10 Questions to Ask When Taking a Photo

10 Questions to Ask When Taking a Photo

questions to ask

What goes through your mind in the moments as you raise your digital camera up to take a shot and before you press the shutter? If you’re like many digital photographers you’re not thinking about too much – you just want to capture the moment and then move on.

However getting in the habit of asking some simple questions can help take your images to the next level. Here’s 10 questions to get in the habit of asking while framing your shots. I’ve included links in each one to further reading on the topics. I hope you find them helpful:


1. What story am I telling?

This is an important question and one that should help you to make any number of decisions in terms of composition, framing, exposure etc. In essence what you’re asking is ‘why am I taking this shot? What is it’s purpose and what am I trying to convey?’ Is it purely a way to keep a record of a moment, are you trying to capture the emotion of a moment, is it possibly a shot to give to someone, is it part of a larger series of shots or will it be the only shot to commemorate the moment etc. Read more on telling stories with photos


2. What is the visual focal point of this shot?

What will viewers of this picture naturally have their eye drawn to in this scene? Once you’ve identified this focal point you can think about where to place it in the frame (consider the rule of thirds for example).

There are a variety of ways that you can enhance a focal point – some of which we explore here.


3. What competing focal points are there?

Once you’ve identified what you do want your viewers eyes to be drawn towards and have placed it in the frame – scan your eyes over the shot and see if there are any competing focal points and ask yourself whether they add to or take away from the image? Secondary focal points can add depth to shots but they can also be very distracting and so you might need to reposition yourself or adjust your focal length and/or depth of field to accommodate or remove them from your shots (read more on removing clutter from photography). Also keep in mind that if your shot has more than one focal point that it might be worth taking two shots, one of each focal point, in order to keep things simple.


4. What is in the background and foreground?

One of most common places for distractions in digital photography is the background of your shots. Run your eyes over the space behind your subject to see what else is in the image (do the same for the foreground). Consider whether you want the background in focus or nice and blurry.

Read more on getting backgrounds right.


5. Am I close enough?

Another common mistake in digital photography is taking shots where your subject is too small in the frame. Shots that fill the frame with your subject tend to be much more dynamic and show a lot more detail of your subject. To get this effect you have the option of moving yourself closer, moving your subject closer or using a longer focal length to give the effect of closeness.

Read more on filling your frame.


6. What is the main source of light?

Always give consideration to how your subject is lit. Without light you’ll lose detail and clarity in your image and your camera will have to compensate by doing things like increasing ISO and lengthening shutter speeds (which could lead to noisy and blurred images). What is the main source of light, where is it coming from, is there enough light, do you need artificial light sources (flash etc), do you need to stabilize your camera on a tripod to stop camera shake due to low light etc. Read more on using artificial light here and here as well as photographing moving subjects in low light conditions.


7. Is my Framing Straight?

It’s amazing how many otherwise good photos are spoiled by framing that is slightly offline. Sloping horizons and slightly leaning people or buildings should always be in the back of your mind to check. Read more on getting horizons horizontal and getting other lines straight.

Also related to this question is that of ‘Am I holding my Camera correctly?‘ Many people don’t and as a result suffer from camera shake and framing mistakes.


8. What other perspectives could I capture this subject from?

Put 10 digital camera owners in front of a scene and most of them will take exactly the same shot from the same position. Make your images stand out from the crowd by challenging yourself to not only take the standard shots that everyone else will get but to find creative and fresh angles and perspectives to shoot from.

Read more on adding variety to your Digital Photography.


9. How would holding the camera in the other format change this shot?

Many photographers get into the habit of always holding their camera the same way (horizontally/landscape or vertically/portrait). While it’s OK to have a preference one way or the other it’s also worth remembering that changing the format can drastically change the impact of the shot. Don’t forget you can also hold your camera at an angle for an effective result too.


