40 Questions I ask Myself before Hitting the Shutter Release

40 Questions I ask Myself before Hitting the Shutter Release


Image by Darwin Bell

The following was submitted by one of our readers – Jan Neault Phillips. It’s a little tongue in cheek (40 questions before every photo might be a little difficult, particularly if you’re photographing my kids who move at the speed of light) but also contains some good information on the type of things a photographer should be thinking about as they prepare for a shot (or perhaps for a ‘shoot’).

So I’m walking along with my camera and I see a wonderful scene that would make a great photo…

Before I Hit the Shutter I Ask Myself:

  1. What mode do I want to shoot in? Manual, AP, SP, Auto or a pre-programed mode?
  2. If I’m using a pre-set, what F-Stop or Shutter Speed am I going to use?
  3. What format do I want to shoot in RAW or jpeg?
  4. What’s my ISO? Is it fast/slow enough?
  5. Too grainy for the shot?
  6. What White Balance am I set on?
  7. Do I need to set custom White Balance?
  8. Did I bring my 18% Grey Card?
  9. What Metering Mode should I be on?
  10. What Colour setting do I need?
  11. Am I going to use Manual or Auto Focus?
  12. Do I want to Bracket the shot?
  13. Am I going to use a Flash?
  14. And how am I going to use it?
  15. What story am I trying to tell?
  16. Do I need to change lenses?
  17. If so, which one?
  18. Am I shooting in Landscape or Portrait perspective, or even a jaunty angle?
  19. Do I need to use a Tripod?
  20. Will I use the Rule of Thirds or break it?
  21. What other rules should I be following?
  22. Are there Leading Lines I can use in the shot?
  23. What about finding an S-curve for the leading line?
  24. Is there any thing I can use to Frame my picture? e.g. Tree branches.
  25. Will I change this to B&W, Sepia or something else post production?
  26. Do I have a Focal Point?
  27. Is my subject Moving or Stationary?
  28. For Moving Subjects, do I want to Pan the shot, Blur the background or Blur the subject?
  29. Is there a Pattern I can pick up on?
  30. How’s the lighting?  Are the shadows strong or weak?
  31. Do I want to emphasize them?
  32. Is the light too strong?
  33. Will it wash out detail?
  34. Is my horizon straight?
  35. Can I get this at a better angle?
  36. Should I wait for better lighting?
  37. What does the light meter read?
  38. Should I increase shutter speed or open up the aperture?
  39. Is it in focus?
  40. Did I just miss a great shot?

With all the questions I’ve learned to ask myself over the last year, it’s a wonder that I still have my sanity, my passion for photography and the the willingness to learn it.  Life was so much simpler when all I did was point and shoot!  Certainly less stressful.

But, I look at the results of recent photos I’ve taken, practice every day and soak up as much info as I can from every photographer and photo site I come across. And you know what? It’s all worth it  in the end. I’ve decided that photography isn’t just a passionate hobby, but a journey I’m willingly taking.

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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

  • Donald Hogue December 9, 2011 04:51 am

    Since my camera retains the WB setting from one Power OFF-ON to the next, I have learned to check the White Balance First and quickly even to just set to AUTO. I hesitate to admit publicly how many initial outdoor shots became crap with WB set for incandescent indoor lighting from a previous session.. There are other retained settings but it seems the WB screws things most.

  • Adrian January 18, 2011 12:22 pm

    With these many things in mind, most probably your going to answer your last question first.

    Missing a Great Shot.

  • Kevin Halliburton June 21, 2010 09:21 am

    That's a good list and I appreciate the time you put into it. The better a shot is planned and considered, the better and more consistent the results.

    #15 is now my #1 question though. I've found the answers to the rest of them are usually driven, in whole or in part, by the story I'm trying to shoot. Here is a guest post I did for Jason D. Moore detailing my story check list. http://jasondmoore.com/blog/2010/01/guest-post-stop-you-are-not-a-photographer-by-kevin-halliburton/

    You've put some really solid information in your list here. Thanks for several good reminders.

  • Jeff June 20, 2010 11:17 pm

    "40. Did I just miss a great shot? Absolutely, because you were too busy asking yourself unnecessary questions. Most of this stuff is done before I walk out the door with my camera.

    If I had to do this everytime I was taking a picture, even once, I’d find another hobby."

    TOTALLY agree.

  • Bella June 18, 2010 03:25 am

    These aren't 40 commandments, they're suggestions, he's trying to help you. You do what you want. But if you learn something new, great.!
    These days you can't find a photographer willing to teach you, without them fearing you'll mooch every bit of knowledge out of them to become their rival & if they do teach its way expensive.
    Stop bringing down the curve & realise he is offering you good advice free.

  • Buri Studios May 28, 2010 02:37 am

    I'm in agreement with Matt. The key to photography is the same as a good game of golf. You line up your shot, you relax, and you swing. If you tense up and make the process too mechanical the shot breaks down. Your subject will become uncomfortable, the sun will have risen above the water ruining your perfect sunrise shot, the bird will no longer be flying towards you but rather away. Capture life as it comes and let the answers to the questions build themselves into your swing as you go. And let those answers and questions be your answers and questions. It's up to you to build your own style. Forget the rules, the rules are for the masses that follow them. You are an artist and it's up to you to make your own art, not mimic someone elses!

  • Christina O'Brien May 27, 2010 09:15 am

    Try one question at a time to see how it affects your image as you are learning. After you get that down, you won't have to think of all these things before, it will happen naturally. Just keep shooting.

