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Thinking It Through: Planning the Perfect Photo Shoot

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Many photos are unplanned and candid - you're out with your camera and just happened to get a great shot - but others need to be created intentionally, pre-visualized and well-thought-out. Nicole S. Young, author of Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots, advises on many of the elements involved when planning a photo shoot.
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Subject and Concept

When I decide to plan a photo shoot, the subject and concept are the first things I need to consider. Most of the work I create is stock photography for commercial use, and I shoot "on spec." In other words, I'm not hired to create certain images; I just photograph whatever I want, and hope that customers will find and license my images. My job is to choose a subject and a concept that I think designers would like to use for their projects.

Many of my photos are straightforward images in which I'm not implying any hidden meaning. The photo just shows a subject in an environment, such as a student sitting in a library. This approach is appropriate for commercial photography. I come up with a topic—business, education, and so on—and base my images around that topic as the concept of the shoot.

In contrast, sometimes I create conceptual images that convey a much deeper message. This approach is more about storytelling, trying to get the viewer to find his or her own meaning in the image (see Figure 1). My straightforward photo shoots almost always integrate several concepts into the photos as well. For example, if I'm photographing a student working on her homework, a straightforward shot might show her sitting at a desk, smiling at the camera, with a pencil in her hand. If I wanted to portray "frustration," I could position the student at the same desk, but with both hands on her head, scrunching up her hair. I might place several crumpled-up balls of paper on the desk surrounding her homework. Add a stressed-out look on her face, and I've imparted emotion to the image. All it took was a bit of direction on my part to create a completely different image, even though other elements in the shot were unchanged.

Figure 1 A giant crack in the subject's forehead can imply more than just a headache—for this image, my goal was to create a photo where the person seemed to be in emotional pain.

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