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Tips & Tricks

The “Art” of Planning | Sketching Before Clicking

By Jay Cassario on July 24th 2013

Having a creative vision goes a long way as a photographer. The unique way of bringing that vision to life is what separates us individually from one another. Anyone with a camera can point and shoot, capturing a moment as it happens (with some better than others of course). However, the art of photography is not only about taking photographs, but creating them. It’s the art of creating an idea in your head, turning that idea into a vision, then bringing that vision to life. If you want to take your photography from average to inspiring, it’s starts with a vision. I’m going to show you a creative way of bringing your vision to life and taking your photography to the next level.


As an artist in college, I was taught to use sketches when planning out ideas for my art work. You’re taught to be quick when sketching, not worrying about details, just get your overall vision on paper. Once you have that sketch you can begin to create your final piece.

As a photographer my first instinct was to go for my camera and HOPE for that inspiring shot.  I’ve learned the hard way, that most “inspiring” shots are planned NOT captured on a whim. This realization has brought me back full circle to my college days and I again have turned to good old fashion sketches.

Sketching out my ideas on paper has become a critical part of my planning process, and something I do as often as possible.  It wasn’t until I started my wedding/portrait business that I realized the importance of this crucial step. Having a vision that is all mine is one thing. When I needed to create images that were a combination of a client’s vision and my own, sketches have been my salvation. Once I had an image or images on paper, I was able to get a better idea of how to properly plan. I was able to come up with a strategy now on how to bring that image to life…and photograph it.


Nikon D800 | Nikon 35mm F1.4 | 1/200 | ISO100 | Processed with Lightroom Presets V5.1


The thing to remember about sketching your ideas out on paper, is that the final image doesn’t always have to look identical to the sketch. It’s a part of the planning process. Planning is the most important thing when it comes to creating images instead of just mindless snapping away. Having your idea or vision sketched out in front of you allows you to make changes ahead of time or build off your idea to create others. It allows you to create a theme, concept, or even emotion that you want to portray.  It allows you to create a list of equipment, props, and accessories you’ll need. On rare occasion, things happen on shoot that are beyond your control. Proper planning allows you to better handle these occasions, and make the necessary adjustments often avoiding disaster.

the final image doesn’t always have to look identical to the sketch

You can see in the sketch above that was drawn in red, the original idea was to have model on the end of the dock. Is that what the final image looks like? No. When we arrived, we realized we wouldn’t be able to get the right angle to make that shot work. Instead we chose to use a rock in the middle of the lake, but the same idea was there. We had a model with a wedding dress. We had the lake shortly after the sunrise to get the fog we wanted. We had a boat. The planning was done and it got us something to work off of before even picking the camera up.


Nikon D800 | NIKON 85MM F1.4 | 1/1000 | ISO100 | Processed with Lightroom Presets V5.1


After you’re photo shoot, it’s always fun to compare your sketches to the final image to see how close you got. You can also learn a lot from the mistakes you may have made, or the reasons for it not coming out how you planned it to. Often times I have my final images come out looking better than I had planned, and it was because it looked nothing like my sketch. In those cases, it was my sketch and planning that led me there to begin with, and the changes I made that created the final image.

Planning goes a long way in photography and is often the part that is overlooked. Bringing a vision to life in the form of a digital image or photograph isn’t easily done, but it can be with good planning. Grab piece of paper and a pencil when planning your next shoot and stop hoping for good shots.


Nikon D800 | NIKON 50MM F1.4 | 1/125 | ISO360 | Processed with Lightroom Presets V5.1

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Jay Cassario is a fulltime photographer from South Jersey, owner of the multi-photographer wedding and portrait studio Twisted Oaks, and Brand Ambassador for Leica Camera USA.

WEBSITE: Jay Cassario
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great idea

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  2. Lloyd


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  3. AL

    Excellent,insightful and easy for the average beginner.

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  4. maria

    What? I thought I was the only person I know doing that sort of thing (I don’t call them sketches, though: I call them doodles)
    In my case they help me get ideas, inspiration after visiting a location (or home, garden etc) so I can view in my head what may work or not depending on background, light, etc.

    Why didn’t I think of writing your article? Never mind, you’ve written a great one, thank you.

    Only caveat when applied to child photography: You are at the mercy of a toddler and family dynamics, so planning may or not convert into an image… but it still helps having some ideas on paper, it stops your mind from starting from scratch.

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  5. Britney

    Love that I am not the only person running around with horrible sketches of my “ideas to shoot”!!

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  6. Alex Marco

    Nice!. I’ll try this on my next shoot.

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  7. Sachin

    Great article! I’ve been trying to do that recently. I keep a notepad to keep track of all the ideas.
    And try to recreate them when I have the time and props.

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  8. NAYAK

    Great article Bro! it is very informative specially for new comers. I like this “Plan Ahead” concept. I am definately gonna try next time!

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  9. A friend.

    Very insightful and articulate article!

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