10. How will the eye travel through this image?

This is related to asking about focal points but gets in touch with the fact that while you’re photographing a still image your viewers eyes don’t remain still as they look at an image. People tend to follow lines and are attracted to shapes and colors so considering all of these different visual elements and cues can help improve your shots considerably. Read more on horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines and how they impact a shot.

Of course you probably won’t remember all the questions and you’re unlikely to go through each of them with every shot you take – however next time you head out with your digital camera concentrate on asking yourself at least one or two of them as you take your shots. As you do you’ll find that they become more automatic and in time you’ll naturally take digital photography shots that take into account all of these elements.

Get more digital photography tips like this by subscribing to our free weekly digital photography schoool email newsletter.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Bibek Dey November 30, 2012 07:16 pm

    Dear ,

    i m just a beginner with CANON EOS D40 ..............this time i m using only Auto Mode......plese help me to start with the other mode

  • Saira March 31, 2012 03:46 pm

    wonderful article.

  • Davina March 22, 2012 10:47 pm

    i think this subject is not very clear for me, can you explain it better please. thanks.http://www.musicaeletra.net

  • Anubis1680 February 20, 2012 04:18 pm

    I have just started to take an interest in photography. I think a picture doesn't have to be absolutely perfect if your trying to make a memory. It should be at least pretty in your eyes if your trying to take a picture.

  • Cj Brickner January 13, 2012 02:15 pm

    These tips and articles as well as the whole DPS website and school are awesome. For us newbies to photography it can also be a little overwhelming.

    Since I just transferred from a point and shoot to a Canon Rebel T3 and wanting to expand my "horizons" if you will. here is what I am doing..

    I take a few shots in each "programmed mode" then review the shots, and what "'program mode" I was using when it was taken. I think (correct me if I am way off base).. but I/we need to learn our camera's capabilities as a priority, and use the classes to enhance and introduce technique.

    I know I am overwhelmed with all the information and references, etc.. I just want to get the most out of the classes and this site while learning my own "signature" or 'style' if you will.

    Is there is any thing else that Newbies need to know about Photography Basics.. other than those DPS has already listed. THESE ARE GREAT ARTICLES and I just need to funnel it but most of all HAVE FUN!! I need to know what we are doing right as a priority and constructive critisism to a minimim (for now). ??? right??

    YAY! Thanks. Cj Brickner (Columbus,OH)

  • Portrait Poses December 21, 2011 08:00 am

    Prior preparation prevents poor performance! In other words, make sure your camera is set up correctly way before you start shooting. It would be unusual to not have a general idea of what the light and weather conditions will be like as well as what kit you will be using. After that, anything that can be put in a check list regarding what to consider before releasing the shutter will eventually become instinctive and second nature with time and practise.

  • Pete September 20, 2011 02:36 am

    What is your preferred digital slr to take the best pictures?

  • Allena Celmer September 2, 2011 12:53 am

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  • Simon May 16, 2011 02:58 am

    Great set of tips and advise, thanks.

  • Juergen Buergin February 14, 2011 06:54 am

    Amazing text, really has a lot to do with how I'm taking photos. That's really mnuch of the core that makes photographing great photos... Especially No. 1, the storytelling point is my favourite point in making photos: How do I tell a story with one single photo! That makes interesting photos and keeps them from being boring. But that'S an art, it's hard to achieve.
    Thanks for this amazing text, regards from Berlin!

  • wigs February 11, 2011 07:24 pm

    Absolutely brilliant lens and great information dagsmith. Definitely worthy of a top 25 lens. Thank you.

  • cosplay January 24, 2011 12:46 pm

    These will be great points to keep in mind.after reading enough of them, a pattern begins to sink in to your subconscious. Keep reading, keep practicing, keep experimenting, and, above all,, keep having a great time.

  • Nalanti December 20, 2010 06:10 pm

    I have always been in the habit to ask most of these qeustions. I have found that it can make or break a photo. I a amature photographer but always try to make every shot count. I have seen how many people just aim and shoot not considering what the result will be and what they are looking for.

