Archived: A Photographer’s Brain

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We make it look easy. But before we click the shutter, there are – what seems like – a million things running through our minds. Usually, all at once.

We’re photographers. And though we do, just click the shutter to freeze a moment in time, there are a ton of technical, environmental, and human elements going through our minds to make a photo work. 

In no particular order, here’s what we’re thinking about when we’re out on session photographing our clients. 

The Sun

This wholly beast of Mother Nature is a natural light photographer’s best friend and worst enemy. We’re constantly looking at where the sun is positioned. We’re looking up to the sky and placing our clients accordingly. We’re trying to keep it out of the frame and making sure it’s not too harsh, but “glowy” enough so we can get that dreamy sunset effect. Speaking of sunsets, we’re analyzing the clock down to the minute, just to make sure we can get ample golden hour photos. That one hour before sunset is prime time! And when there is no sun, there’s usually clouds, or worse yet – overcast. On these days, we’re throwing out all the rules and trying to find the best light. And sometimes that means facing the sun. 


Also known as layout, it makes our work an art. We’re on the ground, maybe on a step stool, or even peeking through a tree branch to add an extra layer of uniqueness (aka depth of field). We’re thinking – angle, angle, angle – moving our feet, bodies, arms, and hands. Should I shoot this horizontal or vertical? Should I shoot this up or down? We’re zooming in and zooming out. We’re following the rule of thirds or breaking it. All to add a little interest to or work. 


It’s an animal. We’re pinning on the daily for posing ideas. And then, we study them over and over again. We’ve got boards for every type of session – weddings, maternity, pets… and we refer to them often. We need inspiration and a plan before we even start our session. Honestly, sometimes we blank or run out of ideas, and it’s no wonder we do, with everything going through our brains. We’re placing toes, feet, legs, torsos, shoulders, arms, hands, chins, eyes, foreheads… all while trying to keep our clients looking natural. We’re repeating, “It feels weird, but it looks great!” to reassure our clients. And we’re trying to give the best directions we can. We’re using language like, “John, lightly place your left hand right under Kate’s right ear with your thumb in front of her ear lobe.” Yes, we try to be soooo specific. We’ve got an idea of what we’re picturing in our head and explaining it can be the tricky part. 


Here’s where it gets technical. Simultaneously, we’re thinking about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. In other words, we’re setting our depth of field, how fast our camera shutter closes, and how much light we’re letting into the camera lens. These all affect one another and the total look of a photo. We’re manually setting all of these before we click so that we can get background blur, the right exposure, and no motion blur from movement right in camera without having to heavily edit our photos later. To top it off, there’s a fourth element that we scrutinize over. It’s white balance. We’re adjusting our Kelvin scales or using our expo discs to make sure our photos aren’t too warm (orange) or too cold (blue). What it means for our clients – they’ll have perfect skin tones. We dread the orange-tinted, dark church. But we can tackle it by adjusting our white balance. On the flip side, white walls, light-colored stone paths… those are a photographer’s dream. 

Our Energy

Yes, energy. We’re making the session fun, getting our clients to laugh by poking fun at ourselves or the poses that make them feel awkward. We strive for the genuine smiles and candid laughs so we’re keeping our clients comfortable and care-free with praise. LOTS of praise. We may have just botched a photo – the settings were off – but our clients don’t know that. We’re focused on them and reassuring them that they are rocking this! If we’re introverts, we’ve got our professional extrovert hat on. If we’re extroverts, well, we’re most likely getting a lot of energy off this session. And when we snap a shot, check the back our camera’s little LCD screen, and geek out over what we’re seeing with an “OMG” or “Love IT!” you’ll know we just hit the jackpot. 


It all comes back to the sun, but before we can even start to pose our clients, set our settings, and click the shutter, one of the first things we’re thinking about is the lighting. We find the light. In fact, we’re obsessed with it. We’re looking where the sun is, how it’s shining through those tree branches, where it’s bouncing off of. It’s all about the light and natural reflectors that give our photos that bright and airy pop. We’re avoiding that harsh mid-day light, finding shade, diffusing it with treelines, and even sometimes using environmental objects to block it form our clients. 


We can make any background work, but we prefer the less distracting, neutral ones. We scope out the perfect spots and when we’re unfamiliar with the area, we’re analyzing our surroundings for the best places. We think about leading lines, framing with environmental elements, and keeping signs and trash cans out of the frame. 


And lastly, focus. We’re recomposing and toggling to get the right focus – making sure our images are sharp and crisp. Most of time we’re focusing on the client’s eye. But then there’s always that stubborn ring shot that we just can’t seem to get the focus in the right spot. 

… So it might not be a million. But for a photographer, there’s a lot going on inside our brains all at the same time while we’re working our craft. 

Did I forget any!? Comment below.  

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