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A huge part of taking a successful photograph is preparation. Sure you can be lucky enough to be on the spot at a time when a perfect shot comes up, but that is not going to happen very often. If you want to get consistently good shots, then preparation is the key. But what does that actually mean in practical terms? Here are nine things you should ask yourself before you go out on a shoot that you will need to consider concurrently.
Where Am I Planning to Shoot? This is a pretty simple one that will get you to think about other considerations. Once you articulate the location, you can start to think about other concerns that will affect your photography. Shooting at a rock concert is going to be a lot different to photographing the moon. Both require very different approaches. This is the first question to ask yourself so that you can think about shooting conditions.
What Am I Planning to Shoot? Basically this one comes down to your intention to shoot either moving or inanimate objects. Combined with the questions below, this will have a massive impact on how you prepare. Put simply, shooting architecture at midday is a lot different to photographing celebrities in a nightclub.
What Are the Likely Natural Lighting Conditions? This is probably a key question that will influence your shoot. If you take the time to stop and consider what the lighting conditions will be where you are planning to shoot, then you can prepare for those specific conditions. In some situations you may even be able to dictate what the lighting will be (such as a studio), but in most cases, knowing and preparing for natural lighting conditions is going to be hugely important. Are you shooting in midday sun? Under fluorescent lighting? In a darkened room? Knowing the type of lighting that you will be shooting under helps you prepare your camera and gear for optimum shots.
Will I Be Able to Shoot Uninterrupted? Shooting in a studio that you have set up yourself with a professional model is a lot different to being spat on and kicked as you photograph from the front row of a death metal concert in a mosh pit. The chances that you can set up your gear in perfect conditions are greatly affected by the conditions around you. These conditions will have a huge effect on the choice of camera settings and setup that are available to you. Try to preempt the likely problems by considering where you will be physically standing.
What Gear Will I Need For These Conditions? Taking the right gear for the conditions you are shooting in is obviously going to get you better photographs most of the time. At the very least, having gear tailored to your shooting conditions will make your life as a photographer a lot easier. The answers to the questions above will have a huge impact on what gear you decide to take on your shoot. If you take a tripod into a mosh pit, it's not going to help you a lot, but a wrist strap so you don't drop your camera is almost a necessity (extreme examples, but you get the idea). What you don't take is almost as important as what you do take in many situations as weight can be a factor in situations such as outdoor photography.
What Are the Best Camera Setting for The Expected Conditions? Once you know that you are shooting in certain lighting and have additional information above, you can start to think about your camera settings. If you are shooting a sailing regatta, you know that you will be shooting under bright sunlight so high shutter speed and low ISO will be fine. Shooting a late afternoon or evening scene with a lot of movement or action might require a higher ISO and wider aperture to freeze the action. Consider these things before you get to the shoot and you will be better prepared.
What is Most Likely to Go Wrong? This one is a little harder to identify, but usually it involves lighting conditions that aren't quite what you had prepared for. In some cases, it also involves gear failure (flat batteries and full memory cards being the most common culprits). Try to prepare for the most likely problems (take extra batteries and memory cards!). A few filters or an extra lens may become a necessity in some situations. It will be different in most scenarios, but a little bit of forethought can mitigate the chances of disaster.
How Does This All Connect? Now, obviously all of the above questions need to be considered at the same time. If you know what you're shooting, where, in which lighting conditions and with which equipment, and the likely camera settings, you can make very specific plans according to what results you are after. You can also research how to shoot in this situation before you go if you're unsure. It's a lot to think about, but the more time you put into planning, the more likely that your photographs will turn out as you wanted them to.
What is My Plan B? And sometimes everything just goes wrong. If you can take a backup camera, do it. It's the only real way to offset total disaster and even then it's not always enough. Disaster usually comes in the form of gear failure, but there are other situations that can ruin a shoot from transport problems through to changing situations on the ground such as those experienced by photojournalists. If possible, try to think of a plan B.
Planning is really the key to consistently successful photographic shoots. It takes away a lot of the stress of having to change your game on the fly or when you're already there and shooting. It also gets you in the thought process of getting better images. Do a little planning and things will usually go more smoothly for you.