We are all familiar with the common ones of making sure focus is correct, rule of thirds, tangents, and great gear. However, there are a few ways of looking at the image while we are shooting that can help us see what we are creating with more clarity and deliberateness.
And while exposure is often discussed, what is not discussed is “placing” the exposure and the ability of the photographer to have control over where the values should be.
1. Check exposure
If you are using a hand-held ambient light meter, double check that there is no extraneous light hitting the diffuser dome. You will be surprised what a small glance of light on the side of the dome will do to exposure.
If you are using the meter in camera, make sure you are either metering a gray card, or something that is equal in luminance, or “placing” the exposure by metering on a specific area and then compensating for where you want exposure to fall. Good imagery starts with good exposure. Be precise.
My free class on using a light meter is on UDEMY: https://www.udemy.com/using-a-photographic-light-meter/learn/v4/overview The video is not all that good, but the information is solid.
2. Check the corners
If something is going to go wrong in your composition or in the background, it will most likely be in the corners. Double check them and then do it again. Corner crap, and tangents (two lines on different planes converging in the image) are the most common screw-ups. The best way to get rid of both is to compose with deliberateness and be specific in the presentation in your frame.
3. Turn the camera upside down
This may work better for landscapes and still environments than it does for portraiture, but I have used it for portraits. Even in the studio. Seeing the image upside down can reveal compositional challenges because now we are looking at the image in a different way, and that forces us to really SEE the image and how it is composed.
4. Turn your preview to black and white
Shooting your preview image tests in black and white will help you see contrast, shape, and dimension. You won’t be drawn to the color, but instead to the design of the image. Lines, shadows, and luminance become very explicit in black and white. (Note: If you are shooting RAW the preview will not result in any change to your image. It is still RAW, and still in color.
5. Sketch with your camera
Before committing to a specific angle or point of view, shoot from a lot of places to see where the composition can be enhanced. Finding the image can take a bit of time, but with digital cameras, we can make a lot of informal images to see how differing lenses or POV’s work. I sometimes put my camera on “Auto” and just shoot the scene… high, low, medium, from left and right, and occasionally I will change lenses just to explore a different aspect of the set. I can then review the images looking for something that grabs me right away.
About the Author
Don Giannatti is a photographer, writer, and avid motorcyclist. Currently, he is working with a wonderful group of students at Project 52 Pro System, and helping them transition into full or part-time commercial photography. He has owned studios in Phoenix, LA, Chicago, and New York. He has been a guest instructor on CreativeLive, and he is busy writing a book of images and fiction from this past summer’s motorcycle ride through the smoke of the wildfires out west.