A Photographer’s Top 7 Decisions Before Shooting a Photo

Photography is a continuous decision-making exercise. From the moment we imagine a mental shot to the moment we leave it captured in the sensor of our reflex camera. Our brain has to make a series of decisions which influence, all of them, in the final photo result. If you rush me these decisions are much more important even than the price we have cost the camera or the technical possibilities it offers.

Before Shooting A Photo

In today’s article I would like to list 7 of these “key” decisions that you will have to make before shooting a photo. And that will condition your photographic results irreversibly (especially the last point as you will see).

The 7 most important decisions of a photographer before shooting a photo

Trigger in RAW or JPG

Although the connoisseurs of the subject obviously recommend to shoot ALWAYS in RAW, I have to say that this is a decision that each one has to make depending on the photo that is going to shoot. The RAW mode has some great advantages, no one disputes that, but it is also very laborious, requires a thorough and long post-processing work and therefore not all photos are good candidates for this format. Sometimes it is convenient to shoot in JPG due to the lightness and practicality of this format. The decision is yours to make depending on the situation. (More about RAW shooting here).

Manual or Automatic Focus

Focusing manually or automatically is another important decision that should not be underestimated. Depending on the context, the type of photography we want to achieve, as well as the nature of the subject, we will be interested in one option or another.

Manual or Automatic Focus

The autofocus is recommended for situations in which we do not have much time and for static subjects (or at most with light movements and more or less predictable). The manual focus, on the other hand, is ideal for contexts in which the camera cannot focus automatically by itself: for example, for a portrait in the street in the middle of many people, the camera can have a hard time guessing “who” of all the people is our subject to focus on; also, if we try to photograph through the glass of a window, it is more likely that the automatic focus will be confused and we will focus on the glass of the window instead of the external scene.

All in all, it is useful to know beforehand which situations require the manual approach and which ones work best with the automatic one. You don’t find this knowledge in books but you get it by messing around with your camera and learning its reactions over time.

With or Without Flash

The use of flash conditions the success of a photo. There are photos in which it is necessary to shoot with flash and others that precisely the flash is what can spoil them. In this you are the one who has to weigh, measure, evaluate and decide if you need to shoot with or without flash. It’s very personal. In my case I have a rule that usually works very well for me, and that may surprise you at first: I use flash mainly for my daytime photos, at night I almost never use it.

Always use Flash with care

Always use Flash with care

Here’s the thing: if you flash your camera at night, you’ll probably get an ugly picture, with very aggressive light on the subject (sometimes the subject comes to look like a hoodie, you show him the picture and the poor guy thinks “What a horror! How can I be so ugly?”). For that the best thing is to use some more stable source of illumination, something that can be regulated (to approach, to move away), a focus for example can be well.

To have an objective with a great openness in this case would also facilitate our life (Do you know the King of Objectives by the way?)
However, during the day, I like to shoot with flash, especially in portrait photography, because the light from the flash serves as a “filler” and allows me to obtain more illuminated portraits.

At the end of each situation there are different rules that govern and what is at stake is that, before you shoot, you make the best decision: “Shall I shoot with or without flash?”
(More on the use of flashes here, and if you need a good flash read this).

With or Without Image Stabilizer

Nikon VR Stabilizer
Nikon VR Stabilizer

I have a whole article dedicated to the image stabilizer theme. So I’m not going to extend much (you can read more about the Image Stabilizer theme here). In short you have to keep the following: the image stabilizer is only necessary in certain situations, which are those in which the photo is most likely to leave us “moved”. This is more likely to happen if for example we shoot with a relatively long focal length (more than 70mm). Or when there is not enough light. If you are not in any of these situations I recommend that you deactivate the Image Stabilizer because you will surely not need it.

With or Without Tripod
Telescopic Tripod

Obviously, a photo taken with a tripod will always be a little more stable and somewhat sharper than the same photo taken without it. But it happens that the tripod is also a “tostón”, you have to carry it around, sometimes it weighs a lot, it gets in the way, there are even people who have cancelled a whole photographic excursion because they don’t have to go with a tripod.
We have to rationalize the matter a little: there are contexts in which using the tripod is something complementary and totally dispensable, and others in which shooting without it would guarantee the failure of our photo.

As a general rule you need to shoot with a tripod in the following situations:

  • Photos in low light
  • Night photography (of stars, fireworks, etc.)
  • Sunset and sunset
  • Sunrise
  • Self Portrait
  • Macro Photography
  • HDR Photography
  • Time-lapse
  • Product Photography

Single or Burst Fire

It may seem silly, but sometimes a blast can make the difference between a successful photo and a failed photo. You know, it’s one of those petty details on which the success of a good photo depends.
Shooting in a blast has many advantages: it allows you to get several shots almost at the same time. So you can decide which one to keep. Maybe you don’t always need to shoot in burst. But why not have several shots of each shot so you can choose the best one?

I use it especially in situations of lack of light or when I use long focal lengths. Because when I “feel” that the photo runs the risk of being moved the active. So I make sure that having several shots I can choose quietly the one that is less moved of all.

I also find it particularly useful when photographing groups. I don’t know about you, but group photos always resist me. The more people in the frame. The more likely it is that someone will come out with their eyes closed or yawning. So I shoot in a blast and it’s settled. In a single long shot I get 7 or 10 photos among which I can always find a decent one.

Get Up Early Or Not Get Up Early

Getting that photo you dream about so much sometimes means having to make such difficult decisions as. “It’s 5 a.m. and it’s freezing outside. I have my backpack and tripod ready and everything ready to go out. And watch the sunrise and portray it with my camera, what do I do? Do I go out to chase that photo I wanted so much. Or do I stay here enjoying the softness of the blanket and the irreplaceable heat of my bed?

If you decide not to get up early, a very valid and respectable decision. You can’t complain about why you can’t take a great picture of the sunrise. Understand me, who says sunrise says stars, moon, landscapes, waterfalls, rivers, roads. Or any time or place that is not within your daily photographic reach.

The first days after buying your reflex camera you will entertain yourself. Taking pictures of your friends, your grandmother, your dog, or a water fountain in the park next door. But once the “novelty” effect has passed you will begin to realise that. In order to imitate the work of the great photographers you admire.  Start moving around, visiting new places, shooting photos at unseemly hours.

In short, you have to go to some trouble. They are part of the job, they are part of the game and the passion of being a photographer.
How far are you willing to “bother” to get that picture?