Part of my ritual when I return from my weekend workshop is to do an After Action Report. It’s an old habit from my Army days where you document what you learned after each exercise, and more importantly, what you can improve.
After my most recent trip, I also thought about some random photography principles as part of my lessons learned or re-learned.
Here are five lessons that occurred to me in New Orleans that will work for you anywhere you travel. You can even use them in your home city.
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1 - When you think the shot is perfect, still try to simplify.
- New Orleans is busy with activity — sights and sounds, culture and attitude. Even when you think you have the perfect shot lined up, there are likely ways to simplify.
- Taking one more step to simplify again can be the difference between good and great. It’s worth it to try one more time after you think you have the perfect shot.
- Think of the Pareto Principle with your photos. You can get 80 percent of the way to a decent shot in little time. The final 20 percent that makes a remarkable image will take the most time, thought and planning.
2 - Meet the people. You find the best locations, ideas and stories.
- Because we said a neighborly hello to a man sitting on his porch, we learned he was a writer for the Young and the Restless, a caretaker for a historic home, which he invited us to photograph, and a rapper who has more albums than fans.
- We stopped to admire some unique art last year and learned that the artist used an interesting medium. He reclaimed the wood from his home after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Rather than pay to dispose of the wood, he turned into art and created wood quilts. He used the money from his new art to rebuild his home.
- Stories like these are everywhere, but only if you stop to be friendly.
3 - Weather adds character. Go play in the rain.
- As kids we are used to singing, rain, rain, go away. As photographers, we knew better. Our first day, buckets of rain fell from the skies. As a result, this group got moody photos we haven’t captured in the four years prior.
- When it rains, don’t go in, go play.
4 - Find a couple themes to work during your stay.
- You start to notice repeating themes and subjects as you navigate a new city. These represent opportunities for mini projects.
- I have an ongoing 'Bicycles of New Orleans' project that I have been shooting on my last three trips.
- Some of our other alums made projects out of the beads, musicians, and a phrase you don’t want to hear in the French Quarter, “I know where you got your shoes at."
5 - Download and evaluate daily.
- On one of my scouting trips to New Orleans, I returned home to go through my images. I realized that there were some obvious gaps in my coverage. Gaps that I could have easily fixed while I was there — if I had only taken the time to look.
- After a full day of shooting, it might be tempting to just crash in the evening. You owe it to yourself to check your images, preferably on a big screen.
- This is a great time to evaluate and make any adjustments necessary for the next day.
What mini lessons have you learned or re-learned on a recent trip? Let me know in the comments.