5 Questions That Instantly Make You Think Like a Photographer

You're not a photographer!  Before that shocks or offends you, allow me to elaborate.  This post is not intended for those with photography knowledge.  Perhaps you're in the market to hire a photographer for a special event but you can't tell the difference between the $100 and $5000 photographer.  Maybe you're the kind of person who pours over the work of the greats but you're too shy to start your journey toward developing this craft.  Better yet, you may be an Instagramer who simply wants to take better photos with their smartphone.  Whatever your story may be, without formal education, you may be having a hard time telling a great photo apart from an average one.  After all, in your mind, the photo you took looks pretty much the same as someone who is getting a lot more recognition.  Why should they have all the attention?  Sure, some of that may (in part) be due to the fact that the person has already built up a reputation or a following.  But just to be sure, let's review some basic questions you can ask yourself before you post your image:

1. "How straight is my horizon?"

This is a common mistake for those who are just starting out.  You want to be creative so it becomes tempting to tilt your horizon.  Or worse, perhaps you were not aware of the horizon whatsoever.  Maybe you took a beautiful photo of a place but you're bothered looking at it, wondering why something feels "off".  It could be due to the fact that your horizon is uncomfortably tilted at a 10-20 degree angle.  Always check your horizon and ensure that the angle is even.

2. "Did I square up?"

Squaring up is a big part of composition and yet, it's commonly overlooked by beginner photographers.  You may already be aware of the Rule of Thirds - and if you are, that's great - but here's a great way to take things to the next level.  Pretend you're standing in front of a wall.  Squaring up means that regardless of how close/far you are from the wall, the view of your camera should be on a flat angle, parallel to the wall itself.  No part of the wall should be closer or farther from the vantage point - the entire wall is even in closeness to you.  This allows your audience to identify your subject faster.  Once you're squared up, other (more advanced) composition options can be exercised more effectively.

3. "How are my colours?"

Are colours something you think about when taking photos?  Because, if they're not, it's time to give them the respect they deserve.  It's relatively easy to take a photo, slap an Instagram filter on it (or Photoshop Action) and call it art.  More advanced colour theory is a topic that can be stretched over several posts outside of this one so I won't get too deep into it.  For now, remember a couple of key points:  Firstly, the brighter the colour, the more attention it will demand.  If you'd like to emphasize your subject, be mindful of objects you leave in the background that may be more saturated in colour.  Secondly, clashing colours will dull your image.  Familiarize yourself with the Colour Wheel and try to use colours that compliment your subject.  Lastly...for the love of all that is good...please don't spot-colour.  It's arguably the biggest eye sore in photography and even the best of photographers have a tough time executing it well.  

4. "What is the brightest point in my image"

This is an easy one.  Take an image - any image will do.  Place it in front of you and squint.  What is the lightest part of the image?  Is it the same as the first thing you noticed when you looked at the photo?  The answer will almost always be "yes".  Our sight responds to light and dark.  Therefore, if you have something in the image which is lighter than your intended subject, you may be drawing attention away from the subject itself.  

5. "How sharp is my subject?"

There are those images which may be so blurry, we immediately spot the problem.  However, often times the blur is subtle.  As a rule of thumb with photographing people, you want their eyes to be the sharpest part of the image.  Certainly if their gaze is directed at the camera.  This gives your human (or pet) subject a bit of life in an otherwise 2 dimensional situation.  A slight blur on the eyes can take away a bit of the magic and knock a great photo down into mediocrity.  

Keeping these tips and tricks in mind, your photos should improve immediately.  Yes, you can break these "rules".  But before you do, ask yourself why you're breaking them.  Is it because of artistic purposes or is it perhaps a bit of laziness?  I won't pretend to have the final word on what makes a perfect photograph.  All I know is what great photographers have learned to do effortlessly.  Scrolling through the pages of websites like 500px, you will see plenty of incredible photographers - and you will also see a lot of these very simple rules being used.  Whether you try these rules out using a smartphone camera or you're lucky enough to have a Hassie for a toy, the concepts are all the same.  I hope this was enjoyable and informative!

-Valeria