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Planning Ahead Helps Me Capture Better Candid Travel Photos

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In the beginning of 2014 I was invited by a non-profit religious group to travel more than 150 miles from Belém (the capital of the state of Pará in northern Brazil) to a small city in Marajó Island, Bagre. I knew about as much about Pará and its culture going in as I know about brain surgery: nothing.

The client’s brief went something like this: “you have seven days to cover the work of fifteen volunteers that will be scattered through the region offering medical and dental care, arts and sports workshops, spiritual guidance and even law counseling”. I was going alone to do a team’s job and, while doing that, I still had to find time to execute a personal project.

The project was to be called Overwater Life (the pictures you see here), about the lifestyle of people who were born in the river, living off the river, with no contact with other cities except via water.

So here was my problem was: how was I going to deliver this humongous amount of work in one week, at a high level of quality, and still have time left to develop my personal project. My background in advertising said “plan, dude, plan.”

That’s what I did, and it worked for me.

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Normally when you mention Street Photography people tend to go directly to, “the decisive moment” and being 100% of the time aware of the context you are in, trying to capture candid moments as they happen, no space left for missing a shot.

I have nothing against this kind of approach; au contraire, I love it! But I knew it wouldn’t work for me at all in this project, so I planned every single step of my trip, even the hours I would spend asleep.

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I knew almost nothing about the place and its culture, but I had 5 months ahead of me for planning everything. So the first thing I did was to list, with the client, every single shot they would expect from me. Then I sit down with myself to list every single shot I expected to get for my own project.

By the end of this process I had written 10 pages, classified by category, with a checklist of all the pictures I would need.

Besides that, I researched what kinds of light, places, buildings, nature, lifestyle, and culture I would find while there. Alongside this, I put together a schedule of all the activities of the volunteers: what, when, and where they would be doing stuff, and what I could do for them and for my project.

My final schedule consisted in waking up 5 o’clock, walking non-stop all day long, and going to bed around 11pm every single day.

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Marajó is the biggest river island in the world. While its seaside has some success and prosperity with tourism, the inner river side is very poor and difficult to reach. To get there I had to travel 14 hours by boat, sleeping in hammocks along the way with more than 300 other people. I wouldn’t be able to carry much equipment since I was going to walk alone all my way through jungles and flooded areas during seven tiring days.

Tracing objectives and planning helped me choose the right equipment—a Canon 5D, 16-35mm, 50mm, tripod for both video and photo, and a speedlite with umbrella. This kit was light enough while still allowing me to capture the right photos every time, successfully completing all my objectives for the client as well for my personal project.

And about those candid moments? They’re way easier to capture if you are certain about what you’re doing and already know what you will do next.

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About the author: Neto Macedo is a Brazilian photographer. He works with commercial and nude photography and sometimes can be seen walking around mountains and rivers exploring new locations and landscapes. You can see more of his work at his website, Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

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