I am frequently asked, “How did you get that shot?” to which I answer vaguely “time”. However, there are some very particular steps I go through in order to get my shots, and I am going to share them with you using a recent picture as an example.
Protip : This means breaking the idea down into it’s constitutive parts and seeing how you can have them all happen simultaneous. E.g. If you want to shoot a sunset behind a mountain, you need to be on the eastern side of the mountain before sunset. :)
The beginning of a great photograph is an idea, and this particular idea has taken me 2 years to realize. I wanted a picture of leopard up a tree, yawning towards the camera, in a lush jungle, with no sky visible, just a 100% jungle background. I have many pictures of leopards, but none like this.
Protip : Get to know your subject, you won’t know what is normal or extraordinary otherwise, and these are important for making a meaningful image.
Since I knew what I wanted, I now needed to make it happen. For this shoot there were only really two elements, the leopard and the scene. I wanted lush green foliage and a lot of it, so this meant going into the jungle during the monsoon. Only a few parks are open in the monsoon, and out of those Nagarhole National Park is the most famous for seeing leopards. So off I went into the jungle over two monsoons in search of the perfect leopard in a tree.
Protip : Always be prepared for the next shot, between shooting, make sure you put your camera back to the best settings for your situation… there is nothing more frustrating than trying to shoot and realizing the camera was left in the wrong setting.
Knowing your subject
Knowing and understanding your subject is key to getting the shot you want, and because I know leopards, I was able to get in the right position for this shot. We found the leopardess and were soon joined by many other safari goers as close to her as we could get. She was looking right at us, but she was side on, and there was a lot of sky above behind her. I wanted her head-on without any sky, so I maneuvered myself to get a better angle and I got up as high as I could to maximize the forest in the background. This was great for my background, but not great for the leopard, as she was obscured by the branch, and was facing away from me. Leopards are often found resting in trees, and can stay there for a long time unless disturbed. While in the tree they will fidget, stretch, change position and yawn. So knowing this, all I needed to do now, was wait for her to shift, move, stretch, or yawn, and I would be in the perfect situation for a picture.
Luck favours the prepared
I treat this adage as a rule for all my photography. Everything above needs to be established before you go out and shoot, but once you are out, you need to be prepared for any luck you get! I was ready for my shot; I got in the right position and was prepared for the moment she got up and yawned. I was definitely lucky as within 30 minutes she got up, stretch and yawned. Click. I had got the shot!
If I had not had my photo idea in my head, I would have changed my angle and would have missed the shot.