Digital photography has been a boon to photographers since one can shoot to heart’s content since the cost is nil compared to film days. However this has also lead to a down-fall as most amateur photographers do not think twice & keep on spraying(on shooting spree) the shutter in hope to capture a good shot. However, if you put a few simple things into consideration before shooting, it will do a world of good to your photography. Here is a small check-list.
Off-course, the prime element of a photograph. If the light is magical, even an ordinary frame will be transformed into an award winning photograph. However, a picture perfect frame when captured in sub par light won’t cut it. It will lack luster & fail to attract any attention. Ask yourself – Is the light harsh or soft, is the subject being lit by front or back, is the light weak or strong? Decipher the light & make appropriate modifications to it as per your vision.
Composition plays a very important role in making strong photographs. If the composition is poor, the photograph won’t make an impact on the audience. The viewer’s eye must glide through the various elements in the frame which ultimately lead to the focal point. The composition must ensure, the viewer does not get lost or is found looking for a focal point. Keep things simple. Follow the general rules of composition but time & again break them to create something interesting.
# Story/Focal Point
Unless you’re capturing casual moments, every photograph must have some story behind it. Try to depict it clearly to the audience as much as possible. Use dramatic lighting, shade unwanted areas, compose suitably & so on to make the best possible gripping photograph. The viewer must be able to connect with the image quickly & not be confused by it. The photograph must have focal points which aid story telling. Too many focal points or the absence of one, will leave a photograph half baked. A photograph without a story is simply known as an ‘Image’ & not a ‘Photograph’. Thinking beforehand about the shooting location, the subject etc will make your story telling easier.
Ensure whether the subject is in sharp focus. Off-course if you plan to creatively keep the subject out of focus, make sure in such a case the focus is proper on any other element of the frame. Focus is very crucial. Often most of the other things can be salvaged to a certain degree when processing pictures on the computer. However, if a photograph is not in focus when its shot, then there is no post-processing technique as of yet which can get it in focus. Such photographs will straight way land into the trash bin. So keep paramount importance on focus while you shoot.
It happens a lot of times, the horizon in your frame is either tilted or positioned inappropriately. See to it it is perfectly straight before shooting & placed appropriately. There is a small accessory, the “hotshoe bubble level” which can be set atop your camera’s hotshoe which indicates the level with the help of bubble. However, you can even take the aid of your camera’s inbuilt sensors which help in presenting a virtual equivalent of the bubble level. If need be, use a perfectly levelled tripod. Whichever route you go, ensure the horizon is straight as fixing it later in post-process will sacrifice some pixels of your frame. You don’t want this to happen.
Often there are distractions which peek in from the corners of the frame. One gets so busy concentrating on the subject that it is normal to ignore the borders. Often time distracting elements creep in through corners of the frame which can ruin a frame. In most cases, these unwanted elements can be keep out by simply recomposing the frame or trying another vantage point. Move, tilt your camera into vertical position, lie on the ground etc to get the perfect uncluttered frame you desire. Often rectifying such mistakes later in post-process can be a headache even with today’s sophisticated software, so its better you shoot right.
# Honey, I grew Horns!/Watch the Background
This is a very common mistake encountered during portraiture. Often a distracting element(tree branch, pole, cable etc) from the background creeps directly from the head of our subject after shooting. This happens due to negligence of the photographer. One must be careful of the background he is shooting & try to eliminate distractions simply by moving the subject or himself. Even using a shallow depth of field can often blur away all the distracting elements in the background. Shoot at telephoto end of your lens to get a good bokeh. Often the background is very important in an photograph & one should keep a close watch on it. This mistake should be avoided at all costs. Off-course nobody likes with horns over their heads.
# Technical Aspects
Make sure the base technical aspects such as ISO, shutter-speed, white balance, aperture, metering etc are set in sync with your photographic vision. Do you want to convey motion in your frame? Use a slow shutter-speed or pan the subject. Do you want to freeze some action? Use a fast shutter-speed & preferably use a flash to add more light into the frame. Also keep in mind whether you need any other adjustments like using a tripod in case the shutter-speed is going to be slow, using a remote release during long exposures to avoid camera shake and so on. Whatever be your vision, make sure you’ve made the requisite settings to transform the mental creation into reality using your camera.
# Gear Limitations
All things have some limitations, photography gears are no different. Your camera will have a particular(maximum) flash sync speed, you may be limited by the focal length depending on the lenses you own, you speed-light may not be powerful enough to use as a main light & so on. Whatever the limitation maybe, think around it. If you don’t own a wide-angle lens, go back some steps to capture a wide area. If your speed-light is not powerful enough, try to raise the ISO on your camera to make it strong enough. Get thinking & you’ll find ways to work around the limitation. Such constraints should not be seen as hurdles but as a challenge to overcome, as they have in them the potential to make you a better photographer. Tame the temptation to get advanced gear & work around with your present gear, you’ll grow a lot.
# Gear Strengths
Recognize & utilize the positive points of your gear. If your lenses, perform optimally at mid range apertures, try if you can shoot at those particular apertures. Most of the consumer grade lenses deliver sharp optimal results at around f/8 or two stops down their maximum f stop. Research online & get to know the strengths of your gear if you’re still in process of discovering them. If you know, your camera gives out better performance when shooting in RAW(most do), then shoot in RAW & later process them on a computer. Its all about working to the strengths of your gear.