The 5 P’s of Photography

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By Steve Russell

If you’ve served in the military or spent very much time around someone who has, you’ve probably heard of the five P’s. If you have heard of them, the ones for photography are somewhat different. They are Planning, Preparation, Patience, Perseverance, and Photoshop.

How much time do you need to capture an image? Unless you’re photographing star trails or something else that requires long exposures, the amount of time it takes the camera to capture an image is measured in fractions of seconds, but there’s much more to it than that. The release of the shutter is merely the culmination of the first four of the five P’s.

110402_SRP7D_-_MG_7619 Limpkin2

Planning – There’s something to be said for deciding at the spur of the moment to grab your camera and go out and shoot targets of opportunity. Still, if your photo shoot has a purpose (hmm, that’s a sixth P), thorough planning ahead of time will help everything go more smoothly. I had known for a few weeks that I was going to a place where it might be possible to get a photograph of a Limpkin like the image above. Although the Limpkin wasn’t the only thing I’d be photographing that day, I did know there was a chance I would see one and I wanted to be ready. Planning was quite simple for this trip since it was only a 45 minute drive and I didn’t have to worry about plane tickets and other joyous tasks like that.

Everglades Sunrise 2

Preparation – Preparation begins before you leave and continues up until the time you take the photo. If your goal is to take a photo of the sunrise at a particular location part of the preparation is to determine what time the sun rises while you’re in the planning process. Then you have to be at the location long enough prior to sunrise to be set up and ready. For the sunrise above, I wanted to shoot from close to the ground to compress the amount of water shown in the foreground. The ground was wet, really wet. Preparation. I had a poncho with me that I spread on the ground. The mosquitoes were brutal. Preparation. I had insect repellant with me. Make sure you have a wide angle lens with you if you’re photographing sunrises and sunsets. Preparation. Through planning and preparation I was able to capture the sunrise I wanted. Yeah, it’s just another sunrise, but I was set up and ready to shoot when the sky began to lighten. Plus, the image also has an alligator in it for you to find.

_MG_7158_030611_Great Egret

Patience – Patience is obviously important in wildlife photography. I have, as have thousands of others, spent hours waiting for an animal to move or turn a certain way, for a bird to come back to the nest or for the wind to stop blowing so a certain flower can be photographed in low light. I have enough familiarity with the behavior of Great Egrets at the rookery and I knew I wanted a shot like this. I was lucky, I only had to wait about thirty minutes before the bird started this display. Patience is equally important in photographing children if you want to capture just the right moment. A different kind of patience, but patience nevertheless, is required of wedding photographers. I’ve attended weddings where I thought the photographer should have been awarded a medal, but through it all, the photographer’s professionalism exhibited itself with a smile (professionalism, a seventh P).

I’m reminded of an experience I had a few years back in the San Francisco area. Immediately after you drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, there’s a turn-off into a small parking lot that has an awesome view back across the bay to the city. If you go out there in the early to mid-afternoon, set up your camera gear and wait, you will frequently be rewarded with incredible photographic opportunities with the fog rolling over, under and through the bridge. As I sat there one afternoon, I observed cars and busses, one after another where they would pull in and park, everyone would jump out, run up to the retaining wall, snap a picture and jump back into the car. They didn’t even take the time just to look and drink in the beauty of the view. I so wanted to yell out, “You have to be patient. There’s more to see than what’s in front of you at the moment.” I didn’t, but I really wanted to.

Red-winged Blackbird

Perseverance – I’ve always wanted to capture an image of a redwing blackbird that showed some action and where the red and yellow epaulettes were actually visible. This year alone I’ve been to Merritt Island NWR four times, Orlando Wetlands Park five times and the Everglades National Park one time for three days. Counting the Everglades as three, that’s twelve trips. It wasn’t until the last of these trips which was at Merritt Island that I was able to capture this image. I saw the bird while driving down a dirt road. Stop the car. Lower the window halfway. Place bean bag over the top edge of the window and rest the 300mm lens on the bean bag for stability. Snap. Got it. If you keep trying, chances are you’ll eventually get the image you want.

My quest to capture the redwing blackbird was nothing compared to Robert Frank. He received a Guggenheim grant to travel across the U.S. and photograph the American society at all levels. For this project he took 28,000 shots and only 83 made it into the book that was eventually published. Perseverance.

How many photos do you think Steve McCurry took before he captured the “perfect” image of the Afghan Girl that was on used on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine? In this case “perfect” also means that his image is the most recognizable image of any cover photo for National Geographic. Perseverance.


Snowy Egret

Photoshop – I know there are strong believers in SOOC (straight out of the camera) photography. Frankly, I’m excited when I capture an image and I don’t have to make any adjustments in Photoshop. The truth is, however, that almost any photograph can be improved in Photoshop. They may be minor adjustments, but they are adjustments. The first of the two photos above is SOOC. The second is after cropping and adjusting in Photoshop. Which of the two is better is a matter of personal preference and opinion but I prefer the second over the first.

As you travel down the road to becoming a better photographer, keep the 5 P’s in mind and it will help immensely.

Photo Credits:
All photos by Steve Russell

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  • Steve Russell

    Okay, so I’m commenting on my own article. I just visited @Catherine Hall blog at
    . On her blog today she has a guest post by Scott Bourne.
    In his post, Scott reminded me of another P I should have included. Pasion. I recommend you visit Catherine’s blog.

  • Vivek Kumar

    You missed perspective!

  • Steve Russell

    Good one. Thanks

  • Vivek Kumar

    I think it goes hand in hand with patience which you mentioned. I believe that having gear is one thing but the eye behind the camera is more important and hence perspective :)

  • Scott

    Perspective is part of planning.

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  • LawyerSanAntonio

    Patience is a virtue as we often hear and in photography, it is considered essential. At times you will need to act quickly. But in more cases there is a need for patience and perseverance especially with wildlife photography.

  • AA

    What about the most powerful “P” on the planet?  i think you know what i mean…