The difference between a good photo and a great one often depends on the thinking the photographer does before clicking the shutter.
As I'm setting up a shot, it can be overwhelming to think about all the camera settings, the rules of photography and the story I want the picture to convey. Therefore, I tend to focus my thinking on three areas – composition, lighting and vantage point.
- Composition. I think about what’s going to be included in the picture. Through the viewfinder, I look for the rule of thirds where the main focus is off center. I like to provide context by framing a picture with a tree, a doorway or some other object. Growing up in Colorado, I learned that a picture of a distant, magnificent mountain range is much more interesting if it includes a nearby shrub, a tree or a person to provide context and perspective.
- Lighting. As I initially survey a photo opportunity, I look at how well-lit the subject is. I also pay attention to where the light is coming from. A midday sun is harsh and often washes out the vibrancy of a photo’s colors. Many times I have spotted a great photo opportunity at noon, but returned at sunset to capture an even better picture. I’m especially fond of shooting during the “golden hour,” that magical time during the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset.
- Vantage point. I think about the angle I’ll shoot from. I even obsess over it, walking around the subject to get just the most interesting angle. I’ll take a step or two to the left. Then to the right. Then forward. Then backwards. Once I’ve found the right spot, I’ll consider shooting from ground level, or perhaps holding the camera high over my head. I'm looking for something out-of-the-ordinary, something unique and interesting.
If I juggle too many thoughts in my mind, I become a technician handling hardware. By focusing on these three items, I can have the zen-like mind of an artist trying to capture a memory worth preserving.