  • gautam May 16, 2010 05:06 pm

    Hello sir,
    m a newbie in photography, though i'm managing my small blog on photography, your blog articles are superb, very useful information you have put up, i would be very happy if i could get a review from you on my photography that i have put up at my blog, please tell me if i have taken the shots correctly or i have to work hard on it.


  • Debi February 10, 2010 06:55 am

    Thank you very much for your site. I am a novice I have a strong artistic background and photography to me seems to be an obvious additional interest. I favor black and white shots, old west, cowboys etc.. I have a few cameras my newest is a Nikon D60. I ride a Harley Davidson Motorcycle and attend a lot of bike events. I find a very common thread between old black and white and sepia pictures of the old west photos and large groups of bikers "saddling up". I really enjoy taking these types of photos along with family photos. I hope by following your advice to create a lot more interest to them. debi

  • carol January 23, 2010 12:44 pm

    i just signed up for a photog class ... I should have saved my money.
    This site is great. Just found it today... Glad I did.

  • Adam January 1, 2010 05:44 pm

    Came here from the 2010 best of post, and just wanted to say this is a fantastic list of things to consider each time one wants to take a better photo.

  • Andrus Chesley November 19, 2009 10:11 pm

    I do most of my shooting from a moving motorcycle. Coming around a corner or over a hill, seeing a great site, slow down, grab the camera, turn it on , point and shoot over the top of it. Kind of hard to plan such shots as they are spur of the moment. But, so many are not even close to great shots. But, every once in a great while, a super great shot. I usually keep my camera in the Landscape daylight mode or the Auto mode.
    Do others try this same method and what works for them?

  • Andre Favron October 17, 2009 03:42 pm

    Since I have recently made the conscious decision to take my photography from; "I know very little but I seem to be able to compose some pretty good shots" to "I want to master my cameras and the craft of photography", I want to thank you for these excellent tips. I'm sure they'll still be just as pertinent in a decade as they are now.

  • Deirdre September 25, 2009 12:21 am

    I wanted to add that I've been working on a lot of these questions myself over the last year, and it's been helpful to my photography. I've definitely seen an improvement. The two questions here that I want to start asking myself more are:

    - "what is my main source of light?" (I often just try to get the exposure right but forget that I could also move myself, the subject, or even the light source to improve the light)

    - "how will the eye travel through the image?"

  • Deirdre September 25, 2009 12:15 am

    I sort of disagree with commenter #1. Yes, you may miss an AVERAGE shot if you don't "shoot first, edit later," but you may miss a AMAZING shot if you don't keep some guidelines in mind. Ideally, you practice, practice, practice, so that these guidelines become second nature, and you can consistently take great shots without a lot of planning.

    Sports, nature, and in-the-field photojournalists have to take photos quickly. Do you really think they are "shooting first, editing later"? That's like saying that the only reason they are better than most of us is that they have an expensive camera and excellent editors. Seeing as photojournalists have serious limits on how much they can edit a photo, you know that has to be wrong. These are people who understand photography so well that taking great photos has become second nature, and understanding photography includes internalizing these 10 questions, and others.

    Of course there are moments and even photographic styles when "shoot first, edit later," makes more sense, but the photographic style that first comes to mind here is "snapshot."

  • Jake Kravitz September 23, 2009 11:59 pm

    The number one problem for me would be # 7. Is my Framing Straight?

    I am forever doing the post processing on this one and so intent on getting the shot that the angle is rarely a fleeting thought that even comes to mind

  • Jennifer Moore September 18, 2009 04:49 am

    Hermione, great story and good thinking! I may steal the tip about the locator--that's kind of neat.

    These were great tips. I had never given any thought to straightening. I try and line my shots up carefully, but seeing this concept laid out gave me an "aha!" moment. Very cool.

    On unique angles: I'm all about that. Ufortunately, I sometimes take so much time trying to frame for drama, that by the time I push the button, the original shot is gone, and I end up with *meh*. That's part of my learning process, though.

