In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular . . . sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice. - Ansel Adams
Number three on my list to better motorcycle pictures is ask yourself, “What is my subject?” I know it would seem if we were taking a picture we would know what our subject was but the truth is we often don’t. If you don’t have a clear answer to “What is the subject of this photo?” chances are you’re not going to get a very interesting picture. It’s not so much we don’t know what we’re taking a picture of, as it is we don’t think about how best to focus attention on it. The subject of the photo gets lost in all the clutter. So every time you push that shutter button ask yourself, what is it I’m taking a picture of and how can I best frame it or position it to make it become the focal point of the photo.
Here is an example of a photo I took at Daytona Bike Week that has a very clear subject.
Even though there is a lot going on in this photo the girl’s eyes are clearly the subject of the photo. I did two things to enhance this and draw attention to her eyes. First I over saturated the colors of everything else in the photo but her eyes, giving a clear contrast in the photo between her eyes and everything else. (We’ll talk more later about how to focus attention with post processing techniques in later posts.) Before I did this her eyes kind of got lost in all the detail. Secondly I lined her up on one of the Rule of Thirds line which immediately draws your eyes to her.
Remember the best photos always have one subject and the more specific you can be about what you’re taking a picture of the better the photo. For instance just saying I’m going to take a picture of this bike is probably not going to result in a great photo. Yes, you identified one subject, but you need to be more specific. What about the bike made you want to take a picture of it? When you can get very specific about what your subject is is when you can get the emotion as well.
It’s very much like writing. For example: “The dog went into its dog house.” Very simple sentence that focuses on one thing, the dog. But there’s not much emotion in that sentence. So how do we give it emotion? By being more specific. ”The proud English Bull dog strutted into its emerald red dog house.” It’s still about one thing the dog, but there’s a feeling with the last sentence that wasn’t there with the first just by being more specific. When you can be more specific about what it is you’re trying to take a picture of the more detail oriented your thinking becomes. You start thinking about what would be the best angle to capture the subject, where should I place it in the photo, how should I position myself to get the best lighting etc.. When I say be more specific about your subject, what I’m really saying is think about the emotion you want to convey. You can see in the sentence about the dog I really wanted to convey the emotion of royalty and it’s reflected in my use of words like; pride, strutted and emerald red. That same principle applies to photos as well. When you start thinking about your subject and what emotion you want to convey you also start thinking about the context of your subject in more detail. When you do that you know you’re on your way to a great photo.
Also when I say the subject must be singular I’m not saying that every photo can have only one thing in it. What I am saying is that the “subject” must be singular, and that could mean many things would need to be in the photo, but they are all working together to get across what the photo is about or the feeling it is trying to convey.
Here is a photo I took at Bikes, Blues and BBQ in Fayetteville Arkansas with no clear subject as the one above. The subject really is the emotion it conveys by all the elements of the photo working together; the people strolling down the sidewalk, the bikes parked in front of the club, the people sitting on the curb, the lighting. All of it works together to convey one subject—a relaxing evening at Bikes, Blues and BBQ. Everything in the photo is relaxed and it becomes the subject of the photo. Now if I were to have had a sports bike screaming through the foreground of this photo the subject would have been different and all the elements would not have worked toward a relaxing evening.
Photos can also be about things like color and texture. Here’s a photo with color as its subject.
Let me know your thoughts on this subject.
By Tim Wemple © 2010
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