Sometimes, photography is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. But, more often than not, the best images are the ones that take hours of planning and pre-visualizing. Creativity isn’t luck—for these photographers, it’s planning, whether for two days or two minutes, to get the shot just right. But like anything creative, no two processes are exactly the same. Here’s insight from six different photographers on planning for that perfect shot.

Vanessa Rees: Still life & food photographer—and big planner

VanessaRees2Image: VKreesPhotography


Vanessa Rees is a still life and food photographer with a long list of well-known clients as well as a handful of awards. She shared her nine-step creative process on her blog. Her creative process has quite the variety of items to give her inspiration—from simple words and phrases to sketches. She always starts with identifying her subject, then she comes up with a list of branding words and phrases associated with her subject, creates a mood board and does some sketching with good old fashioned pen and paper. She keeps all that initial planning in mind when she heads out prop shopping and then begins setting up the shot.

“When I first started out, I would wing it,” she wrote. “I learned quickly that wasn’t working in the long run. I was having to redo a lot of shots because I wasn’t happy with the end result…I’ve learned that planning is the key to success.”

Lindsey Adler: A creative process developed from a single element

In a rare behind-the-scenes look, fashion photographer Lindsey Adler goes in depth on her creative process. Adler starts with one thing, and branches off from there. Whether it’s the subject, location or outfit, she pinpoints the element she likes about that one thing and begins tying in other elements of the shot from there.

Jim Austin: The photographer with voices in his head

Jim Austin

Image: Apogee Photo & Jim Austin

Photographer Jim Austin described his creative process as more the voices inside his head than a process. In a post for Apogee Photo, he confesses that he has two voices: the Merciless Critic and the Master Craftsman. The first he calls a “deadly accurate shooter with a vest full of painful ammo” but the second is what makes him pick up his camera. To get the Master Craftsman to speak up more often and the Merciless Critic to shut his yapper, he shared a few tips. Among them, he suggests taking your time, practicing daily and following the emotions of the process.

Annie Leibovitz: A famous photographer at work

Annie LeibovitzImage: FastCo.Create & Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, a photographer that needs no introduction, had enough detail on her creative process to fill an entire book, called At Work. In an interview with Fast Co.Create, she described her process as chaotic, despite her preference for order. “I wish there was a secret but it’s just hard work. Everyone is so surprised to hear that I don’t do much research,” she said. Leibovitz also said that sometimes, she goes back if after a session, she thinks about what she should have done differently.

Ansel Adams: Picking up inspiration from the past

You may be using a digital camera and creating mood boards with Pintrest, but there’s something to the way the creative process was handled by photographic legends, like Ansel Adams. This 1958 film shows some insight into Adams process.

Brandon Stanton: Building street photography from an emotion

Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the popular Humans of New York, is a street portrait photographer—a type of image that doesn’t lend itself to extensive pre-planning. Instead, his creative process involves interacting with the person and then centering on one emotion for the image.


Whether your style of photography lends itself to extensive planning or you have a more candid style, identifying your creative process is key to getting great shots, every time. No two photographers’ creative process will be exactly the same, so experiment with what works best for you. After all, creativity isn’t luck.

Feature Image by Scott Robinson