The anatomy of a memorable photo – What works for me.

Everything starts with a goal and so does this post. If you are looking to document your trip, then just jump in, point your camera, get one of those shots everyone else has, pack your bags and call it a day.

However, if you looking for something different, you’ll need to do a little more.

Like a computer programmer is taught to start with an algorithm, A photo needs to start with some planning. This becomes vital when you are shooting a cityscape. While people have various techniques, here is what I do and it works for me.

Before heading to any new destination, I start by scouting the location. The first of which is looking for photos. With a combination of Google images and flickr, I have a rough idea on the types of photos you can get at the location. Sometimes, I supplement this by looking at the map, even the satellite images of the place, which gives me an approximate idea of what is in store.

Armed with this information, I gather any additional information I might need. Things like the weather (for clothing and my shots) , timing of when the place is open, additional resources that I might need to get to / around the location and specific rules that might apply (some places do not allow tripod’s / bags, neither do they have places to store them, parking etc.).

At this point I come back to the photos that I looked up, pick the “attractive” ones and try and reverse engineer them. With flickr, I almost always look at the EXIF data to see what they were trying to do. If I’m overwhelmed with the types of shots, I put these down in a piece of paper and keep it handy.

Blue angel's framed by the flagIf you’ve every tried to take your photography to the next level, you’d already be aware that this requires a lot of patience. Walking around, I shoot whatever I see and in doing so, I “bank” the regular shots. This, in case I’m not able to get those special ones.

In the process, I also look for angles and positions that will make my photo stand out.

You have your style of capturing things, you also have certain techniques that you’ve mastered. If the location and the situation permits for that shot, go ahead and get it. For eg. I have a soft corner for shots at night, with long exposures and light streaks. Every time I’m out at night, shooting, I get a few of those. Some great, some not so much.

Two other tricks I use on a regular basis –

That orange bridgeFrame your shot with something from the location – Things like doorways, flags and even people. When you mix these elements, even your “regular” shots stand out from the rest.

Add a layer of mystery – While you can create a great photo by presenting your subject straight up, a photo become way more memorable when the viewer has to spend a couple of minutes figuring out the photo or completing the “puzzle”.

These tips aside, nothing substitutes for taking more photos.


TL;DR version:

    – Scout the location, photos from the web, maps, satellite images.
    – Check local rules.
    – Reverse engineer “good” photos from the location.
    – “Bank” regular shots.
    – Use your strengths as a photographer, use the techniques you best know.
    – Frame shots with objects form the location.
    – Add mystery to make your work memorable.

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