chicago skyline from lincoln park

It takes less than a second to take a photograph.

To take a great photo, it might take days, weeks or even years. Modern digital cameras make it incredibly simple to take a ton of photos, but it’s the skill of the photographer that will make a picture great. Great photographers can take beautiful pictures on bad cameras, but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.

So how do you take a great photograph? Well, I’m glad you asked because here I have 11 questions every photographer should ask when taking a photograph.

What story am I telling?

This question will help you throughout the process of taking a photograph. It’s as simple as why am I taking this photo? By answering that question, you can start to think about all the other aspects of the shot and how you want the finished product to look. When it comes to story in a photograph, think about what you are trying to record, a moment or scene? Is the shot meant for you or someone else? Does this photo work in a sequence of other shots? Once you have answered this first question, you will straight away have a better idea of how you want this photo to look and feel.

What is my subject?

golden gate bridge at sunset in san francisco

Who or what is the ‘hero’ of the shot? As you line up your shot what are you trying to capture? Once you have answered this question, never lose focus on that subject. As you work through the rest of the items on this list, always remember the hero of your shot and think about how all these factors will best portray that hero in your photo.

Where is the light coming from?

Lighting plays a significant role in photography, so think about how your subject is being lit. Without enough light available you will have to use your camera settings to start to compensate and correctly expose, and that can adjust the feel of the photograph away from the vision you had initially planned. The direction of the light also has an impact on your photo. A back-lit subject (light source is behind the subject) can cause shadows masking the details of your ‘hero’. Different light sources can dramatically change the feel of a photo.

Am I close enough?

If your subject is too small in the frame, then you need to get closer. When the subject fills the frame, it adds some dynamism to a shot. Remember that the subject is the hero of the photo, so you want to have it as dominant in the frame as possible. Modern zoom lenses can help you get closer to your subject if it is not physically possible to get any closer. Try not to always rely on zoom, by moving closer to your subject you can find new perspectives that can enhance your photo further.

What is in the foreground (and background)?

chicago river

The foreground element of the pole distracts greatly. In the second tip, I told you to never lose focus on your subject, but you still need to be aware of elements in the foreground and background. I have lost count of how many photos I’ve taken that, once I review them, it has something distracting in them. It doesn’t take much to cause a big distraction in a photo, so before you press the shutter down, do a final scan and make sure there no distractions lurking in your frame.

How does my eye move through the scene?

When we look at a photo, our eye quickly focuses on a journey through the image. It moves from one part of the frame to another until something grabs its attention. As a photographer one of the most valuable skills is the ability to guide a viewers eye through the picture and towards the subject. This can be done in many ways, so as you line up your shot, think about how your eye moves through the scene and does it lead towards your subject?

Am I standing in the best position?

It is rare that the first position you stand in is the best position for the shot. By all means, take a shot from there but don’t pack up and head home. You will be amazed at the difference a few steps in one direction can make to the composition of a shot. Moving around can open up so many more options for a single shot, and you might find something new you never knew was there. Also, get into the habit of looking behind you. You never know the view there could be captivating as well.

Can I capture the subject from another perspective?

the statue of liberty from the sky

If you are shooting a famous scene or landmark, how do you stand out from everyone else’s photos? Look for a new angle. That’s not just moving around its also moving up and down. Crouching down, or even getting on the floor, could open up a whole different perspective on a photo. Always challenge yourself to stand out from the crowd and don’t feel you have to take the same shots as everyone else

Is this the best time of day for this shot?

Throughout the day the light is always changing position and strength. As the sun rises or sets a scene can dramatically be altered by light. If you aren’t familiar with the golden hour, you should research it right now. Golden hour isn’t the only time you can take a photo outdoors. At midday, the sun could be high enough to remove shadows that might otherwise have taken away from your picture. If you have plenty of time, then don’t be afraid to show some patience and try and wait for the perfect time of day to take your photo.

Am I using the correct camera settings?

Using the wrong settings for a photo can completely ruin it. So, shouldn’t this tip be number 1? Well, that’s the beauty of digital cameras, you’re not using expensive film, its all about memory space. If you have enough memory cards available, then you can take 1000’s of photos all with different settings. Still, it should become good practice to be able to work out what the best settings for each scene are as quickly as possible, sometimes your subject won’t be available for long. Get in the habit of knowing how you’ll going to use aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and any other setting you feel confident using, to craft your shot.

Should my camera be stabilised?

digital camera on a tripod

Ideally, that should be yes every time, but you can’t always have access to a tripod. You need to be aware when changing settings whether your camera needs to be stabilised our not. For example, when using a slow shutter speed, your picture is likely to come out blurry if you’re not using a tripod.

Photography is more about decisions than most beginners realise. I have listed 11 questions here, but in truth, there are hundreds of questions you could ask before taking a photo. These are 11 I feel are the most important and they should be questions beginner photographs always try to think about. Photography is great fun to learn and by thinking of these 11 elements when you shoot you’re heading in the right direction for taking great shots.

Are there any questions or thoughts you think of before taking a photo? Let me know in the comments below.


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