  • Bipin Gupta May 21, 2010 10:26 pm

    Most times, I feel a couple of these questions - though ideal to ask if you were taking a shot first time with the camera - have a more-or-less standard answer. For example: What format I want to shoot? I do not most times change between RAW/JPEG based on shots. If for an outing I have decided on JPEGs, it is rare I would start on RAW.

    However, most others are questions I do ask myself. Though I am not sure if I have answered/asked all 40, most are there at the back of my mind. For example, while all the time I would be on ISO200, I do think about it once I encounter low light, or fast moving subject. Again, most questions about composition are always there at the back of my mind - am sure most of us have them.

    Kudos Jan, for the nice article.

  • Robert J Gray Sr. May 18, 2010 03:54 am

    One of the truisms I was taught when I first started out is SHOOT-a lot. Back in my earlier days, the thought of film cost and processing often kept me from triggering the shutter. There really is no excuse with digital. Eith shoot what you are set for or learn your camera so that you can adjust quickly. I just changed over to a digital SLR and am relearning to be comfortable with this camera. Like the rule of thirds, the checklist is a basic guideline to have in the back of your head, not to dictate your shot.

  • tukangpoto May 17, 2010 07:09 pm

    Too much question just for hitting the shutter release...just shot,worried later. After all we're in the digital era!

  • Cliff Kelly May 13, 2010 07:47 am

    Great site,
    Been an SLR photographer since I was 18. I am now 80 and going as strong. You start in Photography as a raw novice - and If it is really in your blood you will progress to any heights you wish. I love the articles and the responses. Obviously there are photographers of every skill level participating and that is what makes the continuous phtotgraphy learning curve so valuable and so interesting. I live in a forest in British Columbia, and yet on the shore of a gorgeous harbor entrance. I photograph mostly animal life that passes by my windows - with occasional photo-shoot forays to other parts of the island.I use two Nikons - a D50 and a D300 which are always set at predetrmined settings (which can be adjusted at a momments notice) because animal life - and various other scenes of nature do not hold poses. All of the 40 questions you cite have been addressed - with maybe a few more but they are in my mental portfolio. For me - when the moment of truth arrives -"the shot"- I am ready.
    I have made the transition from film to digital photography and have developed a style and process that pleases me and meets my needs and enjoy learning from all of you contributors.

  • Susan May 12, 2010 05:37 am

    I always ask myself first what is my subject. This dictates all the other technical requirements and often eliminates too much going on in the same picture. It's just like writing really...if you don't know what your subject is all that flows from the pen will be chaotic.

  • Subash May 12, 2010 02:32 am

    I feel by the time I summarize the answers to these questions
    a) I might get the best shot of my life
    b) I might lose the best shot of my life because of the time consumed in assimilating the answers.
    Maybe a midway would be faster and effective.
    It was a good read though.

  • Scott Atkinson May 11, 2010 02:29 am

    Hey, lets not knock the list....for those of us (AKA; me) who arent as experienced, I think this is a great list to run through as I prepare to shoot. I'm sure most of the questions here become second nature with experience...also a good reminder to those who tend to hurry (also again like me) so a better image is what we walk away with in the end...sucks to get home and find that all you have is #40.

  • rick buch May 11, 2010 12:51 am

    This is a great list to go over BEFORE going out to shoot. I've been guilty of forgetting to check a setting or 2 before making a rushed wildlife shot or similar. Most notably a wrong iso or white balance from a previous shoot.

  • Miriam May 10, 2010 06:20 am

    If you truly ask all of these questions, I bet you miss your shot every time... unless it's still!

    The most important out of all of them is no 15, IMHO (What story am I trying to tell?)

  • Kelly May 10, 2010 05:41 am

    The title of the article says "before hitting the shutter release". Not "immediately before". Most of these questions can be addressed before you even start shooting, but they are questions to be asked, nonetheless. The rest are all thoughts that stream together in an instant as you shoot. Try not to take everything so literally! IMHO, it's a great list!

  • Mark May 10, 2010 12:26 am

    WOW! I can't believe its 40! the bottom line is a well composed picture after...

  • Orion May 9, 2010 11:16 pm

    Do you really remember all of those questions before hitting shutter button?

  • MIchael Shuey May 9, 2010 01:52 am

    I like question #40. The answer to question #40 is "Yes!!!!". After having asked questions 1-39 you have in fact missed, not only a "great shot" but any shot.
    I don't know about any one else but I had to continually screw up approximately 80 million times (+/- once or twice) before I stopped neglecting camera settings.
    Regardless of my initial camera settings, it still takes me a few photos and 5 to 10 minutes to get really engrossed in the atmosphere and mood of a shoot before I can interpret and convey my idea using lighting and etc. Therefore, even though my camera was properly set initially and my exposure set correctly according to my incident light meter a few frames ago, the camera might need to be choked off or opened up now. Maybe I will decide that some hint of motion or some other dynamic should be introduced into the shot. Changes are made as I go along. I assume changes to settings are made as everybody (pro or novice) goes along.
    The settings I have initially are not nearly as important as the adjustments I am willing and capable of making as the shoot goes on.

  • philo bob May 9, 2010 12:59 am

    The main question I ask myself is "is the camera turned on"

  • Berty Boy May 8, 2010 07:02 pm

    Wow. People are amazing. I guess that's why I like to photograph people. Some people are very intelligent and yet may miss some fundamental things. Some are not as technically smart but wise in other ways. This string of comments really shows this up.

