There are perhaps hundreds of decisions that I make when creating a photograph. I’d like to share a fraction of them with you so that you can understand my work a little better. Note that some of these questions are completely artistic in nature, and others are technical. Technical decisions directly contribute to the look of the final photograph and thereby are indirectly artistic.
In no particular order:
1. What is the main subject?
Most photographs contain a main subject. Sometimes two or three. Any more and the “story” can become confusing.
Bodie – This ’37 Chevy is definitely the main subject.
2. What feeling am I trying to express?
Drama, mystery, awe, beauty… where will this photograph fit the best? Once I decide, I can often find ways to increase that emotional response.
Gateway to Manzanar uses the sweeping curves of the trees and the converging lines of the clouds to create drama.
3. Is my tripod stable?
I always check to make sure that my tripod is balanced within all three legs or it could fall over. This can be very difficult to visually judge when I’m on a 30 degree incline so I often will give it a nudge to see how easily it moves.
Using my tripod in a creek. It had better be stable!
4. Can I imagine a better lighting situation?
If I expect conditions to improve, I wait. If the light is not right for the shot, I come back later or else I don’t bother.
Tufa at Sunset – The best light.
5. What is in the sky?
Clean blue sky and completely flat overcast sky are very difficult to create interesting photographs with if including the sky in the photograph.
Big Sky – This wouldn’t work without an interesting cloud arrangement.
6. Is anything in the frame moving?
If so, shutter speed becomes very important. Do I want the moving object to blur or not?
Aspen Reflections – Blurred water from a one second shutter speed.
7. Color or Monochrome?
If I am in a colorful area, then I may look for natural color palettes that work together. Otherwise, I will focus on what I like in monochromatic photographs… high contrast, sharp details, vivid textures, dramatic skies, etc.
Guadalupe Sunset – Contains Blue-Violet and Yellow-Orange, complimentary colors.
8. Is there a story here?
A story is often told by inferring human characteristics on nature. It’s not easy to tell a story while limiting myself to natural, non-animated objects, nor is it always necessary. But if I can find one, it can result in a more emotional photograph.
Storm Over Water
9. Mirror Lock-up on?
I always shoot with mirror lock up to minimize camera shake when the shutter releases (I also use either a remote release or the built-in timer so I am not touching the camera when the shutter releases). This insures the sharpest image possible.
Guadalupe Foothills – Excellent Detail
10. Is this the best?
Once I take a shot, I examine it on the screen (I love digital) and become very critical. Are there distractions? What if I moved a few inches to the right, left, up, or down? Is the exposure perfect? Focus? Does my eye flow naturally? What will it look like printed large? Small?
These are just a few of the many questions that I ask myself when I am creating a photograph. With experience, some decisions become subconscious while others are made in a fraction of a second, but they are made nonetheless.