Don’t Start with a Plan

When I first started Suki’s 52 week project this year, I tried my best to have a very specific concept in mind for each image, planning each shot as meticulously as I could before we even headed out the door. I’m nearly halfway through the project now, and I’ve learned that having a plan is not always the best way to get a great shot. Reminds me of what Jay Maisel, a highly regarded NY based photographer once said:

Not knowing what you’re going to shoot is the great adventure. If you go out knowing what you’re going to shoot, the great adventure is gone. Most people work to have a plan; I’ve worked to not have a plan for shooting when I go out.

I love this advice, and I’ve done my best to incorporate the principle behind it not only in my 52 week project, but in my photography in general.

Nowadays, the only planning I do when I go out to take a photo of Suki is deciding the location. Once we’ve settled into a spot, I then start scanning the area and coming up with ideas. It forces you to be observant, to look intently for interesting compositions, lines, and light. Instead of locking down on a specific plan, you find yourself exploring with a free and clear mind, and exploration and adventure is what makes photography great.

My best images of Suki this year are the ones where no planning was involved, where I’d just say “hey, let’s go to [insert location here] and try to get some sort of shot of Suki.” The images you see in this post, for example, are from a series I shot of her last Sunday during an early morning stroll. No plan involved. Just me, some camera gear, and a Shiba Inu. We walked and walked until I saw an element of the environment that struck me. It’s a great way to approach your photography. Just make sure you always have your camera with you!

My Favorite Lenses

So lately I’ve decided that my two absolute favorite lenses in my bag right now are…..[drum-roll]…. The Nikkor 70-300mm VR (used in the top image) and the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (used in the third photo from the top). Yup. My longest telephoto and my widest wide-angle. Both allow me to greatly exaggerate the perception of distance in an image. Want to really add some impact and dimension to your photos? Move further away from your subject and rack out your telephoto lens. Using an ultra-wide? Move in super close to your subject. Experiment and see what happens!


Camera Info:
Nikon D300s
1st image: Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 260mm f/8, 1/400 second, ISO200
3rd image: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, 11mm, f/16, 1/320 second, ISO200
CLS triggered SB-800 + SB-900 used in both images

4 thoughts on “Don’t Start with a Plan

  1. Nicely done man. Great lens recommendations. I’ve not shot at 300mm before (on DX, no less!) but the compression must be amazing!

    I’m drafting a new post called ‘See and Make’ and wanted to touch on a similar theme, using lenses to adjust perception, depth and impact.

    But what about the static photographer that doesn’t travel much, or live in an interesting city like San Francisco? Instead of going out and FINDING something striking – how can they go make something really boring – interesting? I’ll leave a link when it’s done, and a link back to this post too.

    Good job again, excellent shots!
    I should reformat the blog to allow for bigger pics…

    1. Thanks! Looking forward to your upcoming post. I think it’s important to talk about how focal length impacts your image, because many people fall into the trap of thinking that a zoom lens’ purpose is to allow you to compose by twisting your wrist instead of moving your feet, which is simply not the case in most circumstances.

      You could say that the topic you’re touching on still applies to someone who lives in an interesting city, however. The challenge for a photographer in San Francisco, for instance, is to bring something new to the table. A fresh, unique perspective.

      The Golden Gate Bridge has been shot millions of times from every angle imaginable and during every sort of weather and lighting condition. Presenting an image of it that expresses your own point of view and stands out from the crowd at the same time? No easy task for sure. Same applies to travel photography. The location doesn’t do the work for you. You’re still tasked with making the shot interesting and new.

      Creating interesting images of ordinary subjects is the power of photography, so I look forward to seeing how you address the topic. Thanks again!

  2. I love the advice:) It makes you feel free, just lets you enjoy seeing, feeling the things you meet. It adds to the pleasure of encounter:))
    The photos are wonderful as always, Jonathan! I love the second one. It’s a shame I just can’t explain why in English, though.

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