Whenever you are preparing for a shoot, sketching your images should be a part of your pre-planning process. The sketches don’t have to be the perfect storyboard. But it should have enough details to guide a creative vision.
When you take the time to think about the elements in your photos, you will quickly transform your photography from an act of simply snapping pictures to making an image with artistic vision. It helps to speed up the process when the time comes to pick up that camera. It will also help you to rapidly grow your skills. Here’s why.
Sketching Your Images Helps to Define Your Vision
Even if you are a wildlife photographer, spending time thinking about what it is you want to do that day before wandering out into the wild will allow you to find those shots quickly and efficiently. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate storyboard. The vision can be as simple as drawing some sketches with different composition rules and a big X where you want the wildlife to be in the frame. You can take it a step further and think about where you want your subject to be in relation to the sun.
For those of us who work with a lot of props, heroes, and artificial light, we also have the added benefit of being able to add some color to work out the color harmony. I find this especially beneficial in food photography where the colors of the props have a significant impact on how appetizing the hero will look.
Sketching Saves Time on Set
It doesn’t matter if it is just you are working on a personal project or if you have a full team of people on a complex set, having a firm idea of how a shot needs to look saves a boatload of time. My sketches play the foundation for my shoots. The sketch tells me what needs to be on my equipment lists. They tell me what needs to be on my prop list. They tell me who needs to be where and when. And they let assistants and everyone else on set know how things need to be set up.
When I do my sketches, I not only draw an idea of where I want everything to be in the frame, but I also add from where the light source is coming, the angle of the shot, the orientation of the shot, placement of gobos and reflectors, lens, and anything else that will be needed on set. This saves enormous amounts of time not only setting up but also changing scenes.
Sketching Your Shoots Allows You to Problem Solve
The act of sketching allows your brain to actively problem solve and also passively problem solve. Maybe your vision includes an element that is tricky to stage. While you are sketching, you should also be actively figuring out how the tricky shots will be realized. There is nothing worse than getting on set and not having a single idea about the mechanics of getting that shot. If you are collaborating with a stylist, then you need to have the mechanical stuff sorted. You can’t be figuring this out as you go.
It also allows you to run some testing and experiments before you shoot to make sure your vision can be captured within the limitations of the shoot. All shoots have limitations. Because you have spent time actively problem-solving with testing, your brain already has an idea of what can go wrong and begins to figure out how it will solve those problems if they happen on set.
Sketching Allows You to Easily Pivot
Sketches function as a blueprint for your vision as an artist. Unlike blueprints for a building, things will not fall apart if you don’t follow them exactly. When you sketch, you have a clear understanding of everything you want to accomplish with an image including things that are more about feelings that can’t quite be captured with a sketch.
With my food photography, there is always a certain mood in my images that I can’t quite translate to my sketches, but I know what it is with every fiber of my being by the time I’m finished the sketching process. Because of this intrinsic feeling I gain as I’m preparing, there is a strong punch when it isn’t realized when that shutter goes off and the image comes up on the screen.
Because I have everything on hand that I need to make my dream a reality, it takes moments to pivot, reset, and capture that vision. I don’t have to start from square one without an idea of what it is we are there to accomplish.
Sketching Helps to Nail Your Signature Style
I’ve worked with, taught, and continue to teach several photographers. “Finding your style” is the thing that stresses photographers out the most. It is such an ethereal thing to say, “find our style.” I feel like I was in the minority in that I knew my style before I even picked up a camera. I had a strong aesthetic and knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. And that aesthetic hasn’t changed, even as I leveled up my skills.
When you know what you like, you can add those elements to your sketches and then figure out a twist to make it yours. The style of my photography isn’t new. It is heavily influenced by Classical paintings, especially the Baroque and Romanticism eras. It is also influenced by my former days as an oil painter. Many also shoot in a style that can be described as “painterly.”
My twist is introduced with the color palette. I have three brand colors with three variations of each. In many of my images, there is an object that is one of my brand colors or a close variation of one of my colors. It isn’t always a prop that introduces the color. When it is the hero of the image, then the rest is about lighting and style. And when it isn’t possible to introduce those things into the image, the third thing that helps to define my signature style is the default edits I always do in Lightroom. Sketching helps to ensure my signature elements are in every image I make.
When you sketch, you are mindful of every single element. Quickly, you will level up your skills exponentially.
Hopefully, you have a new appreciation for sketching as an integral part of being an image-maker. What holds you back from sketching? What do you like about sketching?