From a Thought to an Image: What Goes Into Creating a Photograph

From a Thought to an Image: What Goes Into Creating a Photograph

A little while back, I wrote an article called, “The Power of Overshooting,” where I explained how it can never hurt to take more photos than you need to. Now this article got plenty of hate from all the people who love film out there, but the article wasn’t written to bash the people who put time and effort into shooting their photos. 

I had my fair share of shooting film myself and I was always hesitant to take photos thinking that they wouldn’t be worth a shot on my roll of film. Because of this, a lot of my photos were carefully planned out and taken when I was confident everything was right. In digital photography, the same thing goes a lot of the time depending on what we want to create, only there is no limit to how many photos you can take. I figured I would share some of my thought processes before going out to shoot myself.

As I get more and more into aerial photography, I always ask myself, what can I do differently? How can I make interesting, unique aerial photos? The answer is simple; I put a lot of thought into them. I consider the location, time of day, composition, look, color, feel, and emotion of what I am going for. Recently, I have been into roadways, water, and trees because I think that from above, these are some pretty interesting things that we sometimes take for granted.

When I go out to photograph, whether it’s aerial or not, I can always see the image in my head before I take it. I do my best to achieve that same photo on the camera when I shoot, knowing that it will have meaning to me. Sometimes I spend 30 minutes out photographing or sometimes I spend a few hours waiting for that perfect moment or light to get the shot I am going for. Here I will explain some of my photographs and my process behind them.

After seeing a post from one of my friends on Instagram, just a photo of her in California by a curvy road, this photo idea hit me. I remembered that I live by a road with a hairpin turn, it's one of the most annoying roads to drive around but would probably make for a pretty sweet photo. I thought about this for a little bit and figured I could take it during the day and have the cars stopped in place or the road just empty (both a good option), or... I could do some light trails/movement before it gets too dark to underexpose the trees and road without losing detail. I decided to try something new, something I hadn't really tried before, and that was to do the movement and light trails. I arrived about 30 minutes too early, so I took the drone up, flew it over the road and figured out which way I wanted to shoot it, I took a few different shots before the battery was drained, flew it back and reviewed the photos I took. I was happy with one of the angles and decided I would stick with that, I remembered the height it was hovering at and where certain objects were placed so I could fly it back and get into the same position.

Now it was time to take the photos I needed to recreate the image in my head. This was the harder part because I couldn't control the traffic, most of the time only one car would come down the road, sometimes two, sometimes a group. I had my eyes glued to the screen waiting for a few cars to come into frame in the spot I wanted. As it got darker, I was able to play with the shutter speed allowing myself to get more motion blur and longer light trails. Finally, I was done and confident that I had what I wanted. I went back home and edited the photo above which is a combination of two photos with a few things removed from the image. All said and done, I can say that this is 95% of what I envisioned before going out to shoot.

For this image, I was on my way home from a real estate shoot when I figured I would stop by a place I've always wanted to see from above. Of course everything had to be tricky when I got there because I had to find a place to park so I could fly, but I ended up finding a parking lot about a half mile away from here. When I was flying, I wanted capture the truck on the quarry while there were no cars on the road. My goal was to show the difference in land within such a close radius. In this photo we have nature, transportation, and an extraction/construction area. I thought about how I could show all of this and keep everything simple so I chose to shoot it the way I did and took multiple photos just like this until I got the one I knew would work. When we drive by this, it is easy to think of how close all these different things are to one another but when we see it from above, we can really think about it all together. I'm always interested in the contrast between different parts of nature and seeing how man interferes with it, which is one of the main reasons I like this photo.

The train with me on the tracks is my most planned out aerial shot ever. One morning I woke up and somehow just got this image in my head. I thought it was pretty messed up so I decided to go create it. I picked out clothes that wouldn't blend too much with the stone and tracks, sat on the computer for some time searching Google Maps for a location to take this photo. I didn't want anything to be in the photo aside from the train tracks and some trees, but it was difficult to find a place with just that. I thought about what I could add to that that wouldn't take away from the focus of the photo and knowing me, it ended up being water. After a solid hour of searching, I found a railroad passing through two bodies of water about 40 minutes away from me. Before I left I remembered, what would the photo be without the train? More planning... I had to find out the train schedule so I could photograph the train too, so I saw that one came at 2:50 pm and the next was at 4:30 pm. 

I got to my destination, parked at a mall, found a trail leading to the tracks and climbed up a big mound of rocks over a tunnel to get to them. I walked about a quarter mile or so down the tracks to get to the water, took out the drone and set it up. I arrived a bit early to figure some things out, took the drone up for some pre-photo planning to consider composition, scale and position I would lay in. I took all the photos of me laying on the track from far away and closer up and in all different positions so I had some options to work with in post. Next, I waited for the train to come by and was lucky enough to get one going in both directions. With everything taken care of, it was time to head home and do some editing. I wanted this photo to convey an emotion, maybe sadness or depression where one would wonder why I laid on those tracks awaiting my death in the middle of nowhere (a photo that isn't too normal for anyone). After the image was made, it was able to trick a few people into believing I actually laid on the tracks but aside from that, it was another image that I really took the time to go out and create.

We can take as many photos as we want with digital photography, but the photos that we put thought into and really care about are the ones that show who we are as artists. They are the photos that separate you from the other people out there and you should always be encouraged to create them.

I am a huge nerd when it comes to drones and have been flying for over 4 years. I enjoy doing aerial photography as my personal work but shoot tons of video for work as well. I am a part of Simply Visual Productions and Simply Sounds, working my way into an industry I couldn't be happier to be a part of.

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Absolutely 100% spot on Ty. I have many images and location in my head that have been there for 10 years or more, yet to shoot them and still will but they are already well planned out.

I like rail photos but no matter how safe you plan them, someone will give you grief over taken the photo.

Hey Ty, What drone / camera are you using for these photos? Have you printed any of the images? If so how large have you printed?

I have a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. I have not printed any of these photos but I think the largest good print you'll get with that camera is a 13"x19"