Beginner Level Photography Checklist

As a novice photographer, and as someone who really wants to try and progress my skills, I am very happy to put in the hours to try to improve and learn. I’m watching a tonne of YouTube videos (probably too many tbh) uploaded by some fantastic photographers and was recently given my first landscape photography ‘coffee table’ book which I’ve already browsed and analysed multiple times. I bought a few magazines to browse through and take inspiration from – much of the information is a few levels above me at the moment but I’m actively seeking out images to review. This is why I’m enjoying #GuruShots so much also – it’s an opportunity to be exposed to some incredible shots and appreciate how (to the best of my current ability) the shot has been set up.

Importantly, I’ve been working to find time to practice at a practical level: with the weather being so poor in Ireland recently, I’ve entered a number of images in two GuruShots challenges where I could “get away with” taking photographs of objects I found in my home. The challenges in question were ‘Seeing Textures’ and ‘Musical Instruments’ – in the latter, I miraculously achieved a top 30% finish. As the weather has been clearing up a little of late, I’ve made time to get outdoors and practice.

However, I’m finding that I’m rushing and not using the practice time effectively. I’m either trying to create a good image between rain showers or while the dogs are racing around my tripod. Although it’s not real pressure, I’m hurrying my shots and I know I’m not achieving the best results. Also, because there is so much to consider even at this basic level, I’m forgetting some basic elements in a rush to capture a shot quickly before a bird moves or the sun dips behind the mass of cloud etc.

A couple of examples of my poor practice ….

Although I recent bought a Sigma 70-300 mm F4-5.6 DG Macro lens, in my haste to grab images for challenges, I didn’t even consider taking interior macro shots with anything other than my kit Nikkor 18-55 mm lens! What was I thinking?!? Oh, I yeah, I wasn’t. D’oh!

Also, last weekend, I trekked down to the wreck of the ‘Irish Trader’ that has been rotting and rusting slowly on Baltray Sands since 1974. The sea mist and tide were both coming in quickly and the results (one photograph shown below) are average to reasonable at best. I didn’t really consider the composition so the image looks like a heap of metal rather than an old ship. I’m thinking about composition at a basic level and didn’t really think about alternatives, e.g. a close up of the rust against the mist. I didn’t really check my white balance or consider the ND grad filter use carefully enough so the image is in my opinion the sky too dark and the colours a little unbalanced. The whole point of the exercise was to try and practice longer exposures, to try to get the streak of soft white lines when the waves pull back down the beach – I didn’t get to work on this because I was ‘working’ on other areas ineffectively and forgot about long exposures! Although I enjoyed the afternoon, from a practice point of view, it wasn’t the best.

Irish Trader Wreck Profile 8 April 2018

The Irish Trader | 9 April 2018

Incidentally, until recently the bow section (which has been slowly peeled back and which is the metal part resting in the front of the main part of the wreck) was intact and it used to stand a good 15 – 20 feet high. It highest point is probably now only about 8 – 10 feet high – it’s still worth a visit but if you search online for images of the wreck, there are some amazing photographs available to view.

On the back end of my ineffective practice, I’m putting together a checklist (which doesn’t include ‘take a deep breath’ but probably should) of what I need to consider on location. I’m not including basics like, has the camera battery got enough charge / power, have I remembered my tripod / filter bag etc. – my memory’s not great but it’s not that bad. Yet.

What I’m thinking about is a composition / technical checklist at a very basic level so I can better consider my shots before I take them – hopefully this will lead to better analysis, better results, improved learning and ultimately photographs that I’m really happy with.

This is my first draft – some ideas in no particular order:

  • What is the primary subject of the shot and how do I best emphasize this?
  • What is the background and how do I want to use this?
  • What would I like the final result to look like and how best can I achieve this?
  • Do I need to move around the subject / move to another location to help me get the best result.
  • Do I need to eliminate any objects that might detract from the shot? If so, how is the best way to do this? Do I move closer / further away from the subject or do I simply use the (correct) lens to zoom in / out?
  • Is the lens choice the best one? Would the telephoto lens’ depth of field help to accentuate the subject as I’m told on various YouTube videos?
  • What is the best height to shoot at? Do I really need to extend my tripod to full height – as I do habitually at the moment?
  • Do I need to use a filter / CPL? Why do I need to use a filter / CPL? If I really do, what should I use?
  • Have I checked the white balance?
  • Have I definitely checked the white balance?
  • Have I considered basic composition rules? For example: the rule of thirds, where to place the horizon, are there any leading lines I can utilize, are there key patterns and textures that I want to capture in the shot?
  • What are the alternatives shots? If I’m considering shooting a ship wreck, should I take a shot or two of the whole wreck, part of the wreck (e.g. the bow only) and/or a close up of the metal tarnished with sea weed?

As well as the above considerations, what I’m definitely going to do on my next trip is take my time – I’ll aim to get a couple of good photos from one of my favourite locations and focus on that. Also, I’ll build the image that I want and then reverse it, so, if I’ve decided that I want a wide landscape of the beach with the tide rolling in against the sea wall, I’ll find on element of interest in the shot, for example a point of interest on or around the sea wall, and take an intimate landscape shot focusing primarily of that single element. I’ll even change from colour to B&W to test the different outputs.

Anyways, the above is a basic checklist – if anyone happens across this post and can offer any input, I’d be very happy to hear from you.

When the weather is better, I’ll testout my checklist and my idea to take an ‘opposite’ shot and update on this site.

Surprise, surprise it’s forecast for rain again in Ireland this week.

[April 2018]
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