Saturday, December 10, 2005

There's nothing here to photograph

I've often heard photographers complaining that they just cannot find a subject to photograph, sometimes after going to extraordinary lengths to get to a location. In all honesty I've said it myself. But I've been thinking...

It's not what you photograph but how you photograph it that reveals the difference between a good photographer and an ordinary one. The key to being a good photographer is being able to make anything look interesting as an image. As a photographer you have to evoke emotion, communicate ideas and produce a visually exciting image no matter what the subject is.

Unlike 'art' photographers or amateurs, professional photographers have to produce saleable pictures that communicate, whether they're in the mood, able to 'see' it', inspired in front of a subject they like or once again photographing a cardboard box or a bottle (most advertising photographers tend to do an awful lot of shots of these subjects).

The point I'm striving to make is: don't ask yourself, what can I photograph, but instead ask how can I photograph any single thing around me in a way that is visually interesting and exciting? Look around you and pick anything you see and then ask yourself the question; how can I make a stunning image of this? Take a look at the photography masters. I'm pretty sure just about every subject has been photographed, often brilliantly , whether it's a cup and saucer or a burning match. The joy though is that there are thousands of ways of photographing every subject so just because Edward Weston produced an iconic black and white image of peppers does not mean you can't also create a brilliant shot of peppers.

About 10 years ago I was sitting in our apartment desperate to get out and photograph a landscape but it was raining relentlessly. I was determined to create a good image so I opened my eyes and really looked. There it was in front of me. I photographed the rain drops hitting the window pane with the building across the street forming an interesting slightly out of focus background. The shot was very well received and ended up in my portfolio for several years.

Ok, so I've made the argument that the difficulty in finding a subject to photograph is just a matter of perception. Anything can become the subject of a great image, it's just how you photograph it that makes the difference. But there is a rider.

It has always fascinated me how when you photograph something that you are emotionally involved with, that has captured your interest, this is somehow conveyed in the image. This applies to professional photographers as well, which is why they will tend to specialise in an area that they find interesting. So the rider on the initial statement above is photograph anything that you find interesting and try to communicate your own visual interest and excitement in the best way possible through the image.

Remember though that the key is not finding the subject, the key is finding the best way to photograph any subject.

Please feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Paul Indigo

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