    Anyway this sounds like a great mental checklist to me. I recall in earlier days that I was often wondering what I should be thinking about. So I am sure this would be very comforting for budding photograhers (and in fact any photographer) to at least have some scale of what they should be considering There are heaps of things to be mindful of ( instinctful or otherwise) and this list covers plenty of them. So what's the big deal? Thanks for the list. If someone hands me a cake I don't criticise the cake. I just eat it and enjoy it. Sure it could have been cooked differently or had other ingredients. Of course, we all know that. But if the cake is OK, relax have a cup of tea and just enjoy the cake.

  • Flores May 8, 2010 03:19 pm

    If I have to ask all these 40 Qs before press the shutter button, I guess, I will miss all the moments. These Qs supposed to be asked during the preparation, not in the moment we wanna push the shutter button.Anyway, those Qs are good and thanks so much.

  • connie gott May 8, 2010 04:44 am

    Over time, some of these things will just come to you instinctively. So go with what moves you creatively instead of what the "box of photographic rules" tell you.

  • Alex Gac May 8, 2010 04:22 am

    @Stacey Debono
    While beauty may be accidental, Art is deliberate.

  • Sean May 8, 2010 04:22 am

    In the early days things tend to be very mechanical, and yes you do tend to go through mental checklists.

    But over time I find things become second nature and you just do them without thinking. A bit like driving a car - in the beginning you have to think about every little detail, but the more experienced you become the more you can focus on the important things and the technical bits come naturally.

  • Stacey Debono May 8, 2010 03:52 am

    Me thinks someone is waaaaaaaaaay overthinking their shot.......a lot of this should have been thought out before you left the studio/house/whatnot.

    I have a specific workflow. I shoot in RAW all the time...not because Im worried Im going to screw up, but because I have different needs for my images at different times (TIFF, JPG, etc) I DONT want to think about it!

    I pack my bag with my grey card. It never leaves me. I have backup plans in the event I lose it or it gets messed up, etc.

    Zach Inglis said it well : " A lot of it just “feel” and should not be a huge setup. Photography is art; not a checklist."


  • pixelmixture May 8, 2010 03:20 am

    to me the most important question in photography is missing ... where am i going to stand to frame the subject ?

  • Aces1295 May 8, 2010 02:23 am

    Gotta love all the responses!
    Quite a few of the people who say they it's all about the "feel" probably do most of these things automatically after taking pictures for years. I'm relatively new to the whole field of photography, even so, it drives me nuts when people comment about how easy it is to change something in PP. Of course it is, but that doesn't improve you as a photographer. If you spent the $$ on a camera and the accompanying lenses, learn how to USE IT. Yes the list is tongue in cheek, but it doesn't make the questions less applicable. It's not hard to adjust the WB to match your lighting even if you do shoot in RAW. I have a 4 year old...you want to catch him you start pressing the shutter some sort of auto mode, delete 9 out of 10 of the resulting pictures and fix the 10th in PP. That being said, there's nothing better than pursuing perfection in photography....and seeing the results of your work. It's a challenge like anything else. Mastering it brings huge satisfaction.

  • Tracy May 8, 2010 01:41 am

    I think this is a wonderful article. It wasn't intended for someone to stand there and ask each of the 40 questions, but most of these question are considered before a photo is taken. Sometimes you do just point and shot, otherwise the moment is gone. However, there are times when you have a moment to adjust.

    I consider myself a beginner for the most part. Experienced photographers probably do not need a list at all. As someone with less experience, I am going to use this list in my own modified way. When I got my camera I searched the internet for such a list. Never found a good one that listed what to check prior to taking the picture. There are lots of articles discussing post-processing or about a specific item. Now I will be able to take this list of 40 questions and slim it down to what is relevant for me and my pictures.

    So to Jan, I am one who has been greatly helped by this. Thank you! Hopefully one day I will just think of all of these things by just looking at my scene and knowing what to adjust. That will come with time and practice.

  • Alexa May 7, 2010 05:57 pm

    I am still just as impressed with this (tongue-in-cheek) article as I was when I first read it & am enjoying ALL the responses. Some make me laugh & some make me think.
    Mostly I am just so glad that I actually understand it - LOL - means I have learnt lots from all my photo friends & tutorials & sites like these so I can apply all that knowledge while I am out there happily playing with my camera and improving my technical skills.
    I see a picture everywhere I look but my skills and knowledge do not always stretch far enough to capture it so that it is worth sharing. And yes, I also enjoy editing and yes, I have to delete many flops, and I learn from all of it :)
    Thanks Jan, thanks Darren & thanks to all photographers (from point & shooters to the pro's) that are willing to share their skills, knowledge and joy on their personal photographic journeys!

  • Rene May 7, 2010 05:56 pm

    So, learn this list out of your head and impress people when they ask you: "What is so difficult about taking a picture ?" Then just mentioned this list and they are impressed forever (or they will never talk to you again).

