Photography checklists

19th August 2011
Having a series of photography checklists is useful whether you’re a professional photographer, or just starting out.

Have you ever erased a card forgetting you’ve not downloaded the photos yet?

Did you ever arrive at a wedding and realise you’d forgotten a spare battery?

Did you ever forget to change the camera’s ISO when the wedding moved from inside the church to outside?

With so much equipment, so many variables and the constant flux of life swirling all around us, there’s always a good chance of ballsing something up!

Fortunately I’ve never had issues with a client’s photos, but I did wipe a section of my California travel photos this year.
Here are some of the most useful photography checklists for common situations:

Things to check at least 2-3 hours before you leave the house (ideally the night before).

- Are the batteries charged on your camera and flashes? What about the spares?
- Are your memory cards cleared and the photos backed up?
- Is there a memory card in the camera?
- Do you have all your memory cards?
- Do you have a shot list? If you know what you’re likely to shoot first then you may want to set your camera up with the most suitable settings.
- Have you got all the lenses you need? Do you really need all the lenses if you have to carry everything?
- Got the tripod, remote, reflectors and all your filters?
- Do you need to bring model release forms?
- Do you know where you’re going – do you have the map?
- Are you dressed appropriately?

Your camera settings
- Is your exposure compensation set to the middle?
- Is the self-timer turned off?
- Are you using the best lens for the situation?
- Are you shooting RAW (I normally recommend you do!)
- Is the white balance set correctly (this doesn’t matter if you shoot RAW as you can adjust later without any loss of quality)
- Is the ISO as low as possible for the conditions?
- Are you on manual or auto focus?
- Is the tripod secure?

The light
- What’s the light like? Is it harsh, soft, cool, warm…?
- Which direction will use the light to best effect? Do you want a silhouette, side-lighting for texture etc.
- Do you need to reflect any light into the shadows?
- Do you need to use flash? Are there any white surfaces to bounce the flash off and diffuse it?
- How much flash power do you need?
- Do you need more than one flash?
- Can you / should you move the subject into or out of the shade?
- What’s your message? What are you trying to capture from the scene / person?
- What’s the main subject?
- What’s more important - aperture/depth of field or shutter speed?
- Are there any really bright areas that may distract from the main subject?
- Do you need to use exposure compensation to allow for extremely bright or dark light, or to create a specific look? Tip: you generally need to over expose bright things and under expose dark things.
- Would a filter help? If you want less light (for getting a silky water effect in bright conditions, for example) you can use a Neutral density filter. For sunsets you may want a Neutral Density graduated filter to balance the bright sky and dark landscape. A polarising filter reduces harsh reflections and saturates colours.
- Is it worth trying different exposures and perhaps stitching them together in Photoshop or using HDR software?

Composition
- What’s your message? What are you trying to capture from the scene / person?
- Should you fill the frame with the subject or do you want to give it a ‘sense of place’?
- Should you compose portrait or landscape?
- Do you want to follow the ‘rule of thirds’
- Are there any lead-in lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the photo?
- Are there any patterns, shapes or textures?
- Can the subject be framed by anything else in the scene to prevent the viewer’s eyes wandering off the edge of the photo?
- Is there anything you can put in the foreground to help add depth to the photo?
- Is the background cluttered? Does it add or detract to the photo.
- Are there any colours that add or detract to the photo?
- Are there any other distractions in the photo? Scan all around the scene before pressing the shutter
- If there’s a model – are they relaxed, well posed and wearing the right expression.
- Are you focusing on the right part of the scene?
- Do you want a shallow depth of field so that large parts of the photo are out of focus?
The lists could go on and on, but hopefully these reminders will help you avoid a calamitous cock-up. Writing everything down like this just goes to show how much you need to remember and how many things can go wrong.

That’s why I didn’t start photographing weddings until I knew damn well I knew what I was doing. This is also why good wedding photographers are worth their money. They will do 99% of these things automatically 99% of the time. Understanding all this stuff is where photographers earn their money. As you can see, we don’t just point and shoot!

All the best

Dan Waters - The World''''s Most Helpful Photographer


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