Every good image should have a theme of some kind. It should hone in on one particular subject, and it should make a statement about that subject in a meaningful way. Sadly, most amateur photography remains unfocused, too busy, and it often skips from one subject to the next. When an image lacks a focus, it falls flat on your eyes and has no emotional impact. Do you feel like your photography lacks a central theme? Here’s what I do when need to focus.
I think of one word. That’s it, one word. If my image doesn’t make me think of that word, I haven’t done my job right. I keep thinking of ways to capture the same image so it reminds me of that word. I might even abandon my current subject and switch to another until I capture the theme I want.
Think of words that stand for emotions or concepts
O.K. Maybe it isn’t as simple as that. Some words should never be used to describe a photo. “Chair” is one of them. There are a lot of photos of chairs, but there’s nothing impressive about an image that reminds you of one. The only words that really count are words that convey emotions or concepts. What feeling does your image bring out? What’s the word for that feeling? Does your image make a bigger point? What’s the word for it?
I can’t even begin to list all of the words you could think of, but I’ll try...
Amazement, belittlement, craziness, destruction, elegance, fright, growth, hilarity, insecurity, joy, kinship, laziness, morality, newness, opulence, popularity, quizzicality, righteousness, sorrow, terrifying, uniqueness, virtuosity, worldliness, xenophobia, yummy, zippy
That’s a word starting with every letter in the alphabet, and there’s plenty more where those came from. As an exercise, why not try to make one image that captures each of these? You don’t have to use my words. Come up with your own, one for each letter of the alphabet.
Look at the work of professionals and record the first word that comes to your head
I like to call this the process reverse engineering a photograph. Professionals know how to make an impact. They might not be consciously thinking of a word, but each image they present in their portfolio absolutely must convey an emotion or concept. Can you think of the one word for each of these images?
This image reminds me of the word “superhuman.” Michael Jordan is perfectly composed, jumping higher in the air than I’ve ever seen anyone jump. He looks like he’s enjoying a moment that would scare the living daylights out of most mortal men.
The word “ominousness” comes to my mind when I look at this classic image. The clouds are building up over the hill, and it looks like something big is about to happen. The waves on the water and the blurry trees also suggest that it’s windy, adding more to the sense of danger.
How can you take images that bring a single word to mind?
Isolate your subject and make it the focus of your image. Notice how both of these images do that. Nobody else is trying to steal the stage from Michael Jordan. He takes precedence. Everyone is still there, but they’re so tiny that they only play a supporting role.
The same is true in the Golden Gate Headlands image. Our attention is drawn to the single billowing cloud in the horizon. Everything points to it, and there are no other clouds taking our focus away from it. This image was framed to make the cloud stand out from everything else, and that’s what makes us think of a single word.
I am not saying you can’t have more than one subject in an image if you want it to convey a single word. In that case, your image needs to be about the interplay and dynamic created between those two subjects. “Envy” is the classic example. That word comes to mind when you see the image to the right.
Create A Singular Focus
There’s another way to give your images a singular focus. When you’re working with people and taking portraits, tell your subject how you want him or her to feel. Say things like, “I want you to act like you’ve just opened a Christmas gift you love.” Be specific, and you’ll get some very specific emotions in return.
When you think of a single word, your images will always be focused, and they’ll always convey a meaning that makes a real impact. So get out there, think of some words, and get started. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?