This Is Why You’re Not Getting The Shot

In a previous letter (read here) I shared how you can build a creative process that suits you, using the example of one of my images.

It included a detailed shooting plan to capture each element at a certain time to make sure I nailed the shot.

It might look overwhelming when you’re not used to shooting that way.

And it might look like the spontaneity and the “fun” goes away because there is a plan to follow and execute.

But if you’re here to get results and come back with images from locations, planning is what it takes to get those results.

However, it shouldn’t kill the fun out of it.

Although it might feel a little stressful because you’re not sure you’ll get all the shots you want, building a priority list is what makes me even more excited about shooting.

The challenge becomes more tangible and concrete.

And so, in today’s letter, I will be sharing how you can build your priority list, capture your elements according to your plan, and I’ll give you a few tips to consider when shooting images to create composites out of them.

Setting Up Your Priority Shooting List

The way I view it:

All the elements are important.

But not all of them have the same priority level.

You need to understand that certain shots are more important to get right than others.

Let me explain:

Priority #1

The landscape or the “middle ground” is the most important element you should prioritize.

It is most of the time the entire environment of your image.

And so getting the light, the settings, and the time right is crucial.

You wouldn’t be able to build a solid building on poor foundations.

The same applies here.

That being said, there is a difference between your first priority and your first shot.

Some locations are best at sunrise blue hour, and so you will end up shooting it after your night sky for example.

But this doesn’t mean it isn’t your number 1 priority. It may just come at another time.

Priority #2

Your second priority is going to be your foreground or the subject which helps contextualize your image better.

I am a big fan of foregrounds; they bring additional elements to a picture, help balance out the image, and give the viewer more details to explore.

Figure out your foreground based on what you have available. This is when the more research you’ve done beforehand, the more efficient you’ll be once there.

Your foreground could be anything:

  • Water flowing or reflection

  • Earth textures or rocks

  • Flowers or vegetation

  • Added elements like yourself or a tent

To make your life less stressful and rushed once there, do your best to not have to shoot your landscape and your foreground around the same time.

If the conditions allow and you know for example that the sunrise blue hour is best for the landscape, try to shoot your foreground during the sunset blue hour.

This will not only give you more time to get it right, but it also gives space for your mind to be a bit more creative on the field if you find anything else you’d like to try.

Priority #3

Your 3rd priority is going to be your night sky.

Now, this is open to debate as it depends on the result you’re trying to achieve.

A pure astrophotographer would have the night sky as his priority number one.

But this is not what we’re doing here.

If your goal is to create a night scenery, the night sky is one element of your piece, not the only point of focus.

The reason it comes third is because you’re not rushing in between different scenes.

During the night, the only thing you’ll have to focus on is your sky and in most cases, you have way more time to take your shots than a sunrise or sunset blue hour.

It is usually when doing astrophotography that my stress level goes down because I have more time to breathe and capture the sky right. At the expense of your sleep of course but this kind of thing is worth giving it the time it needs.

Here is a concrete example of how this priority list applies in real life:

This image was taken on one of my longest hikes in Switzerland, a not-so-famous location (and rightfully so because the hike is long and steep and requires a really good physical condition).

Going back to my priority list, the landscape is what I had to get absolutely right. The best time was going to be the sunrise blue hour as the sun was going to rise behind me, making the peaks and the glaciers very detailed and visible.

My second priority was the foreground, where I wanted to place myself in front of the little lake with my headlamp.

As usual, my go-to outfit is one of my yellow jackets (some people hate it, too bad for them) because I enjoy so much the colour contrast it creates with the bluer tones of the overall image.

Ideally, I should have shot this image at sunset blue hour to make it less stressful, but since I was creating another image in parallel, the sunset hours were already taken for the other shot.

What I did instead was shoot the foreground slightly before the sunrise blue hour to take advantage of the darkness, which allowed my headlamp to stand out better and to illuminate the rocks in front of me (which wouldn’t have been as good a few minutes later).

Here you can see the difference between before blue hour (image 1) and at the start of blue hour (image 2):

(The other photographer you see in the frame is my dad with our two sleeping bags.)

Fortunately, the landscape and foreground are basically in the exact same direction so I could immediately focus on the landscape right after finishing the foreground.

And lastly, priority number 3 was the night sky.

This one was composed of 2 images I needed: the full moon and some stars.

I had a bit of a time constraint here because in order to get just a few stars I had to shoot when the moon was still low on the horizon. So this shot was taken at the beginning of the night.

I then waited a little longer for the full moon to rise but we had a lot of clouds rolling in and a very windy night, bringing some natural motion blur even with a low exposure time.

I still managed to get a shot I was happy with and decided that the moving clouds would be the part I hadn’t foreseen but would still be part of the final image, adding a different aesthetic.

Note: for it to work, I had to capture it while the moon was not yet high up in the sky otherwise the perspective with the clouds would have been completely off.

Tips To Capture Your Elements Right The First Time

Composite photography, meaning merging several images to create a unique one, requires you to shoot your elements a little differently than in single shots if you wish your final result to still look close to reality.

Here are some advice you may want to consider:

  1. Capture your elements at the appropriate time —> blue hour shots merge almost perfectly with night sky images.

  2. Capture each element with an angle that makes sense with the other elements —> for foregrounds like flowers, an angle between 30-45° is usually ideal to optimize subject details and realism when blending.

  3. If you cannot shoot in any other condition than daylight (for the foreground but you did get a blue hour landscape for example), try creating shadows on the subject on purpose. This might still allow you to get the result you want.

  4. If you can, try to use similar settings across elements (especially between foreground and landscape) —> this will help a lot in the beginning to make your images look more natural and close to reality

That’s it for today.

Hope you enjoyed this letter.

See you in the next one,


PS: If you want to join my 1-1 program The Visual Storyteller, I am taking a handful of students to help you bring your images and brand to the next level through storytelling.

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