I have spent a couple of days this month working with students and trying to show them how a professional photographer approaches an assignment. Whilst I was researching the topic I stumbled accross an article that looked awfully familiar and that's because I wrote it many years ago. There it was sitting on another website - one that I approve of - and so I left it there and decided to re-publish a version of it here.

The idea is simple. If you approach anything in life with a good idea of how you want the end result to be, you have a better chance of achieving that result. This is probably more true for photography than almost anything else than I can think of. With well over twenty years of professional shooting behind me, I know how I want to work - but it doesn’t matter if you are a professional photographer, a keen amateur or a weekend and holiday snapper, you want to shoot the best pictures that you can.

There are a number of things that a professional photographer knows long before he or she starts to take pictures. The pro usually knows who the client is, what the end use of the pictures will be and what they will be taking pictures of. This enables the photographer to “focus” on the job ahead - an approach that can easily be translated into any type of photography.

The “client” could just as easily be your partner or your children and you know that the pictures are destined for the family album. The pictures might be of a child’s birthday party. Already you are starting to think in a far more focused manner and you can concentrate on getting that range of images that would fit across a double page in the album - making a mental list of the important images. You need a shot of the birthday boy - maybe a nice tight one. You need some pictures of the guests - perhaps a wider picture with three or four revellers in it. Some smaller images of a cake, other guest or a present and maybe something with a bit of humour. A total of five or six images, shot from different heights and some tight, some wide.

To get five or six good images you will need to shoot at least thirty pictures and on a digital you have wasted nothing by trying different things. You can print images to different sizes and edit on screen adding captions as you go.

By deciding what your goals are in advance you will actually spend less time just snapping and hoping. Next time you will know how well you did and what worked in the framework you set yourself and adjust your self-commission accordingly. It is one of the great ironies in photography that tighter briefs often make better pictures. I have never been able to just “go and take photographs”, but if I am looking for a something specific I nearly always get what I want. As you become a better photographer you can learn to recognise what you like about certain images and trying to shoot in a given style becomes a great way of finding your own.

So go out and commission yourself tomorrow and if nobody is having a party try to document your garden or street. Pick out details and shoot the wide picture - you’ll soon have your own photo story in the can.


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