  • Pernille Sue Winton May 7, 2010 05:09 pm

    Stimulating thread created here : ) I have this approach that I aspire to learn what I dont have much natural talent for, so fx being technically challenged makes it even more thrilling for me to try to get into the more technical aspects of photography, even though its somewhat a hassle cos of my pretty poor memory too - which leads me to citing a favourite ceramicsteacher who quoted athletepsychology when emphazising " always try to do your best in the situation, as the paths in your brain hence expand and becomes more easily and fast travelled and you will eventually be able to act as was it intuitively". I think the thread above just shows that there are as many approaches to anything, as people, but it seems we still enjoy being in a herd : ) To me the most fertile way is the both-and approach and not the either-or. I know it sounds a bit whatchamacallit, but in general using most of your abilities in combination is more fertile and evolving, than fixing on only a few, and to me photography is such a wonderfully challenging thing, exactly because it has me use so much of myself. BOTH my intellectual capacities eg analysing the requirements of the situation AND my intuitive and not controlled emotional reflexes. Ok so I tend to get a bit philosphical when I see black vs white disputes like here : )
    Thanks Jan for spurring on this exchange of deeply felt reactions, with your focus on the planning aspect of photography - an excellent way of reminding us all how much gutreaction/intuition/flow matters ; )

  • Thomas Louw May 7, 2010 03:52 pm

    My Cent-
    The point that was made these 40 items all contirbute to the end result.
    Learn, practice, understand, then apply the knowledge.
    You pics will only get better.
    It is a process that should become automatic like driving a car.

  • Chris May 7, 2010 03:12 pm

    No way I am going to get through all those in one shot, but it's a great check list to make sure I know what I am doing when it comes down to it.

  • NLSchober May 7, 2010 01:33 pm

    seems to me a great many of these should be decided way before you're ready to push the shutter release button.

    I think #15 should be the first question - that will determine the answer to most of the others

    - Nancy

  • Jan May 7, 2010 10:26 am

    I shoot in mostly RAW and sometimes JPEG. RAW is excellent for when you want the shot just right and there's a chance you may need to save detail in editing, but JPEG is fantastic for action shots like sports. It takes less time for the onboard computer to process JPEG and less space on the memory card so you can get more shots. Neither is any better than the other in my opinion, they both have their uses. My cam can shoot in either and/or both and I'm utilizing everything at my fingertips to become a better photographer.

    @johan; some people like to spend time editing, and that's okay. If that's the only answer you're getting and are not satisfied, then you need to keep looking for the right one for you.

    @ Alex. Thanks ;)

  • Jim-san May 7, 2010 10:26 am

    Wow mate, I'm glad you put in number 40 because I was reading with my mouth agape and seeing some serious OCD creaping in here. I was expecting 37,38,39 to be Did I check the stove, Did I turn the lights off, and did I wash my hands? These are things worth thinking about though.

    Such an extensive list seems well suited for landscape photography or another subject that's not moving much, in which case I'm surprised you missed out "Where is my tripod?" I ask a lot of these questions while I'm packing my camera bag getting ready to go out. Otherwise I set my manual settings with a few test shots before I actually start shooting, and then I am more or less set until the time place and lighting changes dramatically. Things like shutter speed and ISO can be almost predicted and then may just need to be checked from time to time. But at some point in the shoot you need to go over such a list, which most photographers do without even thinking.

    The composition-based questions are worth remembering though. Number 26 is interesting, can I ask you how you define a 'Focal point,' obviously there could be a couple of meanings there.

  • Alex Gac May 7, 2010 09:29 am

    @ Johan
    Whoa, whoa whoa... lay off the RAW shooters!

    I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, but that's because I want to ensure that I have the opportunity to fine-tune a photo in post production IF I didn't do a good job taking it. If I find myself spending a lot of time in post, it means that I really screwed up that shoot.

    RAW is never a substitute for good exposure and composition, however it's a good safety net "just in case." I totally agree with you that the answer "shoot in RAW" is way too common and very misused.

    LOVE IT!

  • Johan May 7, 2010 09:21 am

    That's exactly it, Jan.
    I don't like spending my time at my computer either, I want to get it right in my camera. Far too often, when someone asks a question, in DPS forums too, they get the answer "shoot in RAW so you can take care of it in post production", while the question was "how do I get it right with my camera". Those RAW people take the fun out of photography by refusing to answer the question and misleading newcomers into thinking that the only wat to take "that" photograph is through post production. A shame, actually, IMHO.

  • Jan May 7, 2010 08:38 am

    Thought I'd jump in now. Thanks all for reading my article. Some of you got the 'Tongue in Cheek' message.

    When I was a beginner I wished I had a list like this to follow, it would have saved me tremendous amounts of time looking for the right questions to ask, because I really didn't know what I needed to know. I went from an HP point & shoot to an entry level Cannon S5 IS, and soon realized that there was more to photography than just taking a picture. So I bought a Nikon D90.

    I'm not the best photographer out there, I've seen countless images that are just too stunning for words. But that's my goal, that's what I'm working towards. Photography, for me, is not just buying an expensive cam and taking 300 pictures/day of anything that will stand still long enough to shoot. It's knowing what I want to achieve with my photos, knowing the tools of the trade (my cam) inside and out, and presenting the finished product in a manner that will convey a story, create an emotion and/or make people want to have it for their own.

    I do not go through the list, literally speaking, but these are questions that I have learned to think about subconsciously as I'm preparing to click that shutter. I don't want to spend hours editing and trying to save a picture just because I was impulsive in taking it and didn't think about the end result. I would rather be out playing with my cam. I would not have been able to prepare this list had I not know what to ask, as when I was a newbie. I've learned a lot over the years and most of it is instinctual now. (Yes, I know sometimes you have to point & shoot or miss the shot, I am speaking in general terms.)

