Questions to ask before you take a photo

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What am I trying to capture? 

This can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but you need to consider it. Is the subject moving? Do you want to freeze the action or show some motion? Oh, that’s another two questions. 

If you’re taking a landscape that includes a farmhouse, you need to decide which part of the image that the viewer’s eye is drawn to. Is it the farmhouse or the mountains in the distance?

Figuring these things out is much better than getting home and wishing you had done something different. 

How do I make the subject stand out?

There are so many ways to make the subject stand out in a photo. 

  • Use flash to light just the subject.
  • Use a flash to light the background.
  • Use a shallow depth of field to blur the background.
  • During editing, bring out the details in the subject and use vignetting to darken the outer edges of the frame.
  • Get your subjects to wear white shirts for a portrait session.
  • Think about the color of the background. Use a dark background if the subject is light, or a light background if the subject is dark.


Make sure there is a contrast between the subject and the rest of the scene.

How should I frame it? 

Now, this could be included in the last question. The way you frame your image is going to make your subject stand out and draw the eye of the viewer to it.

You can use the Rule of Thirds, where the frame is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. The idea is you place your subject on the dividing lines or at the junctions of the lines crossing.

Placing the subject in the center of the image is fine, there is nothing wrong with that. 

A lot of landscape photographers like images to have a foreground, middle, and background. If there is a stream, you can frame it so it ends in one of the lower corners and travels diagonally across the frame so it draws the eye through the image.

How close to the subject should I be?

If you are shooting portraits try to fill the frame, but shooting too tight can limit the sizes of prints you can offer your customers. So give yourself a little buffer zone.

Let’s go back to the farmhouse example. If you fill the frame with just the farmhouse you are not telling the whole story. Behind the farmhouse is a mountain range that is cut out of this image. In this case, it is all about the story you are trying to tell.

The difference between a beginner and an experienced photographer is how close they are to the subject. An experienced photographer fills the frame. So get closer to your subjects.

Are there any distractions? 

Always check for distractions. Whether it’s a tree branch that looks like it’s sticking out of the subject’s head or a parked car in the background, don’t take the photo until the frame is clear of distractions.

Am I missing something outside the frame? 

Check outside the frame to see if you are missing something that might add to the image. This is really important in shooting landscapes. If you can’t fit everything into one frame shoot a panorama of multiple images and stitch them together.

How is the scene lit? 

Light is the most important part of photography. You need to consider where the light is coming from, and how it’s lighting your subject. Do you need to take control by using flash? If you are outdoors and the sun is shining straight in your subject’s face, try a different angle and use a fill flash to eliminate any shadows. 

You have to learn how to control light.

Where should I take this photo from and at which angle? 

When you are getting ready to take a photo move around the area to see if there is a better angle to shoot from. Think about the colors in the background, and definitely don’t just stand upright and take the shot. Try getting lower or stand on higher ground and see what is possible. You could even take a step ladder with you for a portrait shoot.

By changing the angle of attack you are changing the background. If you are using a shallow depth of field the background colors act like a backdrop.

Should I be taking this photo at a different time of day? 

If you’re not happy with your images try a different time of day. Instead of noon try sunset, the light and colors will be way better. If you are shooting professionally this is a huge factor.

Should I wait for better weather conditions? 

If you are shooting a wedding you have no choice. A landscape photographer might want storm clouds, but if they went to that location to get a sunrise they will have to return again and again until they get the sunrise they wanted.

A few months ago I shot a melting icicle on an overcast day. I liked the image but would have preferred the sky to be blue, so I made a point of waiting until the conditions happened. Two weeks later I got the shot I wanted.

Try to make the most of the moment, but make a point of getting the shot you want when the weather is just right.

Is the composition straight? 

If you’re shooting landscapes make sure the horizon is straight. Especially when shooting the ocean, large bodies of water don’t slope. 

Make sure that the walls are straight. Some wide-angle lenses cause distortions, but they can be corrected when editing.

Am I using the right settings? 

I do this constantly. I dial in my settings, then change my angle a little and take the photo. My setting should have been changed when I changed my angle. 

Keep an eye on the light meter to confirm everything is correct.

Do I need to use a tripod? 

When you are shooting over a long distance or using a slow shutter speed consider using a tripod. Your images will be so much sharper, and that is what we are all trying to produce nice sharp images.

Will I be able to correct this during editing? 

You’ll think this plenty of times. That part of the image looks a little dark, but I should be able to fix it in Lightroom.

If you find yourself in this situation I want you to do this. Take another photo, but change the settings so the part of the image you are worried about is corrected. Don’t worry about the rest of the image. When you are editing you can merge the best parts of both images to make one perfect image.

Ok, so those are the things you should ask yourself before taking a photo.