Never Miss The Shot Again

Building A Creative Process That Serves You

Just go out and shoot, they said.

It’s gonna be easy, they said.

The first limitation I encountered was my physical abilities. But that might be for a future letter.

The second limitation I faced was photography technical knowledge, often leading me to realize once home that the shots I got were either blurry, overexposed, or with a poor composition.

The third limitation I experienced was creative freedom, where more and more I couldn’t get everything I wanted in the frame at the same time.

This is around the time when starting compositing became more than just a thought; a burning desire.

My initial naive assumption was that it would make it much easier to get the images I wanted if all I had was to put elements I shot together.

I was wrong.

Since I wanted my images to look close to reality, that required me to shoot my elements at certain hours, angles, and scales.

And so this is when my creative process started taking shape to become what it is today.

In this letter, I will share with you this process in more detail using as a supporting example my image ORIGIN:

1. Research & Planning

I already mentioned in a previous letter the importance of planning (You can read it here).

Planning is what has drastically improved my chances of getting the shot, the way I want it.

Planning is what will build your:

  • Knowledge of the project

  • Confidence in doing it

  • Anticipation if things are happening differently (and they will)

The ice cave you see in the image above was taken on my second visit there, one year after my first one.

My first visit resulted in these images:

Note: although they are composites (apart from the third one), the only thing that was composited here was the sky, the rest looks exactly the same in the RAW files.

When I went back, I was expecting to still see all the tunnels and shapes in the ice I witnessed there the first time.

But because the cave had melted so much, it was just three tunnels (it still looked cool but since I was comparing it to a year prior, it didn’t look as nice).

Planning and research are what allowed me to anticipate and create something different instead, while keeping the vision I initially had.

How I do my research

I plan all my hikes.

Every information I can find about the location I want to shoot goes into a document which includes:

  • Where to start the hike

  • Hiking routes & terrain simulations

  • Elevation, distance, duration

  • Safety measures (e.g. avalanche terrain)

  • Best time of the year to shoot

  • Best time of the day to shoot

  • Stars visibility (moon phase, Milky Way alignment, light pollution)

  • Camera equipment needed

  • Elements to shoot & composition

  • Image examples if I could find some

I do this for every image I want to bring to life.

It might look like a lengthy process, and it is, but the amount of time I gained and the number of shots I didn’t miss because of it makes it worth it.

By the way, if you want to benefit from all the information I compile for my images, I created a digital guide with 14 of the best locations I went to in Switzerland. You can find out more here.

2. Hiking & Shooting

Getting to the location

Time to put everything into practice.

Since I am heavily dependent on weather conditions and need to make sure I go when it’s the clearest, I mark in my calendar the potential windows I might get throughout the year.

In summer for example, some locations require me to wait until late July to access them (because snow needs to melt), but still go there before mid-September because otherwise, the Milky Way core won’t be visible after that.

Add to this the days around new moon phases to ensure visibility of the stars, and you roughly get 2-3 windows maximum per year.

Out of those 2-3 potential options, the weather is going to decide for you if you should go or not.

For ORIGIN, we had a 2-day window end of December 2022.

Since I was also going to shoot my short film (you can watch it here), I had a full team with me that time with a mountain guide, two videographers, and a helicopter pilot to drop us there with all the equipment. Everyone knew in advance we had to be flexible on the dates to go when it would be the absolute best conditions.

But the first time I went, I followed the document I had put up which helped me get not only one, but 3 good images.

You can find here some of the supporting material I used:

Source: Trail Router

Shooting the elements

Once at the location, the first goal is for me to start assessing what I have available to shoot.

This is usually where my expectations of what I will find conflict with what is actually there.

Before starting to shoot anything, I will build my list of elements I want to capture, their order of priority, and at what time to capture them.

For example, once at the ice cave, this was what my list looked like:

  • Moon Crescent - 15:30 - Low priority

  • Mountain range - 15:45-17:15 (before, during, and after golden hour) - High Priority

  • Ice cave panorama right side with tent - 17:15-17:30 - High Priority

  • Ice cave panorama left side with human - 17:30-17:50 - High Priority

  • Night sky - 20:00-21:00 - Medium Priority

I am quite used to following those intense shooting schedules now, but I admit this one was the most demanding I have done because not only were we recording the film at the same time (so I had to focus on both the image AND the film) but I also was not going to spend the full night there and take advantage of the sunrise (which I usually do).

