Light Source Photography by Lee Scott | Planning a Shot

Planning a Shot

April 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

In this post I'll try to explain one of the approaches I often take when planning a shot. 

I'll think about a location, time of day/night, and what it is that I wish to express or communicate. What is it about the location that I find cool or interesting. What is it that I am trying to get people to relate to? 

In truth, these questions don't often come in one shoot. And they are even less likely to be answered on a single visit to a given location. I believe the strongest images come when a relationship with a place has been developed. Of course, sometimes it's love at first sight, and you get the shot then and there. But on (most?) other occasions, I find that a quality image comes with time spent together-- listening, observing, seeing. Creating. That's why I'll often just sit and watch before even taking the camera out of the bag. And that's why I go through the days shoot, looking critically at the work I did. There's no perfect picture, but there are certainly ideas and feelings that can be imperfectly conveyed through mistakes in composition, lighting, technique and settings. It's like sometimes, we (me and nature) were both there, but I misunderstood the conversation. Or perhaps, I just wasn't listening as well as I should have been. These are the times when I go back home and make notes like the one above. Put it in my pocket and hike out there again on another day.


You can see this series of hiking, shooting, reviewing, repeating, refining in the following pics.

Location: Heritage Trail (just beyond the stables and before Mahaulepu beach)

Time of Day: Sunrise

heritage trail 3.15, 16mm, f/7.1 @ 45sec. (ND filter)

I took this pic in March 2015. Ideas that I had after viewing it:


  1. the colors! the blues and the reds and how they work together in the scene!

Don't Likes

  1. water is a bit too calm-- i would like to see more movement and perhaps POWER in the scene. 
  2. sky-- too dull. to many clouds. too dark
  3. rock is too dark. needs light on it to brighten up the scene and really show the beauty of the golden red hues in the rock
  4. too soft around the edges

Next time try

  1. "Better" light
  2. Convey movement of the ocean
  3. tighter lens 
  4. ND OK


heritage trail 4.5.16, 24mm, f/6.3 @ 4 sec (ND filter)


  1. the colors of ocean
  2. colors of the rock
  3. combination of colors
  4. movement of the ocean seen in the lines under the rock

Don't Likes

  1. lens choice-- too tight. can't ease into the scene.
  2. no "drama" or eye candy in sky-- would be better to have more sky and perhaps clouds in the sky. everyone loves a few clouds!
  3. ocean too calm. Although the ND filter smooths the ocean would be better if there was a south swell (south shore!) or wind swell in the water (southeast location)

Next Time Try

  1. Go when there is ocean activity-- either a south swell or windy conditions that create wind swell so waves or ocean crashes against the cliff-- show how the cliff is remade and reshaped. forces of nature, elements of nature.
  2. Just after sunrise is best?
  3. No ND filter-- just a polarizer


So after two visits over a year apart I developed a strategy and a plan to shoot this rock that I sometimes call Westeros (in homage to Game of Thrones) and at other times Snaggle Tooth. Here is the basic plan that I thought out:

Location: Heritage Trail (beyond the stables, but before Mahaulepu Beach)

Time of Day: Sunrise-- soft, warm light to accentuate the color of rocks and lighten the color of the ocean

Weather: Clear or partly cloudy with Swell in the ocean

Wish to Communicate:

  1. Movement and patterns in the ocean (in keeping with my style) 
  2. force/power of the ocean to hint at it's role in shaping the coastline
  3. ocean color and depth
  4. colors of the Heritage Trail along Kauai's south shore
  5. pleasing sky (weather and proportion of sky within the composition)

Logistics for the shoot: 

  1. Wake up at 4am 
  2. Leave house by 4.45am
  3. Drive to Shipwrecks, park at public parking
  4. Begin hike around 5.30 am (no later than 5:45)
  5. be at location and set up by sunrise @ 6.20 am
  6. lens-- zeiss 21mm milvus (manual focus prime)

heritage trail 4.8.16, 21mm, f/16 @ 1/5 sec, circular polarizer

Fortunately I didn't have to wait too long for the conditions that I was looking for. The trade winds kicked up and brought 28-30 mph gusts along the northeast, east and south eastern shores. With winds like that, I knew I would have the chance to photograph a lively ocean. And I did. It's just that my favorite shots from the day have a little spray on the filter and the images are not as clear as I would like them to be. And secondly, there's one little shadow that I don't like. You can see it in the lower right corner in the picture below...

heritage trail 4.8.16, 21mm, f/16 @ 1/5 sec, circular polarizer

Hike, shoot, review, refine, repeat. 

Enjoy the work.

Keep at it.

Grind away.

After this shoot I felt like I was getting closer to what I wanted, but still not there. So the likes, don't likes and things to try again...


  1. Ocean color and movement (like a painting)
  2. Color of cliff
  3. Sky
  4. Lens choice

Don't Likes

  1. Spray on lens
  2. Not enough rock/cliff in foreground
  3. Shadow in right corner

Next Time Try

  1. Lens cap on until perfect light for shot. Stay disciplined
  2. more rock in foreground
  3. Keep aperture range and shutter speed range around f/13~ f/16 and 1/5 to .5 seconds
  4. Draw compositional ideas and take with (see sketch at beginning of post)


So after these shoots and sketches I went out again a couple of days later and this is what I saw:

heritage trail 4.11.16, 21mm, f/13 @ .5 sec, circular polarizer

Pretty good, but perhaps a little more light on the cliffs would be nice, too. What do you think?
Snaggle ToothSnaggle ToothThe Heritage Trail is full of sights like this one-- swirling blue waters and jagged, snuggle tooth cliffs.
Poipu, Kauai

Snaggle Tooth, 4.11.16, 21mm, f/13 @ 1/3 sec, circular polarizer

Likes-- everything :-)








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