1) Frame your photograph: Using your hands, make them into a rectangle to see whether there is a photograph to be made.
2) Frame your mind: Allow yourself to become absorbed in the photograph you are going to take. Think about why you find it beautiful, intriguing or breath-taking. What is the story?
3) Check your outer edges: Take your eye around viewfinder, twice to be totally familiar with all that exists on the outside on the perimeter. Crop out distracting elements or elements that alter the balance or ‘story’ of your photograph.
4) Fine-tune your vision: Consider small details and think simple.
5) Focus: Close focus to check that there is nothing in the immediate foreground that would not be visible with the lens set at infinity. Out of focus foregrounds can be distracting. For flowers and extreme close ups, however, the background and foreground can be thrown out of focus.
6) Keep still: If you have a tripod, try to use it whenever possible. A tripod enables long time exposures as well as ensuring you take your photograph seriously.
7) Avoid flare: When photographing with the sun in front of you, do not assume that the lens hood will prevent direct sunlight falling onto the front element of the lens. Unintentional flare is the photographers’ worst enemy. The sun may not be in your viewfinder but sunlight may be falling on to your lens. Use a piece of card to mask the sunlight. Better still would be a friend who could stand to one side and ensure that the lens is flare free.
8) Know what to crop out: If the sky is lacking in interest, ie. too bland or too blue or grey, then try leaving it out all together. If the sky is good then let it have its say. Try devoting three quarters of the photograph to the sky if it is remarkable. Include whole clouds if possible. With reflections, try to include entire clouds. ‘Every cloud has its certain valid moment’ Minor White.
9) Take the time: Settle into your photograph and, if time allows, try not to rush. Haste and pressure are barriers to creativity. Equally, see next point…
10) Be alert: ‘Chance favours the prepared mind’ Ansel Adams, photographer, after Louis Pasteur.
11) Look around: If there is no landscape in front of you, look around; there may be one at your feet.
12) Balance up: Study the shadow areas and how dense they might be. A deep black ‘nothingness’ can dominate a photograph as much as unwanted highlights. Find a balance. Squinting at the scene is a good way to evaluate brightness range.
13) Look for shapes and patterns, graphics and the abstract. Big views are difficult, but try to make them coherent. Look for lead lines and an anchor to draw the eye into the image.
14) Use the elements (light): A photographer must be acutely aware of the nature and quality of light and how the light is falling on the subject. Light is everything. Study the impact of light on a particular scene at different times of the day; late evening light just after the sun has set can produce an afterglow creating a lovely luminous light.
15) Use the elements (clouds): Cloud shadow can provide a greater sense of depth and dimension to a landscape, or conceal the impact of ugly features.
16) Use the elements (nature): Lonely trees are often used. Most photographers cannot resist them, especially with a lovely sky above. Try to include the base of the tree, and try not to cut the tops off. If you do so, try to ensure that it was intended and not because you did not notice.
17) Use the elements (wind): Think about the effect that a prevailing wind may have on your photograph ie. consider using a long shutter speed to convey a sense of movement in foliage.
18) Experiment and be daring. With digital photography today, there is no wastage from an experiment that failed.
19) Learn from others: Look at other people’s images in books, exhibitions and magazines and postcards. See what worked and what didn’t.
20) Filters: Don’t be afraid of filters. If you have an SLR, consider buying a polarizing filter and learn how it is best used. Also, a neutral density graduated filter can help to keep the subtle tones in the sky. Compact digital cameras usually have a range of built-in filters, so it is good to try them out.
21) Control your camera: Even pocket cameras today have some sophisticated functions. Learn how they work, then have the confidence to switch to manual in order to control shutter speeds. With an SLR, consider bracketing when in doubt or for experimental reasons. Cover the viewfinder of your camera for critical decision making, as stray light can enter the metering system and distort correct exposure often by as much as a stop.