    So if I help just one person who wants to do something more than just take pictures, I'll be very happy and I will feel like I'm returning a favour for all the people who've helped me along the way. I never want to forget that there are photographers out there that are better and some just beginning.


  • Shariq May 7, 2010 07:46 am

    Thanks Darren

    When I saw the title of this article I thought "you've got to be kidding". Then as I ran through them I realised at least 30 of them are always at the back of my mind! Of course always shooting in RAW allows you to ignore many of them.

    Your article actually made me feel good about myself (not to mention appreciate my very patient GF!)

  • Pete Zerria May 7, 2010 07:38 am

    Tongue-in-cheek or not this list borders on the ridiculous. With the author's permission please allow me to refine things down a bit: Know your gear before you venture out to shoot. Don't let the technology get in the way. Be spontaneous. These three things will help all of us be better photographers.


  • Johan May 7, 2010 06:21 am

    /tongue on
    Answer the 40 questions or shoot in RAW. There's no such thing as a bad RAW image and it's sounds so professional when you talk about it.
    /tongue off

  • Barb Gonzalez May 7, 2010 06:10 am

    Um...if I asked myself these 40 questions I just might miss the decisive moment...don'tcha think? Seriously though, nice job on the post

  • Ronny DW May 7, 2010 05:36 am

    Not only good questions to ask before taking a picture. You can also use them afterwards, was this the best I could do ? Perhaps you can even learn when relecting what you did!

    Excellent post!


  • Leppod May 7, 2010 04:26 am

    Alex Gac Says:

    "I think if we’re being totally honest about our work (and I’m referring to the skilled photographers, not the snap-shooters (no offense, just not my audience here)), then you’d admit that you consider all those 40 questions in some way, on some instinctive level, for every single shot."

    and he's absolutely right. there is nothing mindless about good photography. the only real "problem" here is everyone is at a different place on the journey. thus the varying "interpretations".

    Deacon Says:

    "Everything should come naturally, there is no need to have a list of any kind or index before capturing a picture."

    and he's right. problem is, so many out there never really take the time or effort to learn the craft. the camera is forever akward and demanding. just like driving a car was when we first started driving. anybody and "point n' shoot". few know how enjoy the "drive". to work without "lists". or they just point n' shoot and call it "art". i'd rather folks use this list...and keep using it...until they no longer need it.

  • Jimmy May 7, 2010 03:43 am

    In my film days where each shot HAS TO COUNT and EACH SHOT cost me $$$ ( i was a school kid then, snapping on my pocket $). YES. I will ask myself that question.

    In these days of digital, I would say "Grab the shot 1st". My subjects usually dun wait for me to press the trigger, even for in-house product shots.

  • Poncho Alarcon May 7, 2010 03:10 am

    1st PLACE: fortunato uno «This reminds me of what a music teacher taught me. When you’re practicing, practice all I’ve taught you. When you play, forget what I’ve taught you and play.»

    2nd Place (Tie) GrrBrr «Mine goes more like this... 1: Time? A: NO! B: Yes
    A – Snap, check and change, snap, check and change… fire at will!
    B – Plan the shot and just try everything.

    & hfng «I say shoot now and ask questions later:D»

    3rd place: Barb Bronson «I’m having more fun reading the responses than the article! haha – love it!»

    ...And a little pice of my own...Look! Everybody ARE THINKING!
    And pondering.
    And sharing.
    That's COOL =)

  • Diana Eftaiha May 7, 2010 02:45 am

    well i think thats a bit exaggerated. some tips are useful thought

  • "Huck" Huckabay May 7, 2010 02:39 am

    With all those questions, Darren must have a very small photo album...

  • Alex Gac May 7, 2010 02:27 am

    I find it helpful to approach the subject before taking a shot. A simple, "hi, I'm a photographer and would like to take your picture. Would that be OK?" is all I need to ask, and then the people are usually very happy to wait for me to go through the checklist. I tried with at a soccer match the other day and it worked really well-- I just asked the keeper to stay floating in the air, perfectly posed with eh ball streaking by, as I went through my checklist.

    I actually really liked this article. When I first got an SLR many years ago, I HAD to ask myself all these questions (partly because it was film and I was a kid, so every shot sounded like money falling out of my pocket). Now as an experienced photographer, I still go through all those questions, but it's much more natural. I just instinctively consider the subject, the composition, the story, the little technical details, the things that are important to that shot. The questions that don't apply, just don't come to mind.

    I think if we're being totally honest about our work (and I'm referring to the skilled photographers, not the snap-shooters (no offense, just not my audience here)), then you'd admit that you consider all those 40 questions in some way, on some instinctive level, for every single shot.

  • Rick May 7, 2010 01:06 am

    Tongue-in-cheek or not, there are some good points here. No, you don't consciously run through each and every question here, but they should be addressed at some point.

    I might also add this one: If you're doing landscape photography, keep an eye on the sky and have a good idea when you're going to get some nice colors in a sunset. I have a favorite spot nearby that I like to go when I'm able to anticipate this.

  • Killian May 6, 2010 11:05 pm

    Jeez, guys, she said it was "tongue in cheek". It isn't that she pulls out her camera and won't shoot unless she has asked all 40. She used humor to convey just how many considerations there can be before getting a good photograph. There are so many things that can go wrong; poor setting choices can ruin a portrait, a landscape, or any other shot.

