I tend to think of photography as an intuitive, spontaneous activity. I see something cool, I get my camera, and I shoot. I usually don’t plan how my pictures are going to look.
But I’m learning that I should. Years ago, I would have objected to any forethought that curbed my candids or squelched my spontaneity. Now I recognize that I should walk into some situations with specific shots in mind.
When photographing events, try to talk to the person who planned it, or look at a schedule. Walk through the event in your mind, or, if you can, watch a rehearsal. The run-through may give you some ideas: “When he does this, I’ll get it from that angle.” It’s a photographer’s dream to know where people will stand and which way they’ll be facing, but even if you don’t know that much detail, you can still guess where the “big moments” will happen, and be on the lookout for them.
Another way to be prepared is to keep a list of ideas for unique photos—writing them down will help you remember—and look for ways to capture them or set them up. Look back through your own shoots, and think of what you may have missed. Who else might have made an interesting face at that moment? Where else could you have been standing, and how would it have looked from that angle?
Wait for it
I had a great opportunity for repeat photo ops recently: rehearsals for a play. I saw people do the same thing over and over again, and get consistently better at it. While watching one scene, I got an idea for a caption, and decided that, next time they rehearsed that scene, I would take a picture specifically for that caption. My chance came, and the cast liked the end result. Win.