The Thought Process When Taking A Photo
My mission at The Complete Pixel is to demystify the technical aspects of photography to assist photographers to unleash their creativity. I do this through workshops, clinics, photoshoots & one-on-one mentoring. Many of these sessions contain a fair bit of photography theory and technical knowledge which inevitably leads one of the participants to ask “Is photography really this complex? “How much do you have to think about before just taking the picture?” It’s certainly a valid question – you have to have an understanding of the hundreds of features your camera has on offer, then there is the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Of course you then have depth of field, motion and focus to consider as well.
So my answer – “No, photography isn’t really that complex”. Granted today’s cameras may seem a bit complex, but with a general understanding of your camera, exposure & focusing, photography can be a pretty straightforward endeavour – but it takes a thoughtful approach to photography to get it to all come together.
One of the things I truly love about photography is that it allows you to remove yourself from the daily hustle and bustle of life and forces you to concentrate on the here and now – on the scene in front of you. So, the last thing we want to do is ruin this thoughtful moment by stressing ourselves out trying to remember all of the technical nuances of photography; “What settings do I use”? “Where do I start?” After all, if it becomes to difficult you are most likely to put the camera down and stop taking photos – and that’s not the outcome we are looking for.
The Photographer’s Shooting Process – A Thoughtful Approach
While it may be exciting to rock up to a scene, pull your camera out of the bag and just dive in, firing off images and adjusting the settings frantically as you go – your best images may be more of a case of hit and miss rather than talent. One way to clear your mind of all the technical clutter and allow you creativity to take charge is to follow a set process for approaching your photography, each and every time you pull the camera out of the bag.
When you have a process in place to guide your photography you will be able to spend more time focusing on the final image you are hoping to capture and less on the boring old technicalities of photography. So here is the process I follow when I get on site for a shoot. With a little practice these steps will become second nature and only really take a moment or two to go through.
Consider the Subject
The first step in our process is to take a moment to simply consider why you are taking the camera out of the bag. What is it you are hoping to capture and convey to your viewer? Of course, placing your self in front of an interesting subject such as a landscape, a person or an event, is key to capturing good images. Begin to visualise the image you want to capture.
Evaluate the Light
Good lighting is essential in photography. So, it is important to learn to evaluate the light in the scene, as well as the shadows. Identifying and recognising some of the key qualities of light will guide some of the key decisions we will need to make in regards to exposure, white balance, as well as the position of the camera and/or our subject. Some of the qualities of light we need to be aware of include:
- The Quality of the light – Hard or Soft light?
- The Direction of the light – where are the Highlights and Shadows?
- The Intensity of the light – what is the Contrast in the scene?
Lens & Perspective
Based on the scene and the subject we will be shooting, we have to make a choice as to which lens we will use and the perspective we are hoping to achieve. A general rule of thumb is if we are hoping to direct the viewer’s eye toward the key elements in the scene or to create a more intimate image, we would use a longer or telephoto lens. If we are hoping to capture a broad landscape we would use a wide angle lens. If we are hoping to capture a more realistic view of exactly what the we are seeing then we would use a 50mm lens (on a full frame camera) as the 50mm lens most closely recreates what the human eye can see.
Spending a moment considering the composition of your image will help to direct the viewer’s eye to the most important elements of the image. A good composition can make an ordinary image shine. Some of the Composition rules to consider include:
- Rule of Thirds
- Balancing the Elements in the image
- Leading Lines
- Paying close attention to whats in the Background.
On to the more ‘technical’ questions! After determining which camera mode you will shoot in, such as Aperture Priority or Manual mode, it’s time to consider the Exposure Settings you will set the camera for. A couple of important points to consider:
- Can this scene fool my light meter?
- Is the scene lighter or darker than middle grey?
- Should I change metering modes?
- Is the scene within the Dynamic Range of the Camera?
- Is it more important to capture details in the Highlights or Shadows?
- Do I need to use ND filters?
- Should I shoot brackets for HDR?
Determine the Aperture required for the depth of field you are hoping to create. A quick summary to remember:
- f/1.4 – f/5.6 to seperate your subject from the background and surrounds with a shallow depth of field. Often used in Portraits
- f/8 – f/11 when the subject and the background a relatively close to each other
- f/16 – f/32 when you want to capture the expansive detail of a scene, such as a Landscape where you wish to have the entire scene sharp.
The next step in our thoughtful approach to photography is to determine the Shutter Speed we wish to set the camera to, or things to keep an eye on if you’re shooting in Aperture Priority:
- Is the shutter speed fast enough to hand hold the camera? (vs. the focal length of the lens)
- What shutter speed is required to capture my subject? (freeze or motion)
- Do I need to adjust my ISO to maintain a suitable shutter speed?
Getting you subject sharp is essential for most images, unless of course you are blurring the images for artistic purposes. Some points to consider when focusing:
- Is the subject stationary or moving?
- Which Auto Focus Group setting is required?
- Where to I want my Auto Focus Point to be?
- Focus on the eyes when shooting portraits.
- As a very general rule, focus 1/3 of the way in a scene when shooting landscapes to get the widest depth of field
If you have the camera on a tripod remember to turn the Image Stabilisation feature off
Shoot Some Images!
We are finally at a point where you can begin to shoot some images. Take a few shots then have a quick look at them.
Reviewing the Images
A quick review of the image will give you an indication if all the settings are delivering the result you expect and allow you to get on with the shooting!
- Use the camera’s LCD to check composition and the subject contrast
- Use the Histogram to check the image exposure
- Turn the camera’s Highlight warning feature on to warn you of blown highlights in the image.
Once you have reviewed the images and you are happy with the results, it’s time for you to focus on the creative aspects of your shoot and continue shooting.
Start taking a thoughtful approach to photography. By following a well thought out process for evaluating a scene and setting up your camera for the shoot you will simply your photography. There will be less stress on site trying to figure things out randomly. It will allow you to focus more on the creative aspects of what you are hoping to capture and it will assist you in producing the best possible images.
If this shooting process is not ideal for your circumstances, take a moment or two to develop a more suitable process for your needs. Try to keep it straightforward and simple, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with technical considerations in a moment where you are hoping to be relaxed and creative.