    The point was to show people that great photography isn't a matter of grabbing any camera, flipping the ON switch and shooting.

    I was just looking at a local "professional" photographer's web site yesterday with another photographer friend of mine and we were cringing at so many things on it. Too many people think that catching a few good shots and buying a pro website setup makes you a talented photographer, and it doesn't. Knowing the answers to the questions posed here, even if you don't necessarily need every single one of them, is part and parcel to quality photographs. (Granted, this so-called "pro" misspelled "sepia," could not write a coherent English sentence, and generally wrote like a 5th grader, too.)

  • Bluenoser May 6, 2010 09:41 pm

    I didn't miss the tongue in cheek, the Author or whoever posted this missed the headline - "40 questions I ask myself before hitting the shutter release". It clearly implies that the individual asks all 40 questions before hitting the release. Yes, I can read between the lines but if you want people to do that then don't make the title so definitive.

  • Leppod May 6, 2010 05:18 pm

    "Stupidity is a product of a mindless analysis". hmmm....way to insult your readers.

  • Deacon May 6, 2010 03:49 pm

    I fully agree with Leppod,

    Photography is a learning curve, we get used to every setting, choose the ones we want to use most frequently. Have your rule of the third in your head, spot the natural light when it is there, feel the moment whenever your walking inside any building or outdoors. As a photographer I struggled a lot beginning with my first camera, I went nuts wondering what settings I should use, I would go as far as asking my photography partner what settings he had used and then compare with mine and ask myself why he did everything differently. It is time to stop! Learn what you need to learn, remember it, if you forget, take some time and go back to the basics. Everything should come naturally, there is no need to have a list of any kind or index before capturing a picture. A painter doesn't use a reference card when painting, why should a photographer be any different. Art is art, lets keep it simple silly.


  • citmariñas May 6, 2010 03:43 pm

    I regret that many of those commented took the article, especially the subject, in a limited context. You don't actually write those questions on a piece of paper and have to read and answer it at the moment you look through the viewfinder or the LCD.. However, the list is a piece of advice you have to think of before you have to take the shot. And with that, I disagree that analyzing the situation and the technical aspect of photography would make it less of an art. How possibly can you deliver a dramatic, catchy image without thinking of how you'll going to arrive to such? Creativity is a product of the mind.. Stupidity is a product of a mindless analysis.

  • Jason Collin Photography May 6, 2010 03:36 pm

    If you are going to ask yourself 40 questions before taking a shot, I think you should definitely use a tripod so you can have all your fingers available to count on!

    A pretty good list, I think some of those questions can be asked before you even walk out your front door.

  • Mei Teng May 6, 2010 02:39 pm

    Too many questions to think on the spot. A great list anyway. Something to keep in mind so that it becomes natural when you're out shooting.

  • oliverignacio May 6, 2010 02:20 pm

    Is my subject Moving or Stationary?
    It is moving.. oooops, I've just missed it.

  • Roman m May 6, 2010 12:57 pm

    Ask all that? That is crazzy.... Ask that ur self when u r not shooting

  • Diana Mikaels May 6, 2010 12:38 pm

    I gues that by willingfully and intentionally practising these questions, they become 2nd nature, and that's when photography is UNDER YOUR SKIN.
    Mmm... question more...
    good idea...

  • Jean May 6, 2010 12:36 pm

    40 is a lot! I just point and shoot and see the beauty afterwards. By the way, if you're looking for the best website design for your online business, then you're search is over. Good luck!

  • Tim S May 6, 2010 12:17 pm

    Jan, whatever questions you actually DO ask yourself they are the correct ones, because your work is amazing! I enjoyed reading the litany of considerations you listed, as it was a reminder how far I've come - only shooting in manual now. It was also entertaining reading comments from those who took this process literally :) Keep posting those great images Jan! :)

  • Leo May 6, 2010 11:42 am

    this is the perfect way to mess up art....thank you


  • johnp May 6, 2010 10:17 am

    Great list! I think we can only hope that with practice the answers to those questions become instinctive as obviously you dont have time to go through them all when taking a shot. It would be a good list to refer to occasionly though to ensure you are on the right track.

  • Leppod May 6, 2010 06:08 am

    Photography is like learning to drive a car. Remember when you first got behind the wheel? So many things to think about and adjust. And that darn stick shift and clutch combo...

    But now you jump in the car and drive without a conscious thought. You drive from one end of town to the other and wonder how you got there because your mind was on what you were goning to do when you got to your destination.

    The camera is like that car. And in a casual situation ("walking along...see a wonderful scene...") it is not at all (not even close) as complicated as "40 questions" makes it seem. Like driving a car, we are making all sorts of decisions....but it's happening on a subconscious level. Like enjoying a sunday drive, i'm enjoying the "wonderful scene" and photography.

    If one is new to photography, it may seem like a "check list" of things to consider before hitting the shutter. But look forward to the day you know how to "drive" that camera. And you are free to enjoy the world and taking pictures. Without being distracted by the technicalities.

    Tip: many of these questions should be delt with before you even leave the house.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever May 6, 2010 05:54 am

    I love this! Unfortunately while taking any given photo I usually forget at least half of these until AFTER I take the photo. 'tis life.

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • terryd May 6, 2010 05:40 am

    Great Post & Great Comments ... even those that missed the 'tongue in cheek' disclaimer at the beginning

    Only a landscape or architectural photographer would have the TIME to go through a list like this.

