I am often asked what makes the perfect picture. It’s not just one thing. Several factors work together to create the perfect picture. These elements are the Formula for the Perfect Picture.

formula for the perfect picture

Full Disclaimer: I am going to do something  I never do. I’m going to share some of my “bad” images. I am a firm believer in learning from your mistakes and if you can learn from mine, you’ll be much wiser.

Lighting & Exposure

Lighting is the first thing  I take into consideration during a session. If it’s too bright out, I find shade. If it’s too dark, I look for the light, even if that means moving my client  to catch it. Once I find the light, I look at my aperture. Do I need to shoot wide open to let more light in? Or am I ok hanging around f/ 2.5 or f/ 3? These things are going through my mind in a matter of seconds. When working with a moving child, you have to be quick!

Let’s take a look at the progression of finding the lighting comfort zone.

formula for the perfect picture

These were all shot at a f/ 2.5. We were in partial sun with some shade. That first picture? Oof! Totally blown out. When I see that pop up on the screen, I look at my histogram and check my meter. I definitely need to move down a few stops. With just a few flicks of the dial, I shoot again and it’s still a little blown. You know what to do! Move down a few more. Ahh perfection! Since my subject is seated and won’t be moving much, I keep my settings as they are and shoot away!

When outside in full sun, it’s best to start at an f/ stop at around f/ 2.5 or f/ 3. From there, use your light meter to adjust. If it’s really bright, I like to underexpose especially if the subject is wearing clothing that shows a lot of skin. I don’t want to blow their skin tones out. When I underexpose, I then rely on some post-processing to brighten it up.


Another thing that I am constantly checking is my composition. True, I can fix that in post-processing but why not get it right in camera? I look out for limb chops, rule of thirds, and  leading lines.

picture perfect composition

I had to get a little creative with the above picture. This little guy didn’t want to let his mom go but I loved how the light was hitting his eyes. Instead of giving up and waiting for him to warm up to get the shot, I took advantage of the background and applied the rule of thirds {which helped crop mom out!}.


Focus is something that a lot of photographers struggle with. Everyone wants a sharp, crisp photo, but we don’t always achieve it. One thing that I have found is that your LCD can lie. You may flip through your pictures and think they are in focus but when you get home and upload them to your computer, you find out they’re a bit soft. Here’s my rule: When you’re looking on the LCD,  zoom in on the eyes. If the eyes are sharp and in focus, you are good to go!

There are a couple of reasons why your pictures aren’t in focus.

formula for the perfect picture

The obvious reason would be your focal point. Clearly, I wasn’t focusing on the couple. Here’s a tip for shooting groups of people. Make sure your f/ stop matches the number of people in your photo. Have a group of 3? Shoot with at least an f/ 3.

Another reason why your picture isn’t crisp is your shutter speed. If your picture is blurry, you need to use a faster shutter speed.

formula for a perfect picture

This would have be an adorable shot if I used a quicker shutter speed! The photo above was a shutter speed of 1/40. Way too slow! When shooting a moving target like a child, I should have at least been at 1/125 or faster. If your subject is moving really fast, like a car or you’re trying to freeze the motion {like with water}, start high at a shutter speed of 1/1250.


I am a firm believer in nailing the shot in camera and not relying on post-processing to “fix” your mistakes. Post-processing should be for enhancements. Also, if you nail the shot, your post-processing time will be quicker! You will have less to do.

formula for the perfect picture

Since I nailed my exposure, white balance, and focus in camera, I just applied a few minor fixes to make my image pop! By simply upping the exposure and bumping your contrast, you can really make your image stand out without looking overdone.

Your challenge this week is to pick what you struggle with and work on it. If you aren’t getting consistently sharp images, focus on your focus. Are you blowing your images all the time? Work on lighting and exposure. Think of lighting, composition, focus, and post-processing as puzzle pieces. When you can make them fit together, you have the formula for the perfect picture.

Ready! Set! Go!

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