  • Rajev Charudutta September 11, 2009 04:25 am

    With due respect to Darren, if he doesn't mind, for all those who are interested in saving these precious tips in a Word document, do as follows:-

    1, Take your mouse pointer slightly on the right side of the full stop after the last word of the article, and click (left) the mouse.

    .................As you do you’ll find that they become more automatic and in time you’ll naturally take digital photography shots that take into account all of these elements.(mouse pointer here & click)

    2. Scroll up the article using the mouse wheel till you arrive at the first sentence of the article. Do not click anywhere while doing this.

    3. Place your mouse pointer on the left side of the first word, and press Shift & Click (left).

    (mouse pointer here & click)What goes through your mind in ..............................................

    The entire article will get selected and highlited in blue.

    4. Place the mouse pointer on (anywhere) the blue area and click the right mouse button.

    You will get a shortcut menu, Cut, Copy, Paste, Select All ......etc
    Place the pointer on Copy (will turn blue) and click (left).

    5. Now open a New Document in Microsoft Word. Right click on the document, and you'll get the similar shortcut menu, Cut, Copy, Paste.......etc.

    Place the pointer on Paste, and click.

    The process will take some time depending upon the speed of your computer, but you'll have the entire artice in the Word file before you.

    Don't forget to Save. Go to the File menu on top, select Save As, and give the file the name you want, e.g. 10 Photography Ques.

    Cheers. Rajev

  • Rajev Charudutta September 11, 2009 03:46 am

    Great tips for a beginner. With experience most of them would become second nature, and of course make you a better photographer. I loved them. Thank you very much.

  • Ingrid September 10, 2009 11:44 am

    I also disagree with comment number 1. I think one of the things that can turn an every day photo into something awesome is simply a few seconds thought before you take the picture. This will give you the time to think about composition, light, what's in frame and what to leave out. See. Pause. Think. Click. You'll be amazed at the difference!

  • mervet azmi September 7, 2009 11:54 pm

    Dear Darren
    I am working as a part time photographer and travel writer in Egypt and occasionally give courses for teenagers because I love teaching so much. this week is my first time with pupils as young an age as 8-12, and I wounder if u could help giving me some advise on an interesting course lay out for 5 days. thanks

  • Ordilei Caldeira - ordicphoton September 1, 2009 01:51 am

    Duke you wrote: "..above all,, keep having a great time".

    you is right man, this is more important in life.
    tankyou to remind.

  • Ordilei Caldeira - ordicphoton September 1, 2009 01:49 am

    Hello I am new here.
    Very important points! and good knowledge what I am updated by some thoughts and lucubrations of the photography, of so much thinking! congratulations!

  • Duke Miller August 24, 2009 12:58 pm

    Okay, I treat these ten pointers (and all others we read ad nauseam) exactly as deal with tips in golf magazines. If you think about the tip(s) the results are less than hoped for. But after reading enough of them, a pattern begins to sink in to your subconscious. Keep reading, keep practicing, keep experimenting, and, above all,, keep having a great time.

  • Kevin Y August 24, 2009 06:06 am

    so useful! if you actually consider all this in a shot, i wouldn't doubt that you're shot won't turn out amazing

  • ray August 23, 2009 03:37 am

    Copy and paste onto a word document each numbered item and just leave the rest. I did it just to make sure it can be done so if you have problems just leave me your e-mail and I'll forward this to you.

  • Carleton Akana August 22, 2009 06:24 am

    How can i make just a printout of the 10 instructions and not include the rest of?

