Ask Before Firing: Create A Pre Shoot Checklist

Get ready mentally before you take a picture

Get ready mentally. Athletes do it before a big game, CEOs do it before giving important presentations, stunt men pre-visualize their actions and surgeons do it before making an incision. As photographers, we should do it before we press the shutter. Think about all the tricks you’ve learned, all the techniques you’ve absorbed and the hours of tutorials you’ve watched. Then, before you take a picture, reflect upon these things. In other words, get ready mentally.

Create a checklist of photographic techniques and important concepts and memorize it. Before you press the shutter, do a mental run-through. When I learned to ski moguls, I’d stand at the top of the run and tell myself to point my hips down the hill, keep my hands forward and not look down at my ski tips. These were the key concepts on which I needed to focus. Depending on your level of photography, create a key list of items and play them out in your head before you press the shutter. As a photo tour leader, I see common barriers that prevent participants from getting their best photographs. As a result, I share the following:

a) Before pressing the shutter, ask yourself if you left enough room for implied movement of the action. If it’s directed to the left, leave more room on the left side of the frame. The same holds true regarding the direction the subject looks or faces even if it isn’t moving. For instance, if a person looks out of the frame, more room needs to be placed to that side so it feels “comfortable” for the viewer. This holds true for vertical subjects regarding the amount of extra room placed at the top or bottom. If a tall tree is photographed in a vertical format but cropped right at the tip, there’s discomfort as it leaves no room for the tree to “grow.” If it moves, looks, grows, dangles, hangs or anything else where movement is implied, leave extra room.

b) Before you press the shutter, ask yourself if you checked what aperture is set to acquire the necessary depth of field. It’s essential to stop down the lens to cover foreground to background depth of field in a scenic. If a scenario unfolds where you just made a portrait of a family member using a wide open aperture and forget to stop the lens down to f16 for the scenic you’re about to make, the landscape will fall short. Conversely, the opposite scenario holds true. Regardless of the situation, it’s easy to forget to spin the aperture to achieve the necessary look for the best possible image. Add this to your mental checklist. If you do, every image you take should be made at the proper aperture.

c) Before pressing the shutter, ask yourself if the light is straight forward or tricky. If it’s tricky, remind yourself to check for blinkies on the LCD. The blinkies screen, in addition to the histogram, are a photographer’s best friend, but they often go unchecked. My belief is I’d rather lose one potential shot in the time it takes to check the screen and make necessary adjustments as opposed to not checking it and make 50 images destined for the delete button. If blinkies appear, dial in minus compensation to reduce the amount of light. If the shadows butt up on the left side of the histogram, dial in plus compensation to open them up. If both extremes of the histogram are blocked up, bracket the exposures and blend them in post processing using layers or an HDR program such as Nik HDR Efex Pro.

d) Before pressing the shutter, ask yourself if you checked the entire viewfinder. Performing this one item on the checklist will quickly bring your photography to the next level. Think about how many times you’ve looked at an image you made and not remembered seeing the distraction that appears on the top, bottom, side or background.

There are many other questions one can ask themselves before pressing the shutter. Based on your needs, let the above serve as a foundation to create your own.

Visit for information about his nature photography tours.

Leave a Reply

Main Menu