Making your photos suck less: finding the right subject

Here is a fresh thought: instead of talking about gear and wetting ourselves with numbers, let’s actually talk about photography, and improving it: because the truth is, most guys with DSLRs or other fancy cameras (including myself) knows jack shit, chimp about with their gear, and add filters and huge watermarks on their photos to make themselves appear ‘pro’, boosting their self-esteem.

…I should clarify that there is nothing wrong with reviewing your shots. There is a problem, though, if you revel in your photographic mastery after each shot when you are not a master.

IMPORTANT: I am primarily offering my insights in people / ‘general’ photography for two reasons:

1.) If you are invested in a very specialised subfield of photography, you’re probably really serious and know what you are doing; unless, of course, you’re just someone with a lot of loose cash that is just trying some stuff out.

2.) Being a master in theories of visual imagery means nothing in photography unless you can train yourself to have a seeing eye first. I believe it is a good practice to not even worry about composition before you can find a subject/visual element that is worth your audience’s time and energy. It happens that people are usually the easiest to distinguish between dull and interesting to shoot.

ALSO IMPORTANT: As evidenced by my work in photography and other media, I am a sub-standard art student who, compared to my peers and working professionals,  also, knows Jack shit.

I like to think that at my level and type of photography – especially due to its nature of not having total control over things – calls for being reflexive in making the subject and composition work with one another. To be specific, I would look for a compelling subject, take about 2~5 seconds and snap the shot ‘at the right moment’ where things compositionally fall in place (more or less). It requires quick thinking, and usually does not deliver mind-blowing results because I cannot invest a lot of deliberation for each shot.

People who have been in the game for a while scan for visually compelling background element / space breaking elements, simultaneously tracking potential subjects that could bring the final piece for the composition, all the while walking to the spot that will allow the photographer to nail the shot. Furthermore, they often look for multiple elements that line up in the shot, telling a story and giving the eyes room to travel – a feat that is very difficult to accomplish when a shot has a single, predominant, subject or element.

Let’s have a look at the image below.

I personally like this picture, a lot.

Compositionally it is not the best photo, no. However, it is at least trying to tell a story. I would like to think that I am not a masterful visual story teller, but this photo is probably the best I managed till now. We see someone, sitting in front of a bar or a restaurant, in what appears to be a waitresses’ outfit, having a smoke break.

The space is also divided in a dynamic way. Although the negative space is quite boring, there are at least a few things for your eyes to travel around.

The image has a rather confined feel, but I think that it is fine that way, since the focus of the image is on ‘break’ and ‘solitude’.

A masterful photograph makes your eyes continue to revel on the image, leaving no dead end. My kind of photography, on the other hand, almost deliberately confuses the audience to make them think of what they’re supposed to see. With an interesting enough subject, (although it probably won’t be a masterpiece) I can produce some very clever shots. By clever, I mean that the audience can explore the photograph on their own and let them determine their own dead end in the shot.

With all this aside though, let’s give this thought a consideration: What constitutes an ‘interesting’ subject? What the hell does ‘interesting’ mean, any way?

To be honest, ‘interesting’ is the get-out-of-jail-free-card of the contemporary (critiquing) art world. Usually, one uses the word ‘interesting’ when they have no better way of complementing something that is not completely rubbish.

However, we can turn it around – If it isn’t total garbage, it means it’s trying to get somewhere. Therefore, there is probably something you can do to make it better.

If I am to piece my ideas together, the basic sense is, look for some cool shit, think about the framing + final image, and then shoot! Sometimes, a subject is what you make out of it. If you know why you found a photographic subject interesting and photograph-able, then you will probably have that instinctive feel of what kind of composition will really make that feature of the subject pop.

*Friendly disclaimer*
There is quite strong negativity in my posts, especially when discussing learning photography. Please do not take it personally; I quite literally do not know 99.999% of the people in the internet.

Instead, take them as an expression of the frustration: the frustration of trying to learn and improve. It is natural in mastery of any craft, and this blog is my way of venting it while trying to be constructive for myself and anyone who happens to stumble upon my humble blog.

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3 thoughts on “Making your photos suck less: finding the right subject

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