It's a terrible thing when you discover only too late that your photographs fall well short of expectations. What was once a common occurrence with film cameras should not happen to you with modern digital cameras. The key appeal of digital over film – free and instant development – is more than just a convenience feature, it’s a total revolution in quality control!
Taken to an extreme, the rule is simple: any photograph you could take again, you should check. Then repeat the photograph as needed.
When you check on your results, look for a few things:
First, is this the picture you wanted to take? Did the composition turn out different than expected? Feel free to experiment and try again, there are no hard rules here, good composition is what floats your boat. We’ll cover some popular arrangements later.
Second, is the image sharp where it needs to be? The previous article discussed how to improve focus with your camera, and you should want to know how you’re doing in practice. This isn’t easy to do on a small screen, and it’s ok if slight errors slip by unnoticed. Poorly-focused images should simply be re-taken when possible.
Finally, decide if the image brightness looks right in general. Is it too bright or too dark? If the image is grossly incorrect then the camera may simply be in the wrong mode accidentally. Don’t sweat small variations, if it’s not obvious then it’s fine.
Note that even with perfect focus your images will not be sharp if there isn’t enough light. A simple rule of thumb is this: if you couldn’t comfortably read a book in your picture’s light then there probably isn’t enough. We’ll cover ways out of this situation in other articles, the key being to look for ways to get more light.
For human subjects, you can help the camera correct brightness errors by framing differently or changing your angle on the subject. If you can eliminate objects that are too bright or too dark, and make sure there are no sources of light inside the frame (e.g. the Sun and its reflections), then you’ll make the exposure computer’s job much easier.
It’s clear that testing your results early in the field challenges you to improve upon them. Varied issues call for varied remedies, and the full array is dizzyingly complex. The simple approach is to identify each time what challenges most your camera’s capabilities and to remove that factor one way or another. The reward of this process is better images.
The important first step is to take a few seconds to review them before the opportunity to take them again is gone forever.