We all get lucky sometimes, it’s a part of life. And some people are certainly luckier than others it seems, but depending on luck to get you through life really isn’t a great idea — for many, many reasons. Relying on luck won’t make you a great photographer either. In fact, such an approach won’t even make you a mediocre photographer — you will simply forever be a lucky gal or guy with a camera.
It is my assumption that one of the reasons people even bother to read photography related blogs and websites is to learn how to improve their own photography in some way; you can learn about composition and shutter speed and depth of field; you can discover new post processing techniques; you get ideas about places to visit and subjects to shoot. All of these things can be highly beneficial.
But before you ever get to off-camera flash techniques, you’ve got to have some sort of philosophy of why you pick up your camera in the first place. You need to be aware of the things that spiral around in your brain while peering through the viewfinder. When you look at great photographs, you can see that there was a reason why those shots were taken. Those shots have purpose. They aren’t the products of dumb luck.
If you want to start capturing great images on purpose, the next time you’re spending time with your camera think about the following questions before you click the shutter.
Could you capture the shot from a different angle?
A fresh perspective can easily expand the impact your image has on the viewer. It’s a natural habit to photograph everything from eye level; we do it without thinking, we take the shot and move on. But take a moment to consider the possibility of shooting your intended subject from above or from ground level. A change in perspective could completely alter the way your image is interpreted by the viewer.
What message/story are you attempting to communicate?
Obviously there was something about the scene or subject you are in the midst of photographing that struck you to begin with — make sure you convey that in your shot. Use exposure, framing, subject isolation, composition to explain why you’re capturing the image and what it means to you. Even when you’re telling someone else’s story, you’re also making it your story to some extent.
Are there any distracting elements present?
If there are, they almost always show up in the background. Of course there are circumstances when you won’t be able to do much about it, but it’s always good practice to quickly scan the area directly behind your subject and determine if there is too much clutter or unwanted elements of any kind. Might as well run the same check on the foreground, too.
What is the anchor point of your shot?
If you can identify ahead of time what you want this point to be — the focal point that will initially draw the viewer in — you can put your compositional skills to work to decide on the strongest placement within the frame. You might also use size, depth of field, or shape to further enhance your focal point.
How’s your framing?
This is easy to overlook, especially when doing something like street photography where everything happens so quickly, but pay attention to how you’re holding your camera. When everything and everyone in the frame is leaning to one side, you either need to rethink your use of the dutch angle or start holding your camera straight.
Should you change the orientation of the shot?
Here, again, we’re dealing with something that is a matter of habit: vertical orientation versus horizontal orientation. We all have a preference with this — probably a very strong preference, which is fine. But while you’re checking to make sure your camera is straight as per the previous suggestion, try changing up the orientation. Like changing perspective, changing orientation can have an incredible visual impact on your image.
How’s the exposure working for you?
Of course, if the shot is too dark or blown out then it’s not going to be of much use to you; but you don’t always have to abide by what the camera tells you to do. I know we’re accustomed to talking about exposure as being either “good” or “bad”, “correct” or “incorrect,” but exposure should be an extension of your creative vision, not just some set of numbers arbitrarily cast upon you by a camera.
It’s unreasonable — or unlikely, at least — that you would go through each of these questions every time you pick up your camera; but if you keep a different one of them in mind each time you shoot, before long the whole process will become second nature.