Before the Shutter is Pressed

Today is Your Day. It’s the day of the Great Family Reunion, and because of all the snapshots you take (and share, and talk about) you have been designated, "The Family Photographer" for the day.

Like a pro, you arrive early with all your gear, including extra data cards, and through the course of the day, you fill every one. At sunset, you head home to process your images, confident you have captured all the magic moments in wonderful day of family fun. In your mind's eye, you have already created a full photo album, and a calendar you’ll use as a Christmas gift for the entire family this year.

Once at the laptop for editing, you are disappointed to find most of your images are unusable, with blown highlights and really weird colors. You learn too late that you were so close to Uncle Fred, his nose hairs take up most of the image! Then there’s the prized photo of Aunt Grace... She's standing there so proudly with her best ever, homemade cherry pie, and a telephone pole is sticking out of her head!

Maybe you can tell them you dropped your camera in the river on the way home?

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.

Photo Critique

  • 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? Is the image balanced? 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, or do you honestly like Grandmother’s skin looking that reptilian green?

  • Would the image look better at a different focal length? Or maybe you should simply back up from Uncle Fred a bit?

  • Does the depth of field suit the photo? I usually think portrait shots, narrow DOF. Nieces and nephews playing touch football, deep DOF.

  • Are there any distracting elements in the photo? If you move over to the left 5 steps can you get the charcoal grill that’s caught on fire out of Cousin Bobby’s portrait shot?

  • What is happening in the background? Does that telephone pole really need to be sticking out of Aunt Grace’s head?

Using these critique points has helped. 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.” Use my list as is, or modify it to suit your own needs.

Just maybe there will be a family calendar this year after all!

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