I fondly remember the days when I was a beginner photographer.
It was a lot of fun (and sometimes frustrating) trying to figure out what to photograph, when, how, and so forth.
But all those trials and tribulations ended up helping me in the long run because I made a TON of mistakes. My photos are better for it today.
In thinking about some of the most important things I learned, I came to the conclusion that there are seven essential questions I should have asked myself before I pressed the shutter button.
Hopefully you can use my mistakes for your gain!
What is the Focal Point?
A crucial part of composition is ensuring that your photos a strong focal point.
Why? To draw the viewer's eye...
You can have a shot with perfect lighting and excellent framing, but without a strong subject to grab the viewer's attention, the photo could fall flat.
There's lots of ways to have a strong focal point - use leading lines to direct the eye toward it, use color or contrast to set it apart from the rest of the frame, or use the rule of thirds to place it in a position of importance in the shot.
Sometimes, the focal point is just strong on its own, like the human figure in the image above...
No matter if you take portraits or landscapes or something in between, be sure there's a strong subject in the frame - it will have an immediate impact on the photos you take.
Learn more about creating a strong focal point in the video above by Weekly Imogen.
What's Happening in the Background?
One of the ways to ensure your focal point is a strong one is to also ensure that the background doesn't distract from the subject.
For example, in a portrait, you typically want a background that's non-descript and free of a lot of colors, textures, and light values.
Even if you blur the background by using a shallow depth of field, the elements listed above can still have a detrimental impact on the shot, so don't just rely on blurriness, either.
Scan the shot, and if you see things that are distracting, work to find a different vantage point (or a different background altogether) to resolve the issue.
In the image above, notice how the line created by the wall meeting the ceiling appears to cut through the woman's head. That's due in part to the low perspective of the shot.
All that would be needed is to raise the camera a little bit to avoid that line for a much-improved image.
Is There a Better Perspective?
In looking at examples of beginner photography, there's often a common theme - many images are taken from eye level.
Sure, sometimes that's the best perspective for the shot. But often, moving around will help you create something more unique.
By taking a low perspective, for example, you can emphasize foreground interest, like the waters of the lake in the image above. By taking a high perspective, you can maximize the view of a landscape or make a portrait subject look quite small.
Even kneeling down or standing on a step stool can be enough of a change in perspective to give your photos a more unique look.
The point is that before you press the shutter, take 30 seconds to try different perspectives. You'll find that your images are the better for it!
Learn more about using perspective to your advantage in the video above by Spyros Heniadis.
How's the Light?
Light has different color values and different feels.
At midday, light is bluish in tone and very harsh, creating defined highlights and shadows like you see above.
At sunset, light is warm and soft, creating pleasing areas of light and shadow, as you can see in the image below.
Indoor lighting can be very yellow, or it might be very dim, requiring you to use a flash (which can produce extremely harsh light as well).
When considering the light, you need to also consider what you can do to improve the light.
For example, if you're taking a portrait outdoors in the middle of the day, move under the shade of a tree to minimize harsh shadows on your subject.
If you're indoors taking photos of your family, adjust the white balance and use the incandescent setting to counteract the yellowish light produced by interior lighting.
If there's not a lot of light, use a tripod to stabilize your camera and use a slower shutter speed to get a better-exposed image.
Am I Shooting in the Best Format?
When I started out in photography, I shot just about every portrait in portrait orientation and just about every landscape in landscape orientation.
That was a mistake.
Something as simple as changing the orientation of your camera can create images with vastly different impact.
In the case of landscape photography, a vertically oriented shot allows you to include foreground interest to draw the eye in, as was done in the image above.
In portraiture, a horizontal orientation is better for shots of couples, families, or large groups.
I'm now in the habit of taking both horizontal and vertical shots of just about every subject I photograph. That way I have the bases covered!
How Will Viewers Interact With the Shot?
Any good photograph is like a little book, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You want to take viewers on a journey through the shot so they can interact with it in a more meaningful way.
That means you need to consider how viewer's eye will travel around the image.
This, of course, includes having the strong focal point discussed earlier, but it also includes supporting elements that help get the viewer engaged.
You might have supporting subjects in the background.
You might add an element of color or texture to add depth to the image as well.
You might even use a frame within a frame to give the shot dimension and help drive the viewer's eye deeper into the photo.
Learn more about creating photos with impact in the video above from B&H Photo Video.
What Story are You Telling?
Closely related to the idea of having an interactive photo is the notion that your photos should also tell a story.
In other words, ask yourself, "What's the point of this shot?"
Do you want viewers to feel an emotion, and if so, what? Is the image something that will stand on its own or is it part of a series of photos? Will it be in color or black and white? Are you creating the photo purely for documentation purposes or will you be giving it to someone as a gift?
In considering the purpose of taking the photo, you can make better decisions about all the questions listed above.
If you're going for something dramatic, use golden hour lighting and an unusual perspective from which to shoot.
If you want to evoke loneliness, go for a minimalist composition with a single subject surrounded by negative space.
If you want to make a more intimate shot, try a close-up portrait and converting it to black and white.
In essence, strive to find ways to do more than simply point and shoot. Make your photos more compelling, more interesting, and more meaningful.
If you can do that, I think you'll find that you have more impressive photos on your hands!