specific places and features. For instance, when I am planning to take photos of the waves during a wind storm, I look for areas where I will likely be able to get a dramatic shot without getting too wet. When I want the waves to look really big I look for places where I can get low to the water-level. For long exposure photos of waves, I need to find a spot that will shield the wind like a large tree, side of a hill or sign. Additionally, I look for places or angles where other people are less likely to be. This may mean being further away from the subject and using a telephoto lens, climbing a dune or, at times, planning to be in the water. All of this information helps me be more prepared to take better photos.
Once I know when and where I will be, it is time to prepare. Being comfortable is one of the most important things to me and this means dressing appropriately. On cold winter days, I frequently see people running out, taking a couple of quick photos and then running back to their car. When you are in a hurry, it is hard to take a good photo. In the winter, I keep extra hats, gloves, coats, etc. in my vehicle so that I can add extra layers or change wet items when needed. When it is cool and I know I am going to get wet from either rain or the splash of waves, I wear a rain coat and rain pants or waders. When it is very cold and I might be in the water I wear a winter wetsuit. Overall, I have a lot of clothing designated for taking photos in different situations.
Choosing the correct camera equipment is also very important. When the weather is severe (wind, rain, snow etc.) it is often difficult to change lenses without potentially damaging them or the camera body. Therefore, I carefully choose which lens I am going to use. Otherwise I have to head back to the car, or to a place out of the elements, in order to change lenses. Moisture and sand are very hard on equipment so finding a way to protect the camera is crucial. There are a variety of commercial covers for cameras that work great, but if you do not have one, a plastic shopping bag and some tape can work wonders. Lens hoods are great for helping prevent moisture and sand from collecting on a lens. Lens filters prevent lenses from being scratched. If it is cold and I want to keep my hands as warm as possible, I use a tripod and remote shutter release. Preparing as much as possible before you are out taking photos is crucial to making the most of your time.
Although it is not exciting, I spend a lot of time waiting and watching. The magic moment when everything comes together does not happen frequently. Somedays, I will spend hours outside and take only one photo that I like if any.
There is a rhythm to the way that the waves come in and usually by watching patiently I can get a sense of how often a large wave will crash into the lighthouse. For snowflake photos, I sit on the ground with a scarf laid out searching/waiting for interesting flakes at good angles to photograph. For the moon, there is often only a brief amount of time when all the elements I want in the photo align so I have to get there early and make small adjustments as I watch the moon move through the sky. The Chicago mirage photos involve watching the weather forecasts, the position of the sun, and then waiting and hoping for the right moment.
The longer I wait and watch the more in tune with my surroundings I become and the better prepared I am for the moment when something beautiful or dramatic occurs. Sometimes I miss that perfect moment but I learn from my missed opportunity and try to apply what I learned for the next time.
To take great photos with any camera, plan where and when you would like to be at a location, wear clothing that will keep you comfortable and relax and enjoy waiting for a magical moment.