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Thoughts of a Photographer while Shooting

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

A photographer's journal during a walk in the neighbourhood.

10 years back, I was sitting at my desk in a biopharmaceutical lab in Chicago. Our research was dedicated to finding effective drugs against ovarian and breast cancer. I was taking a break between running from one room to the other, between experimental assays. Amongst the multiple tabs related to science and optimization of protocols, one tab was peeping through most of the time. That tab was the Flickr gallery of a photographer who had completed project 365. Scrolling through his work calmed me down during those momentary pauses. I was amazed at his photographic vision. Even though the images spoke for themselves there was an underlying curiosity about what made him take the shot. I wondered what thoughts must have run through his mind while creating the images. How he chose the frame, composition, camera settings, and concept. I wish I could dissect through his mind as mere captions were not enough.

Today, after a decade, I want to express what goes on in the mind of photographers while they are working on the shot. Read more to know the mental dialogue that plays in my mind as well as in the minds of many of my photographer friends. Thanks to everyone who helped me in getting an unbiased and impersonal outlook on this experience. Hope it gives you an honest insight into what goes into making an image.

(As I am focusing only on the shooting process in this post, I will be including more snippets on pre-visualization and concept in a separate post.)

A photographer once decided to go on weekly photography practice in her neighbourhood. It felt nice to carry the camera after about a month's break. Here is what she was thinking:

"Wow! I had forgotten how empowering it is to hold the camera in my hands. Using the 50mm f/1.8 lens with my Nikon D750 should give me the versatility that I need for today's practice. Somehow, everything looks beautiful on this pleasant evening. The sun is about to set. The warm light before sunset is making everything glow.

Oh, what is that humming sound? It seems to be getting louder and louder. Now I see the fumes. It's the regular fogging done for warding off the mosquitoes. We live in a green and natural neighbourhood surrounded by a lake. Mosquitoes cause much nuisance. It seems like another futile attempt to get some temporary relief.

A person is riding a scooter while the fumes emerge from behind. My ISO is in its default Auto-ISO setting so the camera has chosen ISO 125 as optimum. The f-stop is fixed at f/5.0 and the shutter speed is a tad low at 1/80 sec. I didn't expect this sudden motion that I would be presented with, as I assumed I will be photographing only architecture and foliage today. I am not prepared for this scene but no harm in taking a quick test shot. The scooter-rider seems too blurry on my LCD preview. Didn't I expect that with the low shutter speed? Let me take another shot: Poof, he is gone! Sometimes all you get is, one chance to capture something interesting. I don't even like the composition and framing. It is all over the place, a mere snapshot.

The fume vehicle is getting closer now. How do I use the fumes as interesting elements in my composition? What else is interesting around me?

Oh, look! Such bright pink bougainvillaea flowers are glistening against the foggy background, right across the road. I like how the pops of colour stand out as the fog is mellowing down the background distractions such as buildings and other trees, rendering a dreamy atmosphere. Let me change the aperture to f/8.0 to get a deeper depth of field and take another shot.

I know I can do better with this subject and the frame. Again, it is all-encompassing. Let me take a shot with just the flowers and the twirly brown branches. Probably, moving closer to the tree will give me a tighter frame, as I am using a fixed-focal-length lens. Let me point my camera towards the sky this time and also increase the shutter speed to1/100 sec to get more sharpness.

This is a much better composition without many distractions. The fog vehicle just zoomed away dispersing thick grey fumes all over the street. A cyclist just appears out of nowhere and passes with great speed. Can I capture him?

Bad assessment! The shutter speed should have been way higher, like at least 1/250 sec or more. Oh no! It looks like a hand-held motion blur as the whole image is blurry in the preview. At this point, I should make a decision on what I want to capture, motion or still subjects.

Wait a minute! Look at the fog. It's concentrated along the side of the road and has a certain curvature. How intriguing it looks! I like adding figures in my compositions as it adds a perspective and makes the scene lively and more relatable for the viewer. Let me wait for someone to pass through the road. It seems like a good day for me but a bad day for the two men emerging out of the thick fog on the opposite sidewalk. I am just waiting for them to reach a point on the street to position them under the rule of thirds. Let me take a few steps to get a better composition using the curbs as leading lines. This time, I want to crack the composition and not lose the moment. Must. Work. Fast.

Alright, it's time to press the shutter. Click!

I like how they have covered their masked faces with their hands, in the preview. It will remind me later how conspicuous the fog is right now. I kind of like the wide-angle for this scene. The leading lines are giving a certain sense of continuity to both the street and the fog trails.

Let's walk down the road and see what else is in store." be continued.

Post-processing thoughts:

Image 1: Let me try a different orientation and see how it affects the visual.

I think I want to go for this orientation as there is a contrast between the florals and the barren branches below. There is a certain balance between the top and the bottom halves of the image. (I ended up posting this image.)

Image 2: Since the fog is much lighter in tone than the road, how would it look in black and white?

It looks much stronger and has a certain documentary quality to it. I enhanced the different tones to achieve more contrast and dynamic range. Do you like it?

Hope it was a fun and informative read for you. Let me know in the comments, what else would you like to know about the process of photography in this journal format.

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