TPL: When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
GW: I would probably say a bit of both. I will often try to come up with a local subject, be it an event or just and interesting place to shoot. I will usually check it out on Google Street View, which I have found an invaluable tool, in looking for angles and details that one can easily miss when actually on location.
While I like to have people in my pictures, to add context and as a document of our places and times, I still often like to make a landscape shot too, especially if the sky is dramatic, and here in Eastern France, with wide sweeping landscape vistas, we get some awesome skies, that are prefect for black and white.
Other times I will simply grab my camera and wander, this can produce multiple nice shots or nothing at all. But after years as a wire service ‘snapper’ where we regularly had to go out at any time and make a decent illustration of a newsworthy subject, that was at first sight rather dull, one gets good at finding a picture. One gets adept at summing up the surroundings and seeing or anticipating quickly if there is an interesting picture to be made, and where to place oneself to get it.
I think if I had one piece of advice for anyone starting out today it would be that you need to anticipate. You need to see pictures; composition has to be second nature. Once you see where a potential image might happen, you need to be in place to frame it and snap it. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But the more you do it the luckier you get…
Cartier Bresson spoke of a ‘decisive moment’, but you don’t just get lucky and ‘bang’ you have a perfectly timed shot...No, you have to see where the scene will break down, where the elements will come together and what your picture could be. If he was a master of these perfectly timed shots, there was no luck in it. He knew and had the vision to see the picture. One needs to always be looking for pictures, always framing in your head, even when you don’t have a camera in your hand.
Shooting sports before autofocus trained us to anticipate. It was virtually impossible to follow a soccer or rugby player running flat out or a 100m sprinter. One had to look at the game, know the sport and guess where a piece of action would take place. Focus on the spot and get your timing spot on. It was hard and need concentration, but it was a good school. Nowadays, follow focus on a modern camera makes all this far easier, but the basic premise still rings true, and no amount of technical wizardry can take away the need to anticipate.