Jay Sousa: Anticipation key to great photos

06/16/2012 12:43 AM

06/16/2012 1:23 AM

How many times have you looked at an image and said "wow, what a lucky shot."

Maybe it was not luck but the result of the photographer anticipating the moment. Learning to anticipate what will happen in a photograph before it actually does is a skill that must be developed and practiced.

It is a skill that photojournalists use on a daily basis to capture peak emotion.

Making great sports photographs is a perfect example of anticipating what will happen. Getting yourself in the right spot at the right time to capture a play happens by having an understanding of the game that you are photographing.

The best sports photographers are fans and students of the game.

For example, in baseball, knowing that the runner at first base has a lot of speed and steals a lot of bases would make you pay more attention to training your camera at second base in case he does steal.

In baseball this is usually an exciting play with good action, so you will want to be ready with the right lens and prefocused on second. To do this you must pay attention and know the players. Anticipating what will happen is a bit of an educated guess.

Use anticipation in portrait photography as well.

Anticipate that your subject will give you an expression based on a comment you make. This is a technique that I rely on a lot. I want natural, real expressions from my portrait clients.

If you just tell them to smile, more than likely you will get a very fake smile. So, instead I engage my subjects in conversation or tell some silly story, knowing that at a certain moment when I say something funny they will smile -- hopefully.

This won't work, however, if you are not ready to take the picture at the moment that you get the expression that you want. This means you must have your exposure, composition and focus set in advance.

I did have this backfire on me once.

I was photographing a young lady for her high school senior portrait a few years back. It had been my experience that if you asked a high school senior if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend that you will get this great expression if they do.

So here I have this senior in front of my camera, we will call her Mary, and I say, "so Mary do you have a boyfriend?" just waiting for this perfect expression. That is not quite what I got, as the girl immediately broke into tears and ran into the changing room, ending the session just as it was getting started.

Come to find out the girl had just broken up with her boyfriend. I sure did not anticipate that.

You also have to become an expert at anticipating what the light will be like at the time that you make an image. A couple of years ago I hiked to the top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite to photograph the sunset on Half Dome.

It was cloudy to the west as the sun was getting ready to set, and a large afternoon thunderstorm was raging over the high peaks to the east. I noticed a clearing in the clouds as the sun sank into the western horizon. I hoped that the sun would poke through just long enough to spill some beautiful golden light onto Half Dome with the dark thunderheads behind it.

I knew that if this came together, it would be fleeting, as the opening in the clouds was very small.

I set my camera up, composing the image and focusing, I also anticipated what the exposure would be with the light on the now-dark monolith. The sun did poke through the clouds, but just for a few seconds. Fortunately my planning paid off and I was able to make a very successful image of the beautiful scene.

You can check out this image and some other examples of anticipation at www.jaysousaphotography.com. Go to Galleries and scroll down to The Rangefinder. I have also updated my summer workshop schedule with three new classes. Check them out under Photography Classes.

Contact Jay Sousa at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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