Five steps for exceptional photos |

Five steps for exceptional photos


This is the second in a four-part series about taking extraordinary photographs. The series will continue through January.

Want to share one of your exceptional photos? Visit for information on how to do so.

Practicing these five steps does not guarantee you’ll make exceptional photographs every time, but it will increase your chances to be in position when that extraordinary moment happens.

1. Research your subject and location. Study the available lighting, both natural and artificial. Study the best position or different angles and time of day. Get in rhythm with the place and the activities of the event you are about to engage with. Become a part of the experience and live it.

2. Set your position. Consider your options: Will you photograph from above, below, to the side or in an obscure, difficult position to accentuate the subject? Double check to be certain it’s the best position possible. Even turn the opposite direction, 360 degrees, to ensure you don’t miss something equally important. Consider lighting challenges and assure which part of the photograph you would prefer to be in the shadows, mid-range of light or fill light and highlights.

3. Compose your photograph to create interest and focus on the subject. Look through your viewfinder and examine every detail top to bottom, side to side and diagonally, from each corner to its opposite. Frame the subject to create depth or dimension to the photograph. Will you place the subject in the upper right; lower left; upper left; lower right; up-and-down the vertical center line; or side-to-side on the horizontal center line of the frame?

4. Set the exposure. This may not be necessary with phones or tablets, but most definitely is if you are photographing in manual mode with your DSLR. This is when you discern which settings are best for making the photograph of the scene before you. Start with your white balance; move to ISO (measures the light sensitivity of the image sensor developed by the International for Standardization Organization); adjust your aperture setting by opening fully to the lowest value and closing it to the smallest value; and adjust your shutter speed to capture the image. Understand the higher the ISO, the greater the chance the image will be grainy instead of sharp.

The wonder of today’s digital world is all these complex features have been engineered into phones and tablets, making it as simple as pointing and shooting.

5. With a phone or tablet, it’s as easy as using these basic steps while you shoot on the fly wherever you happen to find yourself. With a DSLR, you can do the same in automatic mode. Shooting in manual mode, set your tripod up or brace your camera to minimize shake to ensure a sharp in-focus result. Then wait for the drama and action to unfold before you. Be selective about the photographs you make.

Practice these steps consistently when photographing, and your results will improve dramatically. Happy photographing!

Robert Castellino is the author of the photo book “Colorado: Life and Light on the Land.” It’s available locally at Book Train, in Aspen at Explorer Booksellers and at The Bookworm of Edwards. Learn more at

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