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Plan + Research + Reshoot

Woody Allen is alleged to have said ‘Eighty percent of success is showing up‘, which is fine if you are talking about a movie set, but what about if you are studying photography by open learning? In the video above, my colleague Simon Barber talks about the way student Stephanie d’Hubert has very successfully researched what she wanted to create and the way it might look before picking up the camera. Fabulous work from a student now well into her degree studies. Stephanie has the skills to capture what she envisages, she is using research to broaden and test her creative ideas.
But supposing you are on your first course, how do you actually improve your photographic skills? We have all seen various articles in magazines full of top tips to improve your photography. They often cite the same list of compositional devices – use of leading lines, rule of thirds etc, that we read over and over again. If only it was that easy. Nevertheless there are things you can and should do.
Photography is a skill; don’t use your visual skills and you can see a slippage in the quality of images that you take. Just as a musician can lose their edge when playing an instrument if they leave it too long, a photographer can loose that ability to shoot ‘that’ moment. However where musicians will often play the same piece of music over and over again until they get the performance they are happy with, photographers rarely retake their images.
Think how many times you revisit the same location or use the same subject with the sole idea of improving an image you have already taken. You may take lots of images of the same thing at the same time, from varying angles and experimenting with different exposures or lenses. But this is not the same thing as revisiting and doing a new shoot with the sole premise on improving on images from a previous shoot.
One of my most often given pieces of advice to students is to review their shoots and to allow for a reshoot (or two, or three or even more). Too often a one off event such as a festival, race or fundraising day is selected to use as the subject. Although these events can provide ample opportunities for photographs they have a huge downside in that it is hard to review, revisit and revise your shots. If you are also trying to combine family activities with doing a shoot, the day becomes a juggling act between getting the shots and knowing that family members are getting bored, restless or into trouble!
So in order to get the very best from your images, choose subjects that can be revisited. Work close to home (or within the home), use areas that are easily accessible and can be visited at different times of day. There have been amazing assignment submissions from the most unlikely of locations – excellent photographs don’t have to be taken in glamorous places – in recent years I have seen car parks, local shopping arcades, an allotment and an abandoned car all used to take creative, imaginative and striking images.
One of the bonuses of being a student is that you can take the opportunity to rework any section of a course, prior to final submission. This is rarely taken advantage of. Too often the assignment or project is completed and ticked off the list as done. However reviewing your work and reshooting can prove a valuable learning process as well as improving the final selection of images that you submit.
So how to review, firstly don’t delete images off your camera (unless there is no other option to free up space on the memory card).
Sometimes images are obvious mistakes – camera pointing at the ground or lens cap on. Other ‘mistakes’ may be worthy of more careful consideration. Maybe the composition is excellent but it is the focus that is not quite right. It could be the lighting is good but the framing is a little off.
These are the images that you can often learn the most from – the almost ran’s. Produce contact sheets of thumbnail images. Then use these sheets to review your shoots. This doesn’t have to be lots of writing. Some arrows and bullet points next to the image will be perfectly adequate. However think about what is wrong with the image – why doesn’t it work? Is the reason technical and caused by a problem with focus, exposure, focal length, or lighting? Or is the issue more artistic and relating to framing, composition or angle of view?
This review process can seem a bit negative, but what it does do is highlight areas that you can work on. Take some time to reflect on your work. It can be that you are making similar mistakes time and time again but not noticing it.
The results of this review process seem to magically filter through the brain and the next time you shoot these mistakes don’t appear. Images that weren’t working before can now happen. (Unfortunately you then find that new mistakes are happening as you further experiment so the review becomes ongoing!)
So, that’s my advice , but I would be interested in knowing what you have found works for you.

Posted by author: Andrea Norrington
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14 thoughts on “Plan + Research + Reshoot

  • Reshooting is a good idea, but of course it’s not always possible – especially with candid shots of people. This is certainly something I will continue to use with landscape work. With people I’ve found it helpful to take a burst of shots, and pick the best. Somebody is bound to be blinking or doing something else unwanted if you only take the one shot. Servo focus is useful too with people shots, for similar reasons.

    • I actually think that street style photography is one of the easiest to rework. Many photographers use a familiar stomping ground for their documentary photography. Although you won’t be able to recreate an exact image again, you can use the review technique to refine viewpoints, choice of lens, exposure settings. Small tweaks that when followed through allow you to concentrate on photographing and recognising ‘those’ moments.
      I have recently had the pleasure of viewing some really good street photography where the student had been critically reviewing their contact sheets from each shoot. By following the timeline of shoots, it was clear to see how the photographer had made changes to their shooting technique and develop a style that allowed a much higher success rate from their shoots.

  • Thanks!
    Last fall, I had a deep interest in working around the concepts of ‘silence’ and ‘silencing’, and I built the last two assignments for DPP around these ideas. But there were so many possibilities… so I began trying different things and both projects were built from my research, but also from the feedback and discussions with other students and tutors on the OCA website and the Flickr group ( Thank you Rob, Vicky, Pete, Anne, Clive and so many others!).
    These continuous exchanges between us pushed me to develop these two projects. For me, feedback during the visual research process is very important. It really helps me to structure my projects. And there are lots of good advices, and constructive criticism coming from students and tutors in these discussions.
    I think that submitting our ideas to others, listening to their reading of it, benefiting from references they suggest that we would never have thought about (like Rob’s recommendation to look at Disney’s take on Joy Divison!) really helps to experience a kind of ‘detachment’ from our work and somehow paradoxically, to get easily to the core of what we want to say in our images.

  • I’m pleased to see your work here Stephanie because I followed the process over your blog and know how much work and research you put into all this. Also, along the way, as ever, you introduced me to some new ideas and concepts – as you continue to do.

  • Stephanie, sorry, little late to say ‘well done’…
    I’m so glad to see this specific work being mentioned here, because it is probably the one workflow of yours that I’ve followed with great interest, to see how and where to went with what you did.
    Yes… planning, research, shoot, and redo if possible… it is getting into the planning bit, and seeing the possibilities present themselves from all that come together that are so nice when you get it, but so tricky to know when you’ve got a path to follow, and then run with it…
    Interesting post again, thanks.

    • Thanks Dewald!
      Our early conversations on the subject helped me a lot to outline my subject, and I have to say that I learn a lot by observing how you work, even if only by distance.

  • Thanks for the comments – it is good to see the positive responses to Stephanie’s work and she absolutely right that the bouncing around of ideas often results in the work taking a strong (and sometimes unexpected) directions.

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