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When asking how to choose a strong photography subject, what we’re really wanting to know is what makes one subject more interesting than another and how we can control that.
Some photography subject matter virtually yells out at us “Look at me!” It could be a person with an interesting face, a unique piece of architecture, a fleetingly beautiful cloud formation at sunset, or a brilliantly colored insect.
Other photography subject choices may not be as glaringly obvious, yet we can employ our tools and techniques as photographers to make almost anything a strong photography subject.
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The Importance of a Subject In Photography
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For the most part, art is about the subject. A lot of other choices also factor in, such as the medium of the artwork, the mood, the presentation, but having a subject is just about as basic as one could get in art.
Photographic art is no different. A strong photography subject is often the cornerstone of how we build our creative process. Interestingly, we can enhance a subject by employing all of our other tools of photography. By doing so, we can sometimes create a photography subject virtually out of nothing at all.
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Creative composition techniques can create or enhance a photography subject. Exposure adjustments to highlight or obscure light or shadow, posing, controlling depth of field for deep or shallow focus depth, motion, blur, color, and negative space can all be used to change or make subject matter.
But having a subject already there for us to work with is a generally accepted early step in choosing a strong photography subject. We’ll refer back to the above paragraph as we pick some good examples of subjects in photography.
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Photography Subjects for Beginners
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Here is your new digital camera, fully equipped with a decent lens, waiting on you for some input. Where are you going to find a strong subject for photos? Why not start at home?
If you looked twice at some things, you could easily find many photography subjects at home. It’s that looking twice bit that occasionally throws us off.
As an example, you know your dog pretty well. Take a moment to look at Astro with your photographic eye. In other words, look for a perspective that tells us about the pet. A low angle may emphasize the power or regal splendor of your furry friend. Works for cats, rats, and turtles, too.
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Employing a special lighting technique you’ve learned might bring out details of texture. Rim lighting or turning them into a silhouette can do this for you.
These ideas work for imaging your spouse or kids, also. When looking at your photography subject with an eye for imaging, try to think of what your finished image could tell a viewer about them. Turn one image into a story.
This will transform your photography subject that is already interesting to you into a source of communication concerning goals, ideas, emotions, and the like. You can change your subject into a strong subject for photos with this method.
Posing Can Make a Difference
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When looking at your family as good photography subjects, try to see them as having a story worthy of being told. Simple posing tricks can help us show them to others as a strong subject for photos.
One trick is to have the person face somewhere else besides right at the camera. Your child going to school in the morning might flash you a smile that will make your heart melt, but to others viewing the image they’re just another cute kid.
Pose that same kid so that they are on a Rule of Thirds line and gazing out to the bright distance and suddenly you are telling a story of hope and wonder and a bright future. Similar ideas can work for other people you know well. See their story and then find a way to pose and position them to tell that story.
Other Photography Subjects At Home
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Lots of us grow flowers at home. Even apartment dwellers do. The average snapshot of a flower may seem rather cliche, but a well arranged image becomes a strong subject for photos. Use of exposure tricks and selective focus can do that for us.
An exposure trick that makes a strong subject out of an ordinary one is lighting and exposing to isolate the main subject. Using a flower as our example, arrange the plant so that you can get the subject closer to the camera than to the background and carefully position the light to fall on the flower and not the background.
Side lighting, split lighting, and rim lighting are some portrait lighting techniques that will work for this. Since you will be focusing fairly close, the background may even be blurred, which further isolates the flower, making it a stronger photography subject.
Selective Focus to Isolate Subject
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Selective focus without any specific lighting tricks can create a strong photography subject from an ordinary one. Using a fast or wide open aperture, the depth of field is limited compared to smaller apertures.
Even your kit lens can be used for this if you zoom to the telephoto end of the lens’s range, move closer in to the subject, and take the camera out of full auto. Aperture Priority mode would be an automatic mode that will work, or you can adjust manually.
Using the Exposure Triangle, we can quickly determine what f-stop or aperture will work for selective focus by adjusting either shutter speed or ISO until we come out with an aperture that gives us a selective focus effect.
In the video above by Valerie Jardin, learn a few tricks of the trade to slow down and see photographically.
Composition Tools For Making Strong Photography Subjects
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The rules of composition are valuable and powerful tools for creating a strong photography subject. The methodology is to either cause balance or remove balance in order to make the composition more powerful.
Negative space is one of the more potent rules of composition for making strong photography subjects. It works similarly to how lighting tricks and selective focus effects work. It isolates the subject, giving it importance.
Examples of subjects in photography that could benefit from this treatment are architectural elements, a tree in a field, an animal or person among other objects either living or non living, a person dressed or posed differently from others in a crowd.
Some of these things may fill up space, but they become negative space by allowing the main photography subject to stand out. Thus, even a space filled with things can be negative space.
Another decisive compositional tool useful for forging strong photography subjects is the Fibonacci Sequence. Fibonacci spirals and number progressions are powerful mathematical concepts describing a beautiful phenomenon in the natural world that is also used in man made constructs.
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This rule of composition creates balance and harmony, lending vitality and importance to aspects of the image and also to the overall composition at the same time. That’s a pretty neat trick.
Using photography subjects at home, we can organize a still life that follows the spiral of the Fibonacci Sequence. It doesn’t take a lot of items, a bowl of various fruits do the trick. Don’t just dump out the fruits hoping they fall into place, arrange them with the spiral in your mind’s eye.
High Key and Low Key
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High and low key effects aren’t as much an exposure effect as they are a contrast effect. Increasing or decreasing contrast can transform the photo interest into a strong photography subject.
The concept of chiaroscuro is what is employed here. If we increase chiaroscuro, we make low key images. The photography subject matter could be in the dark or shadow side or in the lighter side. The contrast makes them stand out.
High key pictures are lower contrast. These images tend to exhibit as more light, free, and airy, while low key are often somber or with an air of seriousness. Both methods work marvelously for turning your friend, cat, car, or bowl of fruit into a strong photography subject.
Get a detailed chiaroscuro lighting tutorial in the video above by Lencarta.
Take It Out of Your Home
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The reason for engaging in these exercises is to learn the concepts and practice them so we can take them with us anywhere. Use them on anything to convert them into a strong photography subject.
If it works in your home on a house plant, house cat, or housemate, the techniques and ideas will work in the Andes, the Black Forest, the Colosseum, or in Time Square on a fashion model, advertising product, rare animal, or wedding ceremony.
Strong subjects for photos are already there, waiting to put into a displayed image for others to see and appreciate. It takes an artist to see a moving, emotionally powerful story in everyday people, places, or things.
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This is what is called by some art or photography teachers as “learning to see.” It’s more accurately described as learning to appreciate the potential of what is in front of you.
The tools you have go far beyond the camera, lens, and accessories you own. It covers more than learning and mastering your post processing programs or materials you use for printing or distributing such as canvas, paper, TIFFs or JPEGs.
More than what you have, it’s what you know and what you do. Take a good look at your home, your friends, nearby areas or events. You’ll like what you see as you turn something ordinary into a strong photography subject.