Whether you travel to an exotic location or scoot around the corner in your neighborhood, here is a simple formula for creating your next great photo.
The answer is in the questions.
You can work through the process of identifying your photo and choosing your camera settings with this simple format.
Answer these eight questions. In fact, use them as a checklist to create great images consistently.
Listen to the podcast
1 - How much light do you have available?
This is your first question when you start shooting in any situation. You want to measure the amount of available light. This decision helps you choose the correct ISO. Follow this guideline:
Sunny - ISO 100 - 200
Cloudy - ISO 400 - 800
Dusk/Twilight - ISO 800 - 1600
Dark/Indoors - 3200 - 6400
Of course, this guideline assumes you are not using a tripod or flash. With a tripod, you can choose a much lower ISO. The same is true if you are adding more light with a flash.
2 - What is your light source
Now that you have adjusted to the quantity of light, you should assess the quality of light. Is your main light from the sun? Is it diffused through a window? Is it obstructed by shadows? These are important conditions to note. We will use them later in the decision process.
3 - This is a picture of a _____?
Here is one of your more important questions. What is the most important thing in your photo? Where should your viewer look first? It is almost impossible to create a great photo without answering this question.
4 - Is it obvious?
Will your subject be apparent to other viewers? It's not enough for you to know the subject. Make it unmistakable to anyone who sees your photo.
5 - Are there any distractions?
Check all four corners and behind your subject. Is anything in the frame distracting you from your subject? If so, change your shot until you eliminate all distractions.
6 - Is my subject moving?
Now we begin to select our camera settings. In this decision tree, we choose which shooting mode we will prioritize.
If yes, your subject is moving, use shutter priority. In manual mode, you would choose your shutter speed first. Choose a faster shutter speed to stop the action. Choose a slower shutter speed to create the perception of movement.
If no, your subject is not moving, use aperture priority. Select a lower f-stop to blur the background. Use a larger number for everything to be in focus.
7 - What’s the story?
After you answered, this is a picture of a _____? The next question is "so what?" Why should I care? With all the millions of photos that I see every day, what makes me want to stop and look at yours? In most cases, it is the story. What do you want to say with this image?
Joe McNally tells a story in the way he photographs this series on Delta musicians.
In another approach to storytelling, look at how these six photographers interpreted what they were told about their subject.
8 - Where is the emotion?
What do I feel when I look at your photo? If you find the image that makes me feel something, chances are that I won't forget it. Where is the height of the emotion? Begin your pictures there. Show what your subjects are feeling. Help us understand what you are feeling.
Pulitzer Prize photos are known for emotion
2015 #pulitzerprize breaking news photography winner: St. Louis Post-Dispatch photography staff. One from the winning portfolio, by Robert Cohen #pulitzer100 celebrating 100 years of prizewinning work #breakingnews #photography #stlouispostdispatch #robertcohen #ferguson #missouri #photojournalism #stl #postdispatch
2000 #pulitzerprize feature photography winner: Carol Guzy, Michael Williamson and Lucian Perkins of The Washington Post. This photo from the winning portfolio was taken by @carolguzy #pulitzer100 celebrating 100 years of prizewinning work #featurephotography #photojournalism @washingtonpost #washingtonpost #carolguzy #michaelwilliamson #lucianperkins #kosovo #refugees #photographers
Use this checklist before you shoot
If you can answer all these questions and make the needed adjustments, you should be able to capture a great image in most situations.
You can also use this list to diagnose your photos.
If you are capturing images that are ho-hum or lackluster, chances are you can find your culprit with one of these eight questions.