3. Editing & Creating

Here comes my favorite part.

What I consider to be the creative part here is the step in the process where everything comes to life.

It is as fun as it is delicate.

Just like if you were sculpting in stone, you start with a rough shape, and then little by little you carve the details of what composes the final piece.

Usually, I won’t start editing right away when I get back home. Part of me knows that the moment I start, I will be pouring so much energy and focus for so many hours that I want to make sure I am fully rested before diving into it.

But once I am, there is no way for me to stop until I get to a first draft, which I will then let aside and sleep over to rest my eyes (because after several hours on the computer, you might start getting the colors wrong for example).

For ORIGIN, the process looked like this:

  • Putting the images in Lightroom

  • Stitching the panorama

  • Basic adjustments

  • Transferring all elements to Photoshop

  • Roughly piecing them together

  • Editing each element individually and slowly harmonizing them

  • Transfer the final image back to Lightroom and finish off the details

Here you can have a good idea of the before/after:

4. Writing & Sharing

The writing that accompanies images like this one is almost as important as the image itself.

Even if the image is done, I will have a hard time sharing if the text and story that goes with it are not on point.

The reason for that is yes, images do speak for themselves, but you can give so much more to contextualize and help the viewer understand better why certain elements are worked or presented the way they are.

Claude Monet (a French painter considered one of the pioneers of the Impressionism movement) could be a good example of why contextualization matters; if you compare the two paintings below, the second one appears as much more abstract and “blurry”.

Le Bassin aux nymphéas, harmonie verte, 1899 - Claude Monet

La passerelle sur le bassin aux nymphéas, 1919 - Claude Monet

If you haven’t read about it and just witnessed it through the painting firsthand, you might think this is just how his style evolved.

But the reason it did is that around his sixties-seventies, he had cataracts on both eyes, explaining why what he was painting was becoming more abstract; it was the representation of what he saw (or didn’t see).

There are several ways you can build the story behind your work. Most of the time it falls under those categories:

  1. The capture itself —> How did you get there, what were the conditions, what did you encounter worth telling people about

  2. What the final image inspires in you —> Based on your experience from getting the shot, how does the final image make you feel? What are the emotions linked to it? How can people relate to these emotions?

  3. What inspired you to capture the image —> Did you see it from someone else? Did you have that location in mind for a long time? If so, why? Tell that story

  4. Writing first and then capturing —> If you’re used to writing, try to create the other way around and explain the process

Here is the text that accompanied the release of the image back in early 2023:

Why "ORIGIN"? Origin is the point or place where something begins or is derived. In this sense, this image represents the origin of many things. From the location itself where I went back to the origin of a fear I developed there that followed me in other hikes, to the origin of a style I am exploring and expanding to make it mine. I believe this journey is the one of a lifetime that I am slowly taking to develop beyond what I have been creating and practicing in the past months.

- This piece is a full panorama from left to right. I didn't stitch two different locations, it was exactly like that

- The human element, the tent, the mountain range behind, and the cave itself were exactly there and I didn't add these elements in post-production

- You can see a halo on top of the head, this was an unintended light painting effect when illuminating the cave and the snow in long exposure

- The moon was shot outside the cave at sunset, and the stars at nightfall before we left and went back down with touring skis at night

- The post-processing of this image took me the longest time of all images previously created. I spent a lot of time making sure the panorama was perfectly stitched and then carefully working on colors, tones, light, and details

- This cave might be collapsing this year, according to the guide who accompanied us during this trip

Like everything, it’s only a matter of practice.

The more you do it, the more you find what works for you, and the more you become efficient at it.

Over time you’ll find that sweet spot between what makes you gain time while allowing for creativity to happen.

That’s it for today.

If you read that far, thank you for your time.

See you in the next one,


PS: I just launched my 1-1 program The Visual Storyteller where I will be taking a handful of students to help you bring your images and brand to the next level.

If you wish to be one of them, you can apply here: