How to take photos – each important step in making a photograph

Infographic download - How to take photos

• Infographic showing the various steps in how to take photos •
A guide to what you should doing to make great images.
• Click to download printable full page version

Getting down to the detail…

Yesterdays article was How to take photos – each important step in making a photograph. Today I want to share the detail behind each step. Be warned! You might need to think again about your existing knowledge. Unlearning old ideas will help you to move forward and improve.

How to take photos – The location

Lots of people think you can just turn up and take pictures. Well you can, but often they are not good ones. Getting the best out of your location involves understanding what you’ll find there. Find out about the weather on the day. An idea of light levels and times of sunset and sunrise etc. is useful too. There have probably been lots of visits by others at popular destinations. Check “Google Images” for that site. Google will help with other details too.

When you arrive don’t just fire off loads of shots. Settle down and get into the location. Don’t make photography mistakes that mean you miss great shots. The first time you do this consider a variety of shots. Think about more than one shot, think about the whole shoot.

How to take photos – Examine the scene

Considering the scene is an important part of the work-flow on site. Unless you have been there before you need to get to know it. Use all your knowledge about camera angles, composition, lighting, camera settings and so on. Take the time to examine your location while thinking of these things. Consider your feelings about the scene too. How you feel will help your shot be an impassioned response to the location. What you feel about the scene is the best guide on how to take photos at that location.

How to take photos – Review the light

Most photographers forget this step. They are too wrapped up in the scene and the camera settings or the passion of it all. This step will make or break your shot. Look at the light. If you don’t know what I mean read these:

Ask yourself some simple questions about the light…

  • Is it hard or soft?
  • Is it coloured or more neutral?
  • Is it at the right angle to best capture the location/scene?
  • What is the best time for the right light?
  • Is it very bright and intense or dull and diffused?
  • Do I need any artificial illumination (flash, diffusers etc)?
  • Is the shadow hardly defined (sun up high) or strongly defined (sun to the side)?

Lean about the properties and vocabulary of light. It helps give you a greater understanding of photography. These questions, and others, help you make decisions about lighting for your scene. For more on “How to take photos – Light and Lighting” see the resource page in the SUBJECTS/ARTICLES menu at the top of every page.

How to take photos – Create a mental version of the the shot

If you want to make a great image – have a great picture in your head of your intended outcome. Visualisation has helped athletes, artists, thinkers, inventors and others to achieve amazing things. Train your mind to visualise in detail. If you see what you want to achieve it will guide you when setting up your camera. Take the time to create that mental picture – in detail. Consider how you are going to make the best of the light when you consider how to take photos. More about visualisation… 80 year old secret of world class photographers revealed.

How to take photos – Compose the shot

By now you have an intimate photographic knowledge of your scene. Composing the shot is about realising that potential. Long-time followers of this blog already know something about composition. For first-timers you can get lots of information from our Composition resources page in the SUBJECTS/ARTICLES menu at the top of every page. Composition is a skill that evolves as you develop as a photographer. Knowing more about composition helps your awareness and skill develop. Read about it to gain insight. Think about it every shot.

How to take photos – Review and adjust the camera settings

Now you have a picture in mind, composed, and are ready to set up your exposure. The exposure is defined by your camera settings. Camera makers will have you believe that the auto-setting on your camera is the perfect exposure. The fact is they made informed guesses to arrive at that exposure. It is different for every model of image sensor. Modern cameras do make a good representation of the scene. It is not always what you want however. You can change the exposure by under-exposing, over-exposing and by using different apertures, ISO levels and shutter times. That is your interpretation of the shot. When you think about how to take photos, plan how you want the image to come out.

Having a visualisation in your head helps you set the camera up to make that mental image. You do it using ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. Even using one of the ‘mode’ settings is still a way of regulating your exposure. They all adjust those three basic facets of the exposure.

Here are some other links to pull together ideas about exposure:

How to take photos – Stabilise the camera

You want the photo to be sharp, crisp and clear. The faster the shutter speed the easier it is to get a sharp shot. But often, especially for a good quality shot, longer exposures are better. You need a good stance to hand-hold the camera. You will need a tripod (or other method) to steady it for longer exposures.

Stance is down to basic technique and comfort. The stance you use will be a personal thing for you. I have found many photogs have to relearn their stance after many years of a poor stance. It is best to learn a good one early. Here is my recommendation: Simple tips for a good stance

The use of tripods or other supports is a wide subject. It is also one that many learners tend to ignore- at least at first. When learning how to take photos sharpness is vital. Become acquainted with a tripod (preferably a good one) as early as you can. Your images will improve a huge amount. Here is some advice about tripods:

And, here is some basic advice about improving sharpness overall – The Zen of sharpness – 12 easy ways to improve

How to take photos – 15 second check

OK, that may seem like a long time. However, it is actually the time you need. You can get faster at it, but if you are taking a serious attitude to your shot then give it the time. You can find out all about the the 15 second check by reading these in order:

  1. An old sailors trick to improve your photography
  2. The fifteen second landscape appraisal
How to take photos – “Click”

This is where you press the shutter button. How you press that button can make a difference to your sharpness. Earlier, I mentioned this link, Simple tips for a good stance. It also gives advice on pushing the button without affecting sharpness.

An essential element of your shot is about confidence in what you have done. Today we are lucky. We just look at the back of our camera. Your first “click” may be a test shot. If your settings need adjustment then a simple technique called “Chimping” will help. Chimp and adjust. You will only need to do it a few times to get the shot right. You will not need to machine-gun the site with hundreds of “just in case” shots.

How to take photos – Work the scene

Chimping helps you set up for the shot and compose it. To get other possible shots you visualised earlier, you should work the scene. Repeat all the steps you have just done for each of the shots you foresaw. Working the scene is a skill and takes practice.

How to take photos – Time line

What is not obvious from the diagram is that the diagonal arrow is also a time-line of the shot. Of course it is a different length for every shot. You will have different problems to solve and ideas to consider for every shot. That’s fine. You have just learned a more careful, precise method for how to take photos. As you practice will quickly get faster at taking shots. But you will also make better images.

A promise

I can guarantee that if you follow the steps on this page you will…

  • Take less shots;
  • Get a better hit-rate (more usable shots per shoot);
  • Spend less time in post-processing;
  • Have better composition;
  • Improve your photography overall.

What is less obvious is that you will also save a lot of time.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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