  • hermione August 22, 2009 03:37 am

    Shoot first and edit later? Yes! However, if one has drilled themselves to automatically run a check list, then even when instant action is called for one still will run some sort of check list.
    I have proven this to me. A couple of years ago, turning into a parking lot, the guy ahead of us stopped his truck, then put it in reverse and backed into us. There was no escape. The silly old geezer had seen a parking spot he was going to get.
    I had my FZ30 in the car, so I jumped out with that, ignored both drivers, and took a number of fast shots. I wasn't worrying about horizons when I snapped license plates. They had to be clearly readable. I got driver photos... and of course damage shots. (This was not a 911 type accident . His word against ours, the more photos the better if the insurance companies had questions to be answered.)
    I even got a locater shot. When I go on a photo shoot, one of my first shots is of a sign, so 10 years later that's the photo that identifies where the following photos took place... so I looked about and lined up on a video shop. So daddyo, there is a definite result of ingraining because I had no previous experience in a situation like this. Only habit spurred me to getting a location identifier.

    Incidentally, as we left the scene, about $1000 worth of grill damage later, my husband said that all this guy had to do was say we rear ended him and we didn't have a leg to stand on.
    However, that was not the case. The man went home and called the insurance company and confessed. When I heard this I said... "We will never know for sure, but I think my FZ30 just paid for itself. That a serious looking camera, and a mean looking one to someone, likely shaken, who just pulled a stupid stunt."

    So thank you for the list, I have typed it. then condensed the wording to fit on a 4x6.

  • Harry Joseph August 22, 2009 02:08 am

    Great tips. I allways think about the story line. It's depressing when you look at the viewfinder, think you got a great shot(s) then come to find out after you download it to your computer that it s really a dud.

  • Ludo August 22, 2009 12:17 am

    I also agree with the first comments about trying to take the shot asap. It's a little like learning peotry at school... you learn what the author had in mind when he wrote a piece, but was he really thinking that hard or was it just about writing what went in his mind?!

    however, the more you practice and the faster the answers to the questions above come to you.
    I'd say the most important question - which doesn't appear in the article - is: Should I use Av or Pv setting (otherwise is the subject moving or not?)? That's the number one rule to get sharp photos. Maybe followed by Where to place the subject?

  • M. Adeel Aizaz August 22, 2009 12:15 am

    I have been applying your tips for a long time and surely help me a lot in taking a nice shot. Thanks, Mr. Darren Rowse.

  • Yogesh Dahiya August 21, 2009 08:37 pm

    i'm new at it, but these tips helped me a lot........

  • Don August 21, 2009 10:56 am

    Perfect article!
    Shoot first and ask questions later is OK, or is it?
    While reading this article I was thinking of my own rules that rumble through my head the second I turn my camera on.
    Here's my quick 5:
    1- Are my camera settings correct?
    2- What's my light source. (Aid in setting White balance)
    3- What am I trying to convey. (What story will this photo tell)
    4- Prime and secondary focal points.
    5- Perspective (What's my angle, what's in the frame, background etc and do I wand shallow or deep DOF)

    These are easy for me to keep rolling through my mind so that when it comes time to shoot forst and ask questions later, I have the answers.

  • Tony Bryan August 21, 2009 05:24 am

    Maybe only 6P's

  • Tony Bryan August 21, 2009 05:23 am

    It's really about the 7P's. You know them, prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.
    If your in a situation where your looking for the surprise pics then you can size up the lighting, distance, speed etc. when your out for a specific shoot you've got time to prepare. Be ready for eventualities.

  • f4fwildcat August 21, 2009 04:14 am

    Would you be willing to post these ten items again with no visual reference. Something that could easily fit on a single sheet of paper? Maybe in a word format? I think these are great and I would like to review them from time to time.



  • Ender August 21, 2009 04:11 am

    I disagree about "shoot first, ask questions later." I think that if you study and practice the techniques in this post you'll eventually be able to mentally ask yourself all of them very quickly, almost instantaneously, and get much better shots than if you just pointed your camera and took a picture of whatever happened to be in your viewfinder. What others perceive as talent is often just hard work and practice, and the techniques here are great ways to do both. I suggest to try to practice one technique at a time over the course of a year, and I guarantee your photos will look tons better.

