Jan 6, 2009

Basic Composition #1- Know Your Subject

Have you ever had the experience of looking back through photos from a trip and finding some that you aren't really sure where you took them or what they are of?

I hope that isn't just me.

Sometimes it is the simplest thing that escapes your brain when taking a photo... the subject. Of course, when you are standing there with a camera, your mind has already taken in the context of what is going on. What gets captured in the image however, may not really bring back the feelings or experience of where you were that inspired you to get the camera out. This is also what makes vacation slide shows so boring for people who weren't there. If the photos aren't bringing back your feelings, they are really dead to people who have no internal reference to where they were taken.

What is this a snapshot of? Bus? Cars? Fountain? Building? Did something happen here?

Kodak v530, Auto, f3.8, 1/160, no flash, iso80

Actually, I was trying to get the parking lot full of Mercedes, Porsches etc. but failed miserably.

The first thing to consider when taking intentional photos is "What is the subject?" The rest of the why, when, where and how revolve around being able to figure out what the picture is about. If the picture doesn't have a defined subject (or subjects), it becomes more difficult to comprehend. It makes less sense as a photo and more sense as abstract art. Nothing wrong with that, just know what you are going for.

After deciding what the subject really is, the fun creative part can begin... putting that subject in a context that gives it meaning and feeling.

This is a bit better... still a snapshot, but at least we have something to look at. This was in 2005, before the Smart cars were being sold in the U.S.A. It made her Mini look quite spacious.
Kodak v530, Auto, f2.8, 1/100, iso125, flash on

I will write about separating foreground, middle and background later, but in thinking about the subject, you can also be intentional about where it is in the photo, and how it relates to whatever else you put in the frame. Too many unrelated details and you just get clutter, to few details and you leave unanswered questions when someone looks at the photo.

A little thought went into the composition here, with the car in the foreground, artist renderings on the wall and engines in the background... hopefully it gives a sense of place to the subject, which is the Ferrari Enzo.

Kodak v530, Auto, f2.8, 1/60, iso125, flash on

Yes I enjoy shooting pictures of cars, especially Ferraris.

When you have the camera in your hand, it is easy to assume that what you are seeing is what the picture will be. In reality, the resulting image is a small, two-dimensional, visual-only reminder of what you were looking at. Making sure that you know what you are trying to capture is the first step to creating an image that can take you back to that place, and even let other people experience it as well.

Please note also that I am not saying to stop shooting snapshots. Sometimes they turn out great, or that is all the time you have to capture a moment. When you do have a moment to consider the shot, all the better. The practice of intentionally selecting a subject will gradually become habit and the snapshots will get better too.

don j.

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