Defining the Subject

As far back as I can remember I have been the kid set loose at the party with a camera. I took pictures of the fridge, the food, and the hallway. Not every photo is a work of art; yet the ones that bring me the most joy remind me of a moment or capture my imagination. When setting up a photo, no mater what it is of, there are several things that I look for in order to highlight my subject.

First, I try to find something that I am interested in taking a photo of. This may seem a little on the nose, but I tend to trust my eye; if something catches it, it tends to have good potential as a subject. This photo I took through the window of a closed down shop at the mall several years ago. The elements of the photo are in stark black and white with no color making everything pop out against the grey and black tile. The arms draw the eye from the fading darkness to the fallen torso which feels almost grotesque and comic at the same time. I personally find myself drawn to the one arm seeming to crawl away in the background. The darkness of this photo is yet another element of the way that it feels. I am left to question why the mannequin is on the ground, and why there are so many arms, but also if there is something more beyond, unseen.

            When taking the photo, it is your goal not only to frame the subject of interest, but to set the scene, choosing what is left in and what is left out and how everything aligns. Ideally, elements of the photo will draw your eye through it like a maze. You may have heard of concepts such as leading lines or rule of thirds. Leading lines are paths in your image which draw the viewers eye either through the image or to the subject. This is usually seen with roads travelling off into the distance or steppingstones on a trail. Rule of thirds is about item placement. In this photo I took of the Glacier Gardens, the umbrella is placed in the upper third of the image and the light of the ceiling draws your eye from the lower left third to the upper right corner. This in turn draws your eye back into the umbrella which guides you back towards the flowers. By creating a balance of elements this image remains engaging despite not having a single subject. In addition, the light and dark elements play off each other to draw your eye through the scene.

            In these first two examples, I did not have a lot of say in how objects were arranged in the space. I simply positioned myself to make use of their natural configuration. If on the other hand you have a movable subject, placement in relation to background elements suddenly is within your power. When placing an object, I try to look for an area that is well lit, has minimal background clutter and complements the colors of the subject. This photo of an Atlas to-go cup is lit by the window to the left of the subject. I find that sun light will give you cleaner, less yellow tones than most indoor lighting. However, when taking a photo that includes a window in it you also have to deal with the balance of light in the room and outside. In this photo you can see how the light washes out the wall and the sky is blown out white. If you were willing to merge multiple shots, you could take this twice with different exposures and combine them in photoshop. However, as a standalone shot, I made sure that the majority of the sunlight in the background was taken up by the side of the building to minimize wash out and prioritized the interior lighting.

            The subject ultimately is tied to the context in which it is placed. This means that you should both take advantage of that and where possible, look for ways to optimize it. Most of the time I take my camera and find something I want to take a picture of, and I do not get to decide what is around it. That is why paying attention to the way that elements of the environment interact with your subject will ultimately make your photography better.