Fireworks night at Sussex Cricket Ground, Hove

A recent 40th event I photographed lead me to doing some 1-2-1 mentoring. The client was very keen to brush up on his photography skills, as he had bought a brand new camera, but became a bit overwhelmed by all the gizmos.

Years back I used to facilitate photography workshops when I was based in London. In the days before digital in fact. I do love the idea of helping people revitalise their photographic skills and firmly believe we each have something to offer, a unique viewpoint to share.

Looking at it as mentoring rather than a workshop made me think differently about what questions would be good to ask oneself before actually taking a photograph.

Consider before you click

When we look at the world with our eyes we automatically pull out of the environment what we want to see. When you next go for a nice walk, notice how you observe your environment and how selective you are in order to see what you want to see. The trick is to get our cameras to do a similar thing. The lens can actually be seen as an extension of our own optics, it’s just a matter of some basic understandings that can simplify the process.

Once you know your camera basics, decide what’s important to you within your view. This will help you decide on how best to control your settings and position of your camera.

Here are some things to consider before you take a photograph.

What is important about the subject that I’m photographing?

Consider your intention and the result are you looking to get. Look at how it effects the angle you choose, the viewpoint from where you take the shot.

May parade
Brighton children’s parade

Do I want to bring out details in the background or shall I make it blurred to bring out the subject?

This is good for deciding on your aperture setting (“f” stop, how open the lens is to receiving light). On automatic settings you will notice how the f stop changes from landscape to portrait. Wide, f:1.8 has a shallow depth of field, whereas at f:29, a much smaller aperture, will pick up more detail photographed.

Autumn leaves in Sheffield park
Autumn leaves in Sheffield Park – Shallow aperture pulls out a detail

Do I want to show a motion freeze or show stillness?

So this is the speed of the shutter, the faster the more motion is frozen, if that’s an important criteria for what you want, then keep the speed above 1/500

Dog running on Brighton seafront
Dog running on Brighton seafront 1/500 shutter

Am I considering how the camera sees the light from this view?

If your subject is a black dog, your camera won’t know that. If you have 80% bright sky in the background and a friend in the foreground, your camera won’t know that. You have to “tell” it by using your settings.  The trouble with automatic settings is, they are limited and by their automaticity. They do their best to estimate the levels of light by understanding you’re photographing a landscape, a close up of a subject, or a portrait, but they won’t always get it perfect, that’s where you come in.

Berlin street photography
Berlin – underground library

How should I best frame my subject to gain impact?

This point is about composition and can make or break the result of a photograph. You can actually feel a good composition, it will just communicate to you.  There are mathematic rules you can learn, but honestly, you can notice balance of the shapes in your shot. Just look at a few photos or paintings that make you feel good, look at how they are composed.


dance photography
Chichester dance performance – Mapdance

Am I trying to get too many ideas into my shot?

Ever been so excited by a view and wanting everything in it? I certainly have! Don’t panic trying to get all of it in, go back to the first point, “what’s important?”. Simplify, the less clutter of ideas, the more is communicated to your audience.

Lisbon monastery Belem
Belem monastery in Lisbon

Give these a go and let me know how you get along and please share your results with me.

What was so lovely about the mentoring session was seeing how the client became more rehabilitated, he said that his whole approach to taking photographs has changed as a result.

If you have a camera gathering dust, or you’ve forgotten your basics and want to improve your results, get in touch. You may want to book a mentor session to invigorate your passion!

Also try my quick photography survey I’m designing some unique workshops.

Brighton storm at west pier
Brighton Storm at West Pier

Sophie Sheinwald is a Brighton based photographer who specialises in corporate and celebratory event photography and portraiture.