    When I was in the Navy, I taught emergency response which is very like taking pictures ... you must learn to react 'in the moment', on instinct. So we taught people to practice, asking questions like these in practice to think through what should be done. Playing camera would be a perfect translation of that effort. We also did a lot of 'after the event' evaluation, asking questions like these about everything we did.

    Our primary effort was practice ... "lots and lots of lovely practice" ... doing it over and over until everything about our response becomes instinctual. Every photo you take is part of that practice. Take pictures, LOTS of pictures. Ask the questions about what you catch ... both the good and the bad ... then take MORE pictures. If all you ever do is press the shutter, then you will never get better than you are. If all you do is think, you lock yourself into over-intellectualizing every photo you take.

    The aim is to take every picture without having to think about it in the moment, but to use that picture, EVERY picture to make you better the next time you click the shutter.

  • rebecca B May 6, 2010 04:57 am

    I always ask myself before a frame: Will this make your heart speed up when it turns out?

  • Karen Stuebing May 6, 2010 04:39 am

    This isn't a question but more of an uh duh moment. Take off the the lens cap. I actually leave it on a lot. Guess I get too excited about actually shooting the moment and have a senior one.

    Funny article, Darwin.

  • Eddy May 6, 2010 04:22 am

    I will probably miss the shot if i keep asking myself all these questions before i press the shutter.
    Time runs fast you know. Subjects too.

  • Maria Bueno May 6, 2010 03:54 am

    Agree with eeps since I "know" Jan from photography groups. Totally "tongue in cheek" as she is one of the most talented people I have ever seen pick up a camera. Her photographs were impressive when all she used was a point and shoot. If you've never seen her work, I highly recommend you look at it, ordinary images take on a different world through Jan's eyes. I think she actually "thinks" all these things through when she's taking a shot, as do I, with instinct, and years and years of practice. Great site DPS, thanks for posting all you do!

  • Barb Bronson May 6, 2010 03:52 am

    I'm having more fun reading the responses than the article! haha - love it!

  • Zach Inglis May 6, 2010 03:30 am

    While I agree with the checklist are things you need to take into account. I can't stress enough that I believe photography isn't a scientific hobby. A lot of it just "feel" and should not be a huge montomous setup. Photography is art; not a checklist.

    If you are taking professional shots of people that have to be a specific way; then sure. But you are likely to miss the shot if you're constantly analysing what you are doing.

  • Jim Poor May 6, 2010 03:18 am

    I'll admit to having missed the tongue-in-cheek part. :O Even funnier when one considers the banner image with a P&S camera.

  • Jake May 6, 2010 02:47 am

    Awesome article, I am going to print it out and laminate it for my camera bag, at least until I can memorize them. I tend to rush my photographs and end up disappointed with the final result and I need to slow down and remember all 40 questions.

    A while back I bought an Expo Disc white balance filter and replaced #8 with, "Did I bring my Expo Disc?" it was the best $100 investment in my camera bag, period.

  • Paulo Lourenco May 6, 2010 02:25 am

    I think that if you think too much longer you are under the risk of missing a great shot. I just point my camera and press the shutter release, sometimes I hit on the nail and sometimes not but I believe that all those feelings that make you get a nice shot comes with pratice.
    Anyway the post is very good.

  • hfng May 6, 2010 02:23 am

    I say shoot now and ask questions later:D

  • Jan May 6, 2010 02:22 am

    LOL Yes dcclark most of them did.

  • eeps May 6, 2010 02:19 am

    ROTFLMAO Shame on you if you took this article seriously and missed the tongue in cheek part. This was a great article. For noobs and chimps,it serves as a check list of things you need to note before going out on a shoot. For the more experienced photogs, it just serves as a reminder of the things you take for granted because you run this things through your head subconciously. FWIW I need to note this list. It's a great one. SLOL

  • Kyle Bailey May 6, 2010 02:12 am

    An excellent list that everyone can alter adjust and change. Since I'm still a newbie I find that occasionally a great shot is ruined because I neglected to go through such a checklist. Just this past weekend I took a bunch of shots and neglected to double check my ISO and ended up with a bunch of grainy shots that wasted my time and opportunities for some unique captures. Not all was wasted... I learned a very valuable lesson.

    For more photos or to follow my journey to go from Rookie to Pro photographer visit www.rookiephoto.com or follow me on Twitter @Rookie_Photo

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4580185103/' title='050410 VCR BC Place Triptych' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4041/4580185103_22a5a8a2a5.jpg']

  • Lon May 6, 2010 02:00 am

    I think if those questions were grouped into for the various sub-tasks involved in setting up a shot it could resemble the actual organic process that occurs when we actually shoot... ie:

    1) group the questions that arise when you first pull your camera out of the bag (ISO, RAW, lighting, tripod)then
    2) group the questions that arise while the camera is at your side (color balance, flash, determine the subject, story etc),
    3) another group of questions as you are composing the shot (rule of thirds, exposure comp, aperture etc)
    4) another group as your actuate the shutter (check shutter speed, watch subject etc)
    5) and finally the group to evaluate what you did and want to do next. (refocus, horizon, better lighting etc)

    I think these 40 or so questions is enough to help you shoot systematically, and by arranging and memorizing these sub-tasks it should get to the point where comes naturally while remaining adequately thorough. Now off I go to arrange my sub-task checklists...

