Qasim Syed: The Importance of Pre-visualisation and Planning

Qasim syed photographer

Award-winning photographer and full-time NHS doctor Qasim Syed joins us to talk about photography passions, pre-visualisation, social media, and more in this interview.

Having been immersed in photography for well over a decade, Qasim’s eye for detail, use of natural light, and careful envisioning have led to an impressive portfolio.

With a focus on subjects close to home, Qasim seamlessly portrays the beauty of local wildlife across the seasons.

How did your journey into photography begin?

I possessed a creative mind, yet I struggled to unlock or tap into it. In 2009, I acquired a Canon 550D and began experimenting with photography within the confines of my home and local surroundings.

Qasim syed photography

The entire creative process, starting from capturing images on location to the subsequent editing, proved to be incredibly captivating. 

However, as my life grew busier with my role as an NHS doctor, I sought a means of release. That’s when I decided to combine my passion for nature and the outdoors with my love for photography.

Do you have a favourite photograph or trip that stands out above the rest, and what makes it so special?

One of my fox images won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and was featured on the BBC and in national press publications. The photograph was captured near my home.

On a cloudy morning, lacking motivation, I was persuaded by my friend and fellow photographer, Ion, to venture out. I had envisioned an image of a Fox looking up with its head down and low but had never managed to capture it successfully.

However, everything aligned that day.

Qasim syed

A vixen, whom I had known for years, cautiously approached us, sniffing the air. I was prepared, with my body positioned on the ground and my lens perfectly balanced.

Two valuable lessons can be derived from this experience.

Firstly, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who bring out the best in you is crucial. Secondly, it is essential to always carry your camera with you, as even an ordinary trip to a local park can yield highly productive results!

Have you revisited any species, places, or subjects over time? Could you compare images from your first and last shoot of this? Explain what’s changed in your approach and technique.

Approximately 95% of my images are captured in the local vicinity, within a few miles of my house.

There is no need for extravagant trips or visits to exotic locations.

macro insect photography Qasim syed

By frequently revisiting the same places, I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the complete life cycle of specific species, including their habits, feeding patterns, breeding behaviours, and preferred areas or pathways.

I distinctly recall my endeavours to master macro photography, specifically aiming to capture images of damselflies.

In the initial year, I scoured numerous local ponds and lakes, only to discover one that was conveniently located within a reasonable distance for me to reach in the mornings when the damselflies were roosting.

damselfly photography Qasim syed

I discovered that this particular population of Emerald damselflies favoured a minuscule 5m by 5m area near, but slightly separate from, that pond. Although I wasn’t fully prepared to capture the images that year, I had located them. 

The following year, still relatively new to macro photography, I encountered some technical issues with my images, such as poor lighting or composition.

However, during that same winter, I dedicated myself to practising image stacking.

qasim syed Macro photography damselfly

By the summer of the third year, I had developed the ability to hand-hold and stack images, finally achieving the results that satisfied me.

Without persistently visiting the same sites, I would not have accomplished this level of achievement.

What is the most rewarding part of being a wildlife photographer?

The most rewarding part of being a wildlife photographer is the exhilarating sense of connection with the natural world.

badger photograph Qasim syed

As a photographer, you become an intimate observer of the untamed beauty that surrounds us, capturing fleeting moments and showcasing the remarkable diversity of life on Earth.

It’s a constant adventure, where patience and persistence pay off in capturing that perfect shot, freezing a breathtaking scene or revealing the intricate details of a creature’s existence.

The thrill of being in the right place at the right time, witnessing extraordinary behaviours or rare encounters, is an unparalleled feeling.

jay bird photography Qasim syed

Beyond the artistry and technical skills involved, wildlife photography allows you to share your passion and inspire others to appreciate and protect the wonders of our planet.

It’s a journey that constantly reminds you of the awe-inspiring power and fragility of nature, making every click of the shutter a truly rewarding experience.

Through these experiences, I’ve met some amazing people, both photographers and conservationists. 

Do you have a favourite season for macro photography?

In my experience, late Spring and Summer offer excellent opportunities for macro photography.

These seasons are particularly favourable for capturing the intricate beauty of butterflies and damselflies, which happen to be my preferred subjects within the macro realm.

butterfly macro photography Qasim syed

These captivating creatures are abundant during this time, making them both readily accessible and a joy to photograph.

