Photography is one of those professions or hobbies that you simply need to practice in order to improve. Once you have learned the basics and the theory, it is as much about trial and error as anything that you can read in books. With that practice comes experience which, over time, becomes almost like your blueprint for taking photos. The more you practice the quicker you learn and ultimately it all works subconsciously. To start you off on your process, here are 7 questions to ask yourself before you take a photo.
1. What am I trying to communicate?
One of the common mistakes that all new photographers make is that they click away, taking photos without really thinking about the image and the message or story it communicates. Digital photography makes the process of taking a photo risk free. Apart from taking up a bit of memory on your card, there’s no harm in just clicking away. Back in the days of film, every photo essentially cost money. So anyone who has ever used a film camera will tell you that you had to be much more selective about when you took photos.
So instead of just clicking away, try to think about what the message is that the photo is communicating. Imagine if you saw this image in a magazine without any words to accompany it, what would you think? By thinking about the message or story in the photo it will also help you to think if you can improve it in any way. Over time this process will become much quicker and you will subconsciously recognize scenarios and the stories they can tell.
2. Have I framed my photo well?
Often one of the simplest ways to improve your photos is just to frame the shot better. There are guidelines like the Rule of Thirds which can help your composition and framing of your shot. But sometimes you simply need to use your creative vision and common sense to capture a photo that will do the scene in front of you justice. For example, one of the common mistakes that I see in photos from newbie photographers is trying to cram too much into the image. As a result, the viewer is distracted by things that aren’t relevant to the image.
Framing and composing your images better will come with practice and experience. As a starting point, try to ensure that the viewer’s focus will be firmly on the place in the image that you want them to look. Anything surrounding it that distracts from this can probably be removed. Again, the key is to be able to step back and analyze the shot and see if you can improve it.
3. Do I have my settings right?
This might sound like an obvious point, but it is sometimes the big flaw in new photographers’ work. Over time with practice, choosing your camera’s settings will become like second nature. You will be able to quickly change and set them for each different scenario. But if you are new to photography, if the situation allows, try to slow down and really think about your settings before taking the picture and moving on. After all, it will be pretty frustrating if you have taken a beautiful photo only to realize when you get home that it is blurred.
If you do end up making a mistake, which everyone does when they are starting out, make sure you learn from that and don’t repeat it in the future.
4. Is this the best time to shoot?
An old photography teacher of mine at university once told me that, “There is a perfect time to photograph anything. The challenge is to recognize when that is and be patient enough to wait for it.”
Light is one of the most important elements in any photograph. The most beautiful landscape will look mundane and uninspiring if you haven’t got the light correct. In fact, most photos that don’t work or look good could be improved by having better lighting. Always ensure that you do the scene in front of you justice, and photograph it in the best light possible.
This starts from your research of a place all the way to being patient enough to ensure you wait for the right conditions before taking the photo. Sometimes this might mean having to come back again and again until you get the photo that you envisioned. So always ask yourself, “Is this the best time to photograph what is in front of me?”
5. Where can I see this photo being used?
Even if you are taking photos for your personal collection, it is still worthwhile asking the question of where you can see the images being used. The reason for this is that it’ll give you a clear vision of what you are photographing. For example, a gritty documentary style type of photo might look great in a photo book of your trip but may not suit a canvas to hang on the wall. On the other hand, a beautiful landscape vista might look amazing when it’s printed large. But when it is the size of a postcard it doesn’t have the same impact.
This thinking will help you if you decide that you want to sell your photos. You would have to consider your composition and how it would work in magazines or as prints.
6. Is there an alternative or better composition?
Very rarely do I end up using the first photo I have taken of a location as my final selection choice. The reason is that once you are at a location and have taken a few photos, it’s only natural that you are then able to find a better composition.
The key is to allow yourself enough time to be able to analyze the scene and the photo and the recompose it and try different things. The great thing about digital photography is that it doesn’t matter if you try something and it doesn’t work as you are not wasting film. The benefit is that sometimes you will be surprised with the outcome and will then use that technique in future situations.
7. Can I do better or am I being lazy?
There’s no doubt that at some point in their photography journey, every photographer has been guilty of being lazy. It might be that you don’t fancy another early morning start, or that after a long day of walking around you just can’t be bothered to wait around for another few hours. Or it could be that you are too tired to climb that hill so settle for the location you are at now instead.
Unfortunately, to capture great photos requires creativity and technical ability, but often above all, it requires hard work and persistence. Someone looking at your photos won’t be sympathetic to the fact that you were too tired to wait for the clouds to disperse. All they see is what is in front of them.
It comes down to you and how much you crave that great photo. When you are in that situation if you can summon enough will power to go on and capture that great photo that you wanted, it’ll be worth the hard work. After all, you can always recover from tiredness but if you miss a great photo opportunity because you have been lazy, then you might not get another chance.
Over time you will develop your own set of questions and the more you practice the better and quicker you will become at running through the process in your head. But follow these as a starting point and you may find you are pleasantly surprised by the results.
What questions do you ask yourself before taking a photo? Share your thoughts below.