  • dcclark May 6, 2010 01:56 am

    Wow, looks like everyone missed the "tongue in cheek" part! :P

  • Guillermo Rosas May 6, 2010 01:52 am

    41.- What was I looking at?
    42.- What have I done with my life?

    Usually I just thing about my shutter speed (it it's too slow things will be blurry, too fast no light),... it the thing is not moving, then I think about the background.

  • My Camera World May 6, 2010 01:35 am

    To many this is why lots of practice is needed. With experience these questions do run through your head but without you really knowing its happening.

    It becomes instinct, like riding a bicycle.

    Niels Henriksen

  • Brent Pennington May 6, 2010 01:27 am

    If you stop and ask yourself all 40 each time you want to shoot, you'll never end up taking a single shot. The concept of thinking before you press the shutter is a good one, but realistically, a 40 question checklist is only going to lead to a lot of missed opportunities.

    Many of those items should be addressed before you step out the door with your gear. Many more will simply become part of your nearly-instant internal dialogue as you move about with the camera. And several of them will simply stop the creative process right in its tracks. (By the time you ask yourself "Should I switch lenses?" that photo is gone...)

    You want successful photos? Be fluid! No outing/shoot goes as planned, so be willing and able to roll with it. I'm all for being prepared, but locking yourself into a checklist is both overkill, and anti-creative.

  • Caroline May 6, 2010 01:22 am

    I think most of us DO ask ourselves these questions, but we ask them simultaneously and mostly unconsciously.

  • Jaina May 6, 2010 01:08 am

    Wow - that is a lot of questions! Whatever happened to capturing the moment?

  • Karen May 6, 2010 01:04 am

    Ridiculous....3 questions:



  • Todd Eddy May 6, 2010 01:00 am

    forgot to add to my initial checklist, make sure the exposure compensation is back to 0! that one has bit me a couple times...

  • Todd Eddy May 6, 2010 12:58 am

    A lot of those questions can be done in initial setup. For example I allways "reset" my camera after I take some photos. empty card, evaluative metering, iso 100 or 200 (depends on mood), program mode (although lately I've been sticking to aperture mode), daylight WB, my 17-55mm lens, single shot. I always shoot raw which eliminates the need for making sure the whitebalance is correct although I'll adjust it if needed. Then for the actual shot I pretty much do what Matt Mathai said "Why am I taking this shot?" That will bring up all the technical details I need, like checking horizons, choosing a focal point, changing to a different mode (I tend to use aperture priority but default to program if I want to quickly take a picture), adjust iso if needed, adjust metering if needed, adjust white balance if needed.

    Then when reviewing the pictures later be critical of not only the things I missed, but things I got right. Also make note of things that I wasn't really thinking of at the time but sorta happened.

    All of this combined with constantly taking pictures and you won't actually be asking yourself these questions, you'll just do them instinctively.

  • Jim Poor May 6, 2010 12:53 am

    LoL. Many of those are redundant and many (like wb) could be avoided by shooting raw.

  • Bluenoser May 6, 2010 12:51 am

    40. Did I just miss a great shot? Absolutely, because you were too busy asking yourself unnecessary questions. Most of this stuff is done before I walk out the door with my camera.

    If I had to do this everytime I was taking a picture, even once, I'd find another hobby.

  • fortunato_uno May 6, 2010 12:49 am

    This reminds me of what a music teacher taught me. When you’re practicing, practice all I’ve taught you. When you play, forget what I’ve taught you and play.
    I often go out trying the various settings so I can see what minuet changes will do to my images. And then there are times when I go out taking pictures (creating images). The difference to me is drastic. I get some really crappy shots when I’m practicing and some really good (IMHO) images when I go out and shoot. So in the words of Dr. Bob (my music teacher), just play.

  • Hannes May 6, 2010 12:33 am

    Question Nr. 27: "Is my subject Moving or Stationary?"

    Well, if you reached Question Nr. 27 and your Target isn't Stationary its probably already gone.

  • Shivanand Sharma May 6, 2010 12:25 am

    40 questiong... those too right when you are about to press the shutter? Example of a post gone wrong? Sorry lolz :)

  • Shivanand Sharma May 6, 2010 12:23 am

    I asked myself the same questions. I missed the shot :( I should have asked these before picking up the camera and leaving for the shoot.

  • Todd May 6, 2010 12:17 am

    That's a lot of stuff to think about :) Now you know why us photographers are so nuts...

    At least 3, 6, 7, and 8 are never a concert, if you're strictly shootly RAW. That brings us down to 36 :D

  • Grrbrr May 6, 2010 12:16 am

    Mine goes more like this:

    1: Time? A: NO! B: Yes

    A - Snap, check and change, snap, check and change... fire at will!
    B - Plan the shot and just try everything.

  • Daniel Fealko May 6, 2010 12:15 am

    This is an interesting coincident. I just posted a similar article about the need to think about what you're doing. You can see my take on it at To Improve: Practice Without a Camera, Sometimes. It is important to emphasize this aspect of photography, especially to those just starting out.

  • Matt Mathai May 6, 2010 12:11 am

    Ask all those questions and the answer to the last one ("Did I just miss a great shot?") will surely be 'Yes."

    Instead, forget the mechanics. Those will come with practice. Ask yourself ONE question. "Why am I taking this shot right now?" If you can answer that, press the shutter release.

  • Pratik May 6, 2010 12:09 am

    Lovely read Darren! How about setting up a photo-walk group for DPS in and around Melbourne? Any insights mate?