How I got the shot (part two)

“The ratio of successful shots is one in God-knows-how-many. Sometimes you’ll get several in one contact sheet, and sometimes it’s none for days. But as long as you go on taking pictures, you’re likely to get a good one at some point.” – Elliott Erwitt

I love Elliott Erwitt. His straight talking about photography is so refreshing. I find his advice helps to demystify the whole process of photography.

Obviously Erwitt has a genius eye – I mean his photos are insanely brilliant. But there is a lot to be said for just getting out there, being curious and just working it to get the shot.

Now, today’s article is also about demystifying the process of getting good shots. My first ‘How I got the shot’ had such amazing feedback I thought I’ll definitely do another. So here we are.

Today I’m going to show you various shots I took before I got the shot I like. I am hoping this shows you some of my thinking and the process I took to capturing some cool shots that I really like.

Let’s get started!

This first shot is from an autumnal sunrise on Hampstead Heath

Gorgeous morning and great location. Now I took this, which I liked, but it just says to me ‘pretty.’

Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s a good shot. In fact, if you are thinking it’s pretty it’s probably because it lacks any emotional depth or impact, and to me pretty usually means forgettable.

It doesn’t ‘say’ anything or evoke any emotion, thoughts or ideas. I was, though, really attracted to the reflection: that was what interested me.

So I decided to move. And here we have something I liked a little more – a  more obvious reflection combined with the mist. Oohh interesting, I thought. Love me a reflection.

But there is something missing right? This is a nice, but still a forgettable image. And then luck appears in the form of a bird.

Now the bird is an interesting extra element. But it’s in the wrong position. So again, a smidge more of waiting and….

Yeh! Look at that great position the bird is in. Soaring into that beautiful sky. Way more interesting. Below the bird you have this eye-pleasing reflection, the evocative mist rising from the water. Yes – I was pleased with that.

Next up some colourful umbrellas

I love colour, I love shapes, I love repetition (and so does the eye). So I thought, OK, what can I do here.

Well, not this…

So I changed position (so important, move those feet!) But this is also boring:

I am now thinking, OK what else can we do with this colour. What else is the colour affecting in this environment – where is the light going that is shining through these umbrellas? (ALWAYS look where light is going and what it’s doing to the scene. Light does crazy interesting things.)

I looked down at my feet.

OK, this is getting interesting to me. I love the water and the texture of the brick, the echo of colour and shape, but it’s still not that interesting.

I play a little more.

No, still boring.

And then bang – I get it!

Now this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken – but it’s the best photo that I could get of a subject that I liked. So I am happy.

Next up – I was in Mexico City…

and I saw this engaging looking curving street. I do like an interesting line. So I am looking around and wondering what I could do with it.

I turned around to see if there was some other elements around that would be interesting.

No, not that. It’s all too busy. Too many shapes and other elements. I need to simplify! So I turn another way.

Still not interesting! But I am liking the contrast between the red adverts and the green lines. I’m thinking, possibility….

I am also looking at the people who are coming by, and suddenly I see this guy:

And I get excited! How awesome is this guy? A rollerblading dog walker, with greyhounds! So I change position and bang, I get the shot:

So you see how I did that? I checked out all the angles around me, walked around, found elements I liked (red adverts and curving green street) and then – fortune favours those of us who are prepared – when someone interesting came by I was ready.

Here’s another street photo

I came across these lines in Paris (more lines!! Lines will take you everywhere :))

Now what I like here is the sheer variety of lines and shapes that they are creating, and the lines are highly organised. All these lines are creating a feeling of order, which the eye loves.

Shooting it straight on though didn’t work. I changed angle.

This was better; I am getting a journey through the photo with the wall traveling through the photo and then out of shot. It’s also nice to have that semi-circle on the pitch as a little contrast. But still it’s not ‘wow’, it’s just a little interesting. It needs another element.

I persevere. I am looking around and suddenly I see this guy.

Now, this is getting interesting right? Having a shadow against these lines is pretty cool. But this isn’t a good shot is it? Boring! So I move around, a lot actually, and I after a few tries I get this:

And I love it! It’s made, of course, by the guy’s posture. It’s slightly – Oh jeez, another day! And that perception works really well with the feeling of monotony and of the endlessness of the lines. It says to me ‘the hamster wheel of life.’

Now, did I look at the lines and the man and think – the concept of this shot is monotony?

No, of course not!

For me it usually starts with an interest in shapes and elements. I am always looking for elements that are striking, and how to put them together in an unusual way.

I am drawn by my enthusiasm for these elements and then it comes down to an instinctive feeling. I’ll ask myself – what if walk over there and see how the scene looks from there, what is the light doing, what else can I find in the scene that is interesting?

I am lead by my instinct because we are continually receiving information from our environment into all of our senses. It’s not just our eyes that are receiving information – your ‘instinct’ is aware of all the information that your body and mind are processing.

Your instinct is way more of a reliable guide than your analytical mind.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. Carl Jung

Information is coming at us all of the time and we just have to tune in. That’s why your instinct is so important. It’s why, for example, we might get a weird feeling stepping into a room but not know why, or why we notice how someone is feeling without them telling us.

Getting peaceful, being mindful, trying to forget about all that ‘thinking stuff’ in your mind – and tune into all of the stimuli of your environment.


Let’s end with a quote from Mr Erwitt. I love this man. I don’t really agree with this, I learnt so much from my teachers – and still learn from other photographers. But I love the essence of what he’s saying – take photos! Then take more photos!

Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many pictures. Elliott Erwitt

As always it’s super nice to be in touch – let me know if this was helpful and I’ll do more! Let me know in the comments below. 

Have an awesome day,