Planning and Patience

By Bob Couey


Planning and Patience

This image was planned a week before the actual photo shoot. I had photographed this scene several times before but never captured the contrast between large and small, innocent and ferocious. Understanding my dilemma, and writing it down, helped me come to a workable solution: I needed a single, small child (not an entire family) framed by the huge polar bear.

I had observed the natural light at Seaworld’s Wild Arctic attraction several times and decided that early morning light provided a hard backlight (and ethereal quality) that helped to separate the subjects against the background. But to keep the photo from becoming a total silhouette, I tested a small fill flash first to make sure it would add enough front light. Again, a quick check of the test roll helped nail down the lighting. The small girl’s outfit was pre-selected to add color to an otherwise monochromatic scene. Her pigtails add to the innocence and gives the scene even more “psychological contrast.”

So far, so good. Most variables removed, I asked the model to “perch” herself on the ledge of the exhibit and wait for the bears to come over. The girl was directed to smile and “always stare at the bear’s nose.” To entice the bears to stand at the viewing glass, SeaWorld animal handlers applied cream cheese (a polar bear treat) to the window.

Within moments, bears arrived at the glass and I had my photos in 10 frames and three seconds. Although so much of my success depended upon the polar bears (who don’t take good direction), planning took most of the guesswork out of this setup.

Photo © 2000-2007 Sea World, Inc. Used with permission.

Far be it from me to be patient.

Like many other photographers, I want to get the shot and get it now!

But if I’ve learned anything as a SeaWorld /wildlife photographer, It’s that I can blaze a hundred shots in “chance” shooting and capture mediocre to good photos, or, I can plan my shot beforehand and get an awesome image within a single roll. It’s quality over quantity.

But can animal, people and action photos, with so much variability, be planned? Sort of.

Photos can’t always be planned but there’s so much potential for great images when any kind of preparation is possible. Removing as many variables as possible is key.

Test: Whenever possible, photograph the subject area before the actual photo shoot and check results first. You may discover, for instance, that the time of day you chose is not ideal for the particular setup. Furthermore, a close look at the processed film could indicate challenges you might not have prepared for. During this test, It’s also the time to try different focal length lenses which will no doubt alter the “feel” of the photo.

Evaluation: Now you can decide what gear You’ll need, including supplementary lighting If it’s necessary. Sketching your photo in a “thumbnail” prior to shooting can help define what you’re after in the finished image.

Execution: Where action, animals and kids are concerned, sometimes “best laid plans” are not enough and most amateur to professional photographers can offer countless horror stories about their experiences here. Still, nothing takes the place of preparation. Remember to remain flexible and if the shot doesn’t work out (this time), you might have learned how to handle yet another variable.

All it takes is a little planning and patience.


Bob Couey is the Photo Services Manager at SeaWorld San Diego. He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has received many awards for his corporate photography. Bob’s work has been published in PhotoSecrets San Diego, A Day In The Life of California, One Day, Popular Photography, People Weekly, and US Magazine. Send Bob an email.

This article is © copyright Bob Couey 2000-2007 for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. All rights reserved.


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