"Write what you know" is a well-known maxim encouraging authors to draw upon their experience to infuse their writing with authenticity. "Shoot what you know" could be considered an equally important bit of advice for photographers.
While a photographer must always be ready to react and adjust to unexpected opportunities, most often, the best shots come from knowing your subject well because it allows you to anticipate when and where The Shot will present itself.
Anticipating a shot is not the same as waiting for it. It isn't knowing that deer live in the woods, so you pick a spot and hope they walk in front of you. It is knowing the trails they like to travel and the times of day they are most active, then setting up in a spot where you can anticipate they will walk into your frame.
Anticipating is actively making sure you are in position with your camera's settings ready for the shot when it presents itself, not simply reacting to what's happening in front of you. And the best way to properly anticipate your subject is to know it well.
Knowing a favorite coastal lookout will provide dramatic crashing waves at high tide and calm tidal pools at low tide, or being aware that the child you are shooting is delightful in the morning but fussy in the afternoon will give you a distinct advantage in getting the best out each frame you capture.
Such was the case when I shot the above photo of one of my favorite subjects - my son. I know he enjoys playing on our patio furniture - climbing over, through and under it - and I know the look he gets on his face when he wants to play a game such as hide and seek.
I brought my camera outside to get some shots of him on the deck one morning when he gave me a mischievous smile. I saw his head dip below the top edge of our patio couch and I knew he would inevitably end up crawling through the bottom shelf of one of the end tables. It was then just a matter of composing my shot with the end table as a frame and waiting for him to crawl into view.
Scouting locations, meeting and talking with the bride and groom in the weeks before the ceremony, or observing the behavior of the animal you are trying to capture are all ways to get to know your subject and have a better sense of what might happen when it comes time to click the shutter.