I used to take a lot of snapshots. I'd go out two or three times a week, take a hundred plus photos each outing. At the end of the month I'd have over a thousand pictures in a file and only one or two favorites. Not a productive routine.
It took me about forever to slow down and to begin to analyze what I was doing. The first step was to walk around a setting with my smartphone to find compositions before setting up. The second step has been to be critical about what I see in my viewfinder before pressing the shutter. I began evaluating the composition, looking at the relationship between the fore-, mid- and back-ground, how the elements in the scene relate to each other, colors, contrast and more.
(There’s a step in between these two … the “What Would XXX Do?” … where XXX is the name of an inspirational landscape painter. More about this later.)
If you critique your images before you press the shutter, you’ll be more satisfied at the end of a session. While the list of critique points below isn’t comprehensive, it’s a great place to start. I’ve got them written down on an index card I review while I’m setting up camera and tripod.
Is the exposure correct? Use the histogram if you have it. If not, does it look like your highlights will be blown?
How is the composition? Is the horizon on level? Can you take advantage of diagonals or leading lines?
Are the colors true? Should you change from auto white balance to a sunny/cloudy/shade setting?
Would the image look better at a different focal length? Or maybe you should change the distance from your subject a bit?
Does the depth of field (DOF) suit the photo? I usually think portrait shots, narrow DOF. Landscapes, deep DOF.
Are there any distracting elements in the photo? If you move over to the left 5 steps can you expose more of the mid-ground, or separate mid-ground and back-ground elements?
Is the image balanced? Check top/bottom, left/right, across diagonals.
Using these critique points has helped … my images are better overall and taking the time to get an image right in camera means less time making corrections in post. And it just makes sense to double check your image before pressing the shutter. It’s the photographer’s version of the carpenter’s, “Measure twice, cut once.” Modify the list, if needed, to reflect the requirements of your genre of photography. But most of all, have fun!
Be well and stay safe. Gordon
After seeing the first (top) image in my viewfinder, I decided to back up about 10 feet, shift right to center the stream, and lower the camera. The stream becomes a more interesting leading line, and the stone bridge has a more prominent position in the image.