Friday, June 26, 2015

Plan it, Take it, Make it

There are a lot of posts on-line regarding the difference between taking and making.

Most say you take a picture and make an image. Much of the debate seems to have roots in an Ansel Adams quote “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”

I think I am a taker and a maker.

I don’t think it adds much value ‘debating’ the semantics of the two views: in the end all we wish to do as photographers is show off our efforts: be that on an iPad with friends over a beer or with strangers when our image is hanging on a gallery wall.

I think a more important thing to discuss is ‘planning’; and I say this from experience: as I’m embarrassed about the number of times I’ve come away from a photo shoot with sub-optimal captures, because I hadn’t planned enough.

So the question is, with planning could I have increased my ‘hit rate’?

I believe so and in this post I’ll discuss some thoughts on planning. That is those times you are deliberately going out to try and create something.

For those times where you are ‘snapping’, you  ‘just’ need to ensure you know your craft: though practice and (equipment) knowledge.

I think we can usefully split planning into three ‘phases’: vision, equipment and simulation.

Some may be saying, as they read the above: What! Simulation? Well, we’re get there in a minute. Let’s deal with the first two phases first.

Vision is simply the planning we do in our minds-eye. That is, when we take the effort to go on a planned photography shoot, we carry with us a mental picture of what we are trying to achieve. What Ansel Adams called previsualisation: “Visualization is the single most important factor in photography”.

The vision (planning) phase is the most difficult to discuss, as it is so personal. Each photographer needs to find their own way through, what U.S. President George H. W. Bush called, ‘the vision thing’.

The equipment (planning) phase is relatively easy to discuss as, although it is related to the vision thing, eg having the ‘right’ lens with you, it is also about ensuring you have all the right equipment with you. For example, ensuring you have heated glove inserts if you need them (as I found out at a trip to Bosque Del Apache in winter.

Believe it or not, equipment planning is my biggest weakness. 

I know what to do; that is do what my wife does very well: create a list and check it off. But I’m not a ‘list person’. This is one planning ‘trick’ at which I simply need to get better. Especially as I get older and my memory begins to falter. There is nothing worst that hiking to a photo location and finding out you ‘forgot something’.

Which brings us to, what I believe, could well be a new phase of planning for many photographers: simulation.

Wiki tells us that “simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. The act of simulating something first requires that a model be developed; this model represents the key characteristics or behaviours/functions of the selected physical or abstract system or process.”

Ok, all a bit boring; but there are a few key words in the definition: imitation, real-world and model.

Today, we are ‘blessed’ with many great photography Apps, most of them costing only a few dollars. Being an iPad/iPod guy I regularly download Apps from the Apple Store and experiment with them, especially if they costs, say, a couple of cups of Starbucks coffee: which most/all of them do.

Some Apps allow you to simulate celestial mechanics, eg sunrise, sunset and the moon. Other Apps simulate cameras and lenses, eg depth of field. Then there are, what I call, the integration Apps: those that bring together many things and create a ‘virtual world’ for the photographer to plan in.

IMHO two of the best (simulation) Apps are The Photographer’s Ephemeris and PlanIt! For Photographers: and

Of the two, PlanIt! has the richest/widest feature set. For example you can estimate exposure as the sunsets at a particular location. You can plan how many images you need to take in a pano to ensure certain scene features are captured. Both Apps make full use of Google map data.

Rather than me boring you with my words, I suggest you download both Apps (I think they complement each other) and start simulating and planning you next photography trip.

Bottom line: although photographers have always thought about vision and equipment before a photo shoot, the new kid on the planning block is ‘simulation’; and, in my humble opinion, you wont go far wrong with TPE and PlanIt!

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