It starts with the subject

When we are taking a photograph what are we thinking about in terms of the subject? We have learnt photographic skills and techniques in order that we may best express what we see in that subject, but do we use them? With the current trend for a quick “turn around” for photographs in which they are taken and then uploaded to multimedia sometimes almost immediately it is inevitable that something can be lost within the message of the image. Instagram, for example, has almost become a flipbook where we scroll through the images one after the other hitting the “heart” where we think it is appropriate. So,  it is our responsibility, as photographers, as creatives, to ensure that the viewer engages with our images.

It is an obvious statement of fact to say that it is not easy to make a photograph that has the power to stop people in their tracks. I love looking through photographs made by photographers and there are probably only a score or so images out of thousands that have made me stop and go “wow”, or have affected me to the extent that I have to take a breath before I can look again. But that doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t be trying to achieve that state of photographic excellence every time we press the shutter – indeed I believe it is something we should strive for.

Considering that we then, as, competent photographers, have learnt camera, compositional and processing techniques, where then can we apply some extra creativity and skill to try and achieve the creation of an image which people would want to stop and look at on any media.

Perhaps we should be looking at the subject of our photographs. It is this that prompted the urge to record the scene in the first place. After all, the subject is the focal point of anything we produce. The subject, of course, does not have to be a physical “thing”. It can be a shadow, a feeling or a colour, but it is what we are basing our photographic creation on.

David duChemin in his excellent new book, The Heart of the Photograph, wants photographers to ask three very important questions about the subjects of our images to gain better clarity on what it is we are trying to achieve.

• Is there a clear, single subject?
• What is it about this subject that makes you want to take the photograph?
• What are we trying to show, point out and say about the subject?

If we can supply the answers to these questions when we take the photograph, then it stands to reason that everything that a viewer needs to know about the image will be available. They will have a connection with the photograph that we have placed before them. It is this connection that will prevent the “flipbook” approach that is so prevalent these days. They will want to look at the photograph longer; they will want to explore what it is we have shown them in the image. If these three questions are answered well, and we use our skill with the camera and the techniques we have learnt then there is a good chance that we have created a photograph that people want to see – and look at more than once.


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