Early on in my career, back in the film days, I created a booklet of helpful questions that I would ask myself while working in the landscape to help focus my photography. I compiled the questions over several years; many came from mistakes I discovered after the film was developed. A few were reminders to help guide me and some of the questions came from books or articles.
Ultimately, the questions became a booklet of index cards with one question per card; I could easily whip out the booklet and flip through the cards while working, I’d read and answer each question out loud. Often, the booklet of questions helped cajole better images out of me. Eventually the questions became ingrained in my workflow and I did not need the booklet anymore; yet these basic questions serve as my foundation to this day. I have included some of my working questions here and hopefully one or two may help you.
What is the photograph of?
What is the subject of the scene?
Is there a single subject?
Is the subject obvious or cluttered?
Will the viewer see the same subject?
Is the subject in the center of the scene?
Should the subject be in a different location?
Is the subject stationary or moving?
Is the scene interesting or exciting?
What special characteristics exist in the scene?
Is there a “wow” factor to the scene?
What is the main focus point?
Is the foreground and/or background focused?
Will focus be lost with a slower shutter speed?
Should the mirror be locked?
Does selective focus hurt or help the scene?
Are there lines in the scene?
What kind of lines are they?
Are they straight, wavy, transparent?
Are the lines the subject of the scene?
Do the lines lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject of the scene?
Do the lines lead to a resting point for the viewer’s eye?
Do the lines go out of the scene?
Is the horizon in the scene and is it level?
Can you hint at the existence of the horizon without including it?
How does the horizon look when it is higher or lower in the scene?
Is there texture in the scene?
Can changing the angle of the camera enhance the texture?
Is the texture illuminated by low angled light?
Are there shadows to the texture?
Can a foreground object be illuminated by background light?
Can a silhouette or outline be the subject?
Can the subject be framed by changing the position or angle of the camera?
Is there a natural or man-made frame surrounding the subject? (Always meter the part of the scene you want to accentuate)
While looking through the viewfinder, what is not necessary?
What can be removed from the scene that clutters the subject?
Can elements be removed by filling the frame with more of the subject?
Should the subject take up the entire frame?
Can another angle help to remove items that distract from the subject?
Is it difficult to judge the size of the subject?
Is there anything in the scene that determines actual size?
Is there another perspective of the scene?
What is the eye drawn to first while looking through the viewfinder?
Can the scene be made less predictable?
Are there unexpected qualities of the scene?
Is there anything beyond the predictable first impression of the scene?
Are there bright colors that divert the eye?
Is there a class of colors?
Is the weather, lighting or exposure effecting the color of the scene?
Are the colors saturated, brilliant or faded?
Should the colors be intensified or subdued?
Do the colors need exposure compensation?
What effect will a slow or fast shutter speed have on the photograph?
What effect will a small or large aperture have on the photograph?
Are different brightness levels larger than four stops?
Is this an easy shot or did it require effort?
How many exposures have been made from the same position?