My Associateship for the Royal Photographic Society was on the Subject of Odonata and Butterflies. 

You have an impressive string of photography awards and published images – well done! When did you feel ready to submit your work to competitions and publications?

There isn’t a single definitive moment when you’ll feel completely ready. In my opinion, it’s advisable to seek critique from a trusted friend or, better yet, through one of the many photographic societies available.

Qasim syed award winning macro photography

Relying solely on social media can create a deceptive sense of accomplishment.

Personally, I witnessed significant improvement only after actively seeking constructive feedback and working towards achieving a distinction with the Royal Photographic Society. 

The process itself provides invaluable insights into the workings of a successful image, aiding in the development of a distinctive style.

Additionally, striving for a cohesive panel of images encourages you to ensure that each piece harmonises and complements the others.

Qasim syed wildlife photography owl

Local photography clubs are also fantastic resources for this purpose. Dive right in and actively participate. Don’t wait; start submitting your images and learn from each step of the process.

Embrace the feedback and grow as a photographer with each submission.

Your images oftentimes take months of pre-visualisation, planning, and knowledge in field craft. Why are these elements so important to master when creating award-winning images?

The most inspiring wildlife images that truly captivate me are often the result of careful planning and a certain level of pre-visualization.

Surprisingly, much of my inspiration comes from photographers who specialise in other genres. The skills and philosophies they share are transferrable to wildlife photography and beyond. 

qasim syed wide photography deer

Among these talented individuals, I find immense inspiration in the works of Sean Tucker, a master of street photography, and Nick Carver, who specializes in landscapes.

They consistently emphasise the importance of meticulous planning, leveraging local knowledge, and envisioning the final image before even pressing the shutter.

While there is undoubtedly an element of luck involved in wildlife photography, I firmly believe that 99% of success lies in the planning process.

owl in flight bird photography Qasim syed

It is through careful preparation, understanding the behaviour of the subject, selecting the right gear, and scouting locations that the magic truly happens.

The patience and dedication required to anticipate and capture those awe-inspiring moments in nature are what set great wildlife photographers apart. 

With social media so prominent in people’s day-to-day life, how important do you feel it is for photographers to have their own social media presence?

Opinions may vary on this matter, particularly regarding individual preferences and usage of social media. Speaking for myself, I primarily utilise social media as a means to stay connected with people and remain informed about local events.

owl photograph Qasim syed

For professional wildlife photographers, having some online presence is essential for business purposes. However, I believe it is crucial to be cautious of the potential negative influence that platforms like Instagram can have on one’s photography.

Over time, I have found myself becoming less engaged with social media, redirecting my focus towards personal projects and sharing them on selective occasions.

This shift allows me to prioritise my artistic vision and maintain a genuine connection with my work, free from the pressures or distractions that can arise from excessive social media presence.

By taking a step back and embracing personal projects, I have discovered a renewed sense of fulfilment and creative freedom, enabling me to produce work that truly resonates with me. 

The essence of photography lies in aligning it with your personal vision and aspirations. It should always be driven by your unique goals and creative intentions.

macro photography Qasim syed

I typically create a yearly calendar focused on the species I am eager to photograph, allowing me to plan my activities accordingly.

However, I maintain a relaxed approach, understanding that feasibility may vary, and I do not overly worry or stress myself out if things don’t go as planned. This calendar is structured around wildlife migration, breeding seasons, and feeding habits.

Photography has played a vital role in helping me manage my stress levels. I am fortunate to have the unwavering support of my loving wife and kids in pursuing this passion.

Often, I can venture out early and return before they have even finished their breakfast, ensuring that my photography endeavours do not impede on family time.

What’s the one piece of advice that you would give yourself if you could go back in time?

Embrace a patient approach and avoid rushing; remember that photography is a journey that unfolds over time.

butterflies Qasim syed macro photography

Consider joining a camera club early on to connect with like-minded individuals who can provide valuable critique and feedback. Remain open to their suggestions, as constructive criticism can immensely contribute to your growth as a photographer.

To deepen your understanding, consider planning projects centred on a single species. This focused exploration will provide ample opportunities for learning and expanding your knowledge base.

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