    As verification of this idea, you can read Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink."

  • DavidN August 21, 2009 04:01 am

    Most good things in life are coaxed, planned, nurtured, rather than merely snatched opportunities. (These add 'spice', I know, but without the staple foods, spice alone is rather unsatisfying.)
    Yes, sometimes we need to snap the shot and hope it came out ok, but that's no excuse for putting little thought into most of what we do. Take a 'classic' sunset, for example. Most are grab-it-while-you-can. But how much better it could be if you know the scene, think ahead where you'd stand (to avoid the lamp-post but get the tree silhouetted), know what time you need to be there, to look out for the sort of late afternoon sky that will give a good sunset... etc, etc.

  • Margaret August 21, 2009 02:20 am

    All of the above listed pointers are great reminders...they are all necessary to make a good shot a great shot. However.......when you stop thinking, and all those pointers come to mind in a split second when you see your shot and press the shutter......that's where the Pro begins and the Amateur lets off.

    Thanks for a great article.

  • daddyo August 21, 2009 01:54 am

    Re: shoot first

    I agree with this sentiment, but I think the point is that these questions should guide your composition, and as you learn and grow they will be ingrained. These questions are in the minds of good photographers as they shoot without them even thinking about it and within the split second. Their knowledge of these principles is ingrained and that's why they want to take the shot in the first place. JMHO

  • Robb August 18, 2009 01:27 am

    A very good list indeed. It's easy to get caught up in so many details, so it's nice to be reminded of the basics.

  • BFreeman August 18, 2009 12:02 am

    I have tried to educate my children and, yes, my grandchildren about subjects such as 'the rule of thirds" and movement into and out of the frame at an early stage in their camera experience. If they practice early when they are learning, the good habits become second nature on down the road when time an opportunity isn't affordable.

  • MeiTeng August 17, 2009 01:02 pm

    Good questions. Sometimes, I don't have the time to ask questions. Otherwise I may miss the photo opportunity. I recently discovered I had problems getting my horizons straight. I purchased a spirit level bubble that helped solve the problem.

  • johnp August 17, 2009 08:30 am

    I think you do need to ask these 10 questions but with practice they should become instinctive. It's like driving a car, while learning you need to think carefully about every action you take but eventually it is instinctive (you don't need to ask yourself 10 questions before braking for instance). The human mind, once trained, is very good at weighing up a situation in a split second.

  • Bridget Casas August 17, 2009 03:32 am

    This is a good list. As I was reading it, I realized that a lot of these things now come naturally to me. But it is really good to get reminders. Thank you for the reminders.

  • Ilan August 16, 2009 07:22 pm

    I agree with number one comment.
    When taking a snap shot (and I'm not referring to calculated long exposures, or scenery photos) most of the time you have less then a second to see, plan and capture what your eyes see and the mind grabs.
    Some of the steps above should be used in the post process - when cropping, resizing etc.
    Of course, some of the questions above are more of a subconscious process and the more experienced you as a photographer, the faster you process the information.

    Shot like this - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2009/06/flower.html - gone in a second. You can't go over so many step of preparation.

  • floridagizzi August 16, 2009 03:48 pm

    i agree with Tracy. while these are all good questions to ask i think they work better in a studio than on the street. photography in the end is about capturing moments. i think the real trick is to be able to internalize these sorts of questions, train yourself to visually examine the frame quickly, and get the shot. i think to be a good photographer one must either be intuitive about these sorts of things or become intuitive, though if given the time to consciously examine these points one should probably take that opportunity.

  • Ben August 16, 2009 02:22 pm

    Great post Darren. I have a feeling I will be referring back to it often in the future. These will be great points to keep in mind.

  • Peter August 16, 2009 11:35 am

    All of these points are very informative and practical. I can also say that DPS has taught me some of the most important lessons in photography...

    thanks dps...

  • Tracy August 16, 2009 08:48 am

    Shoot first. Ask questions later. Besides, you could miss the shot.