The Process of Photography

In Standardby Patrick

Based on the simple creative process, photography is a series of decisions that are made to achieve the final outcome, the finished image. The goal is to have these decisions become second nature so no matter what situation you are faced with as a photographer, past experiences, including failures, will all have contributed to your being able to select the correct gear, react to capture the picture with correct exposure and composition, then follow that up with the post editing process to achieve the image you envisioned. Being able to do this will allow the photographer more time in the most critical components, IMHO, the composition and capture.

Gear

The first decision the photographer must make is which camera and lenses to take out of the bag. Gear selection is an often-discussed subject with and has many differing opinions. However, in order to leave the house with the best combination of equipment, an essential principle when selecting gear is anticipating what kind of situations and conditions you will face.

While the camera body and other accessories can matter, by far the most important piece of equipment is the lens. In order to make a wise decision regarding which lens to mount on the camera, it’s necessary to understand the effect focal length has on perspective. There are many diagrams and examples illustrating this relationship, but I find it’s always necessary to put the concepts to practice and learn from experience. Additionally, one must take into account the maximum aperture of the lens and the expected lighting conditions in the target area. Obviously, fast lenses are more suitable for low light. Finally, ergonomics should be taken into account. Large, heavy lenses can be cumbersome and can wear you out on long excursions. Small prime lenses are light and fast, but can offer less versatility than zoom lenses.

Setting your gear

After selecting your gear, it’s time to decide how to set it. Try to predict the shooting conditions and set the camera accordingly before the moment of shooting. Do a site visit and take notes, not only while shooting if it is your first time there, but consider angles, lighting and backgrounds. We do this because when the action happens, we often have mere seconds (or less) to get the shot. However, when setting your camera there are three aspects which must be balanced: control, speed, and accuracy.

For instance, using a lens with an aperture ring and shooting in Aperture Priority mode allows for very good control of the aperture, and therefore the DOF, while taking very little time. As another example, using a manual focus lens allows the shooter to utilize zone focusing, which reduces the focusing time to zero and allows for a high level of control. In some cases, accuracy and control can be deferred until after the photograph is taken. For instance, in the case of digital photography, if we choose to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG, we can change various settings after the photo was taken. For example, while shooting in RAW we can leave the White Balance set to Auto, which allows for it to be determined in post. Having said that, striving to get as much correct at the point of capture is critical to reduce post processing time.

The Capture

This is the moment you’ve been preparing for. Hopefully at this point you confidently selected the right lens for the job, and the camera is set just the way it needs to be. Now it’s time to press the shutter release and take a perfect photo. Before you can do that, two key decisions remain: how to compose and how to time the photograph. One benefit of consistently shooting on prime lenses is that the photographer gets used to those particular focal lengths. As a result, it’s possible to visualize the framing of a photograph before looking through the viewfinder. This does not necessarily reduce the amount of time it takes to ‘frame’ a photo (the framing takes place in the photographer’s mind rather than in the viewfinder). But it does create a larger window in which the decision process can take place. Similarly, regarding timing, it’s possible to visualize how a scene will evolve before it actually takes place. By watching the subject (whether living or inanimate) and trying to predict what action they will take can add precious time to the decision-making process. These two techniques combined can increase the amount of time you have in order to compose and time a great photo.

Post Processing

Editing (that is, selecting) your photos is an important skill for any photographer. It’s often difficult, and likely impossible, to be truly objective when viewing your own photographs. However, it is possible to select photos based on objective criteria while still leaving room for a subjective, overriding decision. For instance, you can eliminate photos that fail in various technical aspects, such as sharpness or exposure. The personal experience, and viewing the work of master photographers, as well as reviewing your own will assist in this process. You will soon find a style that work for you and your photography. Finally, at this point your photograph is a result of a long series of decisions that began when you opted to get out of the house and take some shots. The photo you have before you is the culmination of all your hard work, but one key decision remains: do I show this photo to the world? I hope so as photography is meant to be shared.

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