Everyone knows that determination and perseverance are keys to success. I’ve always believed that stubborn people also possess these positive qualities. This Friday’s post is all about working the subject. You find a particular landscape, a flower or plant, a person, or an animal that you like and you shoot it a lot. You try to find different compositions, angles and lighting, you keep plugging away until you think you’re being repetitive, you fire off a few more shots just to make sure, before you finally give up.
WHY WORK THE SUBJECT
The advantages of working the subject are few but important:
- This is in my opinion the most important reason to work the subject. “Working it” is a key part of obtaining images that succeed in expressing what you want to express about your subjects. It often happens that you only realize what the picture should express after you come home and review the shoot on a computer screen.
* Many teachers urge you to plan what you want from the shoot ahead of time. That’s good advice in some circumstances, but not all the time. Making meaning from images retroactively is at least as genuine as what is achieved by planning ahead. There are things going on in your mind while you’re busy shooting, subconscious things. If you don’t stay with the subject and work it, then you have far less chance to find out what that was.
- The more you work the subject, the more different compositions will occur to you. You will see the “picture within the picture”, for example. This is when all of a sudden you realize the wider view contains within it a composition that demands a tighter crop. You zoom in or change lenses to get a longer focal length, and though you may not have moved the camera the resulting picture looks way different than your first image.
- The longer you shoot, the more likely it is that light will change and give you a totally different look. In rapidly changing light, going as fast as you can, this can be exciting and frustrating at the same time.
- The longer you’re there the more you tend to move around. Changing position, both by walking and by varying camera height, is what working the subject really looks like. If you set up in one spot and just shoot in different directions or with different focal lengths, you’re not really working the subject.
- You may find different subjects in the same area, or in the case of moving subjects like animals or people, they may find you. For instance in nature photography, shooting macro basically involves finding an area with at least one subject you’re interested in, then staying there and (inevitably) finding other subjects to shoot. More than once I’ve been shooting architecture in a city and drawn the attention of (or had my attention distracted by) an interesting looking person or two.
HOW TO WORK THE SUBJECT
I mentioned above that moving around, finding different and unique compositions, is what working the subject looks like. But most important is your approach and attitude. Actively observe everything going on around you. While you’re doing that, relax and take your time. That doesn’t mean you shoot slow; it means you’re patient. Focus on the present and keep distractions (such as plans to hit other locations that day) out of mind while you shoot.
Of course there are times you’ll need to leave a location before you’re really done so as to get to a certain spot when the light is good. And you don’t want to shoot too long, going over ground you’ve already covered. It’s always a difficult push-pull, at least for me. A lot will depend on whether or not you will be able to return to the area.
Which brings me to something you should always remember. Working the subject doesn’t always need to happen on a single shoot. Returning to a subject or location, perhaps many times, is a great way to work a subject. Go exploring near home, especially for places and subjects other photographers overlook. Find a few areas you really like and return to them often, trying for a variety of seasons and lighting conditions.
That’s it for today. We could certainly work the subject of working the subject some more. And perhaps you’d like to, in the comments below. Have a great weekend!