Working a shot

Working a shot

Sometimes you have to keep working a shot to get the shot you want.  Two days this week while in Singapore I got up at 5:30am to go and shoot the Merlion at sunrise.  I took 20 or 30 shots each morning trying to get exactly the right framing and lighting but I just did not get the shot I want.   Both times I was a bit disappointed when I saw the images on my MacBook.  The framing was not exactly what I wanted.   The sky did not have the fire that I was looking for.    The water was too choppy and the reflections were not right.    It is so easy to shrug your shoulders and say ‘oh well’.

I always remember the question Jay Maisel asked to start off the workshop I took in New York City last October.     He asked each of the 10 participants “How many shots do you take to get the shot they want?”   Most proudly responded “Two”, “Three”, “Five”, or some other number that can be counted on your hands to which Jay responded “Jesus, I must completely suck as a photographer…”

Everyone was a bit taken back and did not know how to respond.   Jay spent the next hour speaking about how to work a shot.  How you need to look into every corner of the frame.   That you as the photographer are responsible for everything you choose to put into the frame.   His answer to the question was he takes about “400 or so shots” to get the one he wants.

I was leaving Singapore this morning and before heading to the airport I went for one last session with the reclusive Merlion…. 3rd time is a charm I think.

The Merlion at Sunrise in Singapore

One great skill I learned in the workshop is to find your scene and then just wait for your subjects to walk into it.  Perhaps your scene is a cool street or building.  Figure out your framing, figure out what time of day works best for lighting for that scene and then just wait for cars, people, dogs, whatever to walk into your scene, or put them in there.   In my case my scene was the Merlion and The Marina Bay Sands Hotel.    I need a few things to come into my scene; the water conditions on Marina Bay, the water coming out of the Merlion’s mouth, the clouds and colors of the sunrise.

The water conditions – I wanted it to be very smooth so I could capture the reflections from the bridge on the left and the Marina Bay Sands down front.  On Day 1 the water was not smooth enough to give me the effect I wanted.  It was better on Day 2 but Day 3 gave me the effect I was looking for giving me both the bridges reflections as well as the reflections right in front of Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

The water coming out of the Merlion’s mouth – I got a couple of cool shots before the water was coming out of his mouth but it does not get turned on until just before sunrise.   The shots without the water coming out of its’ mouth are just very different.  They lacked the movement I wanted to bring into the photography.

Clouds – I like clouds that show up as streaks like I got on Day 3 or I like fast moving clouds as it brings  lot of emotion into the picture.  The clouds on Day 1 were big and slow which make for a dark sky.  On Day 2 there were virtually no clouds which made for a boring sky.

Color – I like when there is a hint of color in the sky to off set the blue and the lights coming from the Marina Bay Sands.

Gesture – I also like that the grounds around the Merlion were wet on Day 3 as it gives the added bonus of some ‘gesture’ to the ground vs. simply boring plain.   Gesture can be a bit difficult to understand but photograph something with and without shadows, dry and then wet and you will begin to understand what gesture is all about.

I also had to ensure to avoid the things I didn’t want in my scene; boats, airplanes, people, dogs, etc… Its best to arrive early, especially if it is a popular spot for photographers as you might end up with some company.The Merlion in Singapore

How many 'shots' do you take to get the picture you want?

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  • Jennifer Watts

    Definitely worth persevering and going back for this shot!

  • Kevin van Diest

    Dave, you did a great job getting this image. It’s so inspiring the way you work, that’s totally how photography works.
    Not only the pictures are great, this blog item is very interesting.

    Keep it up!

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  • Humphrey Chan

    Dave, thanks for the inspiration! I am heading to Singapore today and will spend a weekend there and hopefully to capture some good photos. Best!

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  • Dave

    Thanks Humphrey – I look forward to see what you come up with.

  • Dave

    Thanks Jennifer… I felt a bit crazy on the 3rd day but I was really happy with the shot. Someone bought a print of it already so it is on it’s way to the printers.

  • Fuad

    Your works are always inspiring, Dave. They are a bit different from what we can see on the web. I cannot describe this feeling. Maybe it is a reflection of your soul in them that makes them look this way. This shot has everything: the color, the shape and the gesture. And you are right, sometimes it is very hard to describe what gesture is. You just feel it.

  • Carlos Ferreira

    I usually take no more than a shot, but there are exceptions. A few weeks ago I got completely absorbed by a sunset in Portugal, and shot a good 25 photos of it. And there is this skyscraper being built in Manchester, with a big crane on top, that has been calling me for weeks. I have figured out the lens I need and found the spot to bag the shot, now all I need is for the sky to cooperate.

  • Jen Xi

    I do find myself going back to the same spots to try to improve on a shot I’ve done before or try to capture it in a different way.

    It’s a good thing to be at that spot early cos it usually gets hordes of tourists.

  • Aisyaroh

    Great shots, nice work capturing the ptarroits in an editorial style approach. Really liked the ones you used gels with too.tim king recently posted..

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  • Tony Johansson

    Hi Dave,

    Agree with Maisel. 1000 pictures taken, 900 deleted, 30 adjusted in Lightroom, 2-5 retouched in PS. That is not many but by taking pictures all the time maybe 50 of them are good in one year. That means almost 4 a month. And that is not bad I think. One good frame a week is very good and something to aim for. And it is one good picture for yourself. Not what everyone thinks of it.
    Good article Dave.

    // Tony

  • D€Z

    I too find myself going back to the same location at different times of day and in different weather conditions to try get the best overall shot. I’m big on clouds as well, they add texture and drama, but they’re fairly rare here in Los Angeles in the summertime, so I try and plan shoots around the weather forecast.

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