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  • Writer's pictureSteve Payne

Lights, Camera, Action!

A foolproof formula for great photography!


Whether you’re photographing movie stars, business moguls, the girl next door, or your family and friends you need to have a workflow to get the best results with your photography. What I am going to share with you here is time-tested by the best in the business.

I use this strategy anytime I “make” a photograph, which is a little different than taking a photograph.

To take a photograph simply point your camera at anything anytime and push the shutter button.

To “make” a photograph takes a little more thought and process. What’s the difference in the end? A much better photograph! AND, isn’t that what we all want?

This “making a photograph” doesn’t rely on special equipment or fancy cameras, lights, etc. We just need to focus on the subject at hand and take a little more time to see and do the right things.

Here’s the Foolproof Formula…

Lights, Camera, Action!

We’re all familiar with this Hollywood phrase, but have you ever thought about it when taking still photos or what it REALLY means? I think this can be the simplest and most helpful thing that you can remember, so let’s break it down.


Now to begin with we’re leaving part of it out that is used on the movie set: places. Places ask if everyone is where they should be. For this primer, I’m going to assume that you know where and what you’re going to shoot and just want to make a great photo.


On the movie set, this asks: are the lights ready for proper exposure in the camera? Is the angle flattering or set for the proper dramatic atmosphere?

Anytime I am even thinking about “making” a photograph, light is the first and foremost thing on my mind.

Do I have enough light to shoot? Is the light of good quality? If not, where can I move or how can I supplement it to make it good? One thing I can assure you is there are NO great photographs made without good light. Period.

In the average situation of taking a selfie or a photo of friends, you can easily enhance things by simply finding good, soft, and even light without hotspots on the face or shadows under the eyes. And, no one wants to stare directly into the sun for a photo.

A couple of examples would be to shoot under an awning that blocks the overhead light and just allows soft reflected light into the scene or use the light from a window that isn’t flooded with direct sun.

Developing an eye for good light takes a little time but it is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of great photography!


On the movie set, this asks: is the composition set, camera running, and ready to capture the scene?


n our world, we just need to be aware of the capabilities of our camera to capture the scene we are shooting without blurring it and with proper exposure. Not too light and not too dark. Just right!

Steady Eddie! Whether the person couldn’t hold the camera steady or the subject was in motion, a blurry photo isn’t usually a photo that we want to show anyone…Unless of course, it’s ART!

This all gets back to light. If we have enough light, most cameras will take care of this for us, but we do need to know how sensitive our camera is to light and what it takes for it to do its job well. (read the instruction book)

Now, have we made a pleasing composition with our camera position, angle, etc?

Composition is fairly easy to learn. Just spend time looking at photographs that you like of things that you like to photograph.

Something important to remember is that your eyes tend to move thru any image in a clockwise direction and go round and round as they study that image.

The upper right third of the image gets a lot of attention from that roaming eye or yours. Put something important there!


On the movie set, this commands the actors to act out their rehearsed actions and lines.

To us, it means getting some excitement going and making them smile or laugh or waiting for the batter to bat, or the couple to kiss. Or…to catch them off-guard.

A good photograph requires some life to it and capturing the fleeting moments of our lives requires timing, which takes a little practice and a lot of patience. Both cost nothing.

So keep your eyes open and if you don’t remember anything else about photography remember Lights, Camera, Action and your photographs will improve dramatically!



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