I don’t consider myself a great photographer or cinematographer. My technical knowledge is very limited and my professional training is only one step away from zero. Still, I’ve made a living shooting films and videos and stills for a variety of clients, mostly travel related, for nearly thirty years. How have I done it? There is a secret to getting great location pictures that I learned from a real Pro at the very start of my career. This one tip let me shoot with confidence and make a career out of location photography. It was something I learned on my first professional shoot and never forgot.
My First Professional Photo Shoot
In 1979 I became a salesman for a small production company which specialized in multi-projector slide shows. These were very popular back in the day to communicate a corporate message. Sometimes as many as 32 or 64 projectors would be used to display the shows on a large screen. Almost immediately I sold a job to American President Lines located in Oakland, California.
Part of the job was taking aerial photos of their loading docks on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One problem, we didn’t have enough money to hire a helicopter or even a proper plane. Somehow we convinced the owner of a yellow WWI biplane to take us up in exchange for pictures of his biplane that our company photographer would take from another plane this gentleman owned. We would then be able to take aerial photos of the docks from the biplane. But, we only had one photographer in the company and he had to get really good shots of the biplane to justify our free ride! To save money it was decided that I should be the second photographer and take the shots of the docks. I could use a camera, but I wasn’t sure I was up to such a pressure packed job with so much riding on it. That’s when the Pro from our company let me in on the secret that gave me the confidence to do the job.
“There’s really nothing to it,” the Pro said. “Anyone can take professional looking pictures. There isn’t any particular talent involved or that much technical knowledge.”
Seeing as how this guy had made a living as a pro for many years, these were comforting words. I felt better immediately. Still, how could I make sure I came back with shots we could use? “Two words,” he said, “Blam Away!” “When you are up in the plane, film is cheap. Just shoot as many shots as you can with as many different angles and settings as possible. One or two are bound to be good!” We went up and, though the wind caused my eyes to tear so badly I could hardly see, I shot and shot and shot some more. Of the three rolls of film I used up, maybe six shots were really good. The rest were not so good to terrible. “Two good shots a roll,” the Pro said approvingly, “not bad at all.” Those six shots were all we needed. I was a hero! Moreover, I decided then and there that this was what I wanted to do for a living. It was so simple once you knew the secret.
You may not become a professional, but now you can shoot like one! With today’s digital equipment the same philosophy is even more true. When you’re in that special location or event, don’t be shy. Remember the words of the old Pro. “Blam Away”! You’ll love the results.