Photography Game: Try to describe a subject without photographing it :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photography Game: Try to describe a subject without photographing it

by David Peterson 1 comment

Do you see the possibilities before you leave the house? Having a clear vision of what you’re about to photograph is just as important as actually photographing your subject. So I suggest we all play a game. What’s the premise, you ask? Before we leave the house to take photos, we’re going to write down a description of the subject we plan on shooting.

If you had to describe the subject in the photograph above, what would you say? What are the most important points to address? It doesn’t really matter where you start, just as long as you have a few ideas. I can already tell from the photo that our subject is fairly monochromatic. There are a few gradations here and there, but it’s almost as if we’re looking at a silhouette.

What else stands out?

  • Subject is seen from up close, and nothing but the dandelions takes up the frame.
  • We’re looking at more than one dandelion. This image is the pattern formed from all of them.
  • The image branches out from a central point on the bottom. There’s a focal point near the bottom right third of the frame.
  • Lighting appears to be fairly flat and uniform. There aren’t any shadows.

What are the big things to consider?

It’s good to have a few starting points to get the creative juices flowing. The following tend to be the most important when you’re starting to describe a subject.

  • Is your subject the only important thing in the frame? Some pictures give equal importance to two completely different subjects. Others give slightly more importance to one subject while relegating the second subject to a supporting role. It’s a good idea to know which subject will play which role before you go out and shoot.
  • How is your subject lit? Is the lighting coming from the sides, the front, the back, both sides at once, or is it some combination of each? This helps you decide which features you want to bring out.
  • Are there any features you really want to emphasize? If you’re photographing a person’s face, you might want to draw emphasis to the eyes. If you’re photographing a flower from close up, you might want to emphasize the ladybug resting on one of its petals. It’s good to know this in advance so you can fine-tune your search.
  • How detailed do you want your subject to be? Do you want to see the water droplets on a flower with perfect accuracy, or are you willing to sacrifice some detail in one area for detail in another? We might say the photo above isn’t that detailed because we can only see an outline of the dandelions, and we’ve got a fairly limited range of colors.

Once you get a few ideas going, others start to follow. If you know, for example, that you’re planning on shooting a cake from close up, you’ll have a whole new set of other things to consider. How are you going to get the shadows just right so they show the texture of the frosting? Where do you plan to focus? Will you pick the statue of the bride and groom, or will you go for something a little less conventional?

As the ideas start coming to your mind, write them down. Capture every little detail you can before you forget, and if one idea leads to another question, look it up before you leave the house. I’ll tell you from experience that it’s not easy to photograph the texture of a wedding cake. I had to read a bunch of articles written by food photographers to figure it out.

Remember that these are only suggestions. You don’t have to answer any of them as long as the ideas are flowing. You just need a place to start.

Give this a try and let me know if it’s helped you figure out exactly what you need to do to get the shot. I know it’s certainly helped me organize my thoughts.

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  1. Ann Allcock says:

    I would love to plan a photograph before I go out - but most of my going out to photograph is going into Kruger Park (I live about 15 minutes from one of the entry gates). I guess the only planning I can do is setting the camera for the light and keep resetting as the day progresses and they key word to remember is patience - sitting at one spot for a long time alows the animals to relax a bit and can give amazing photo opportunities as opposed to some people that "see a lion" take the picture to prove it and drive on all in a matter of minutes,

    It is difficult to even use the same lens all the time as wild animals are not the most co-operative subjects.

    Planning for the day does involve remembering to take my bean bag for resting the camera on to try and minimise camera shake due to the car engine. Sometimes it is not advisable to turn off the engine as a rapid retreat from eg an angry elephant may be necessary.

    Post processing - I look around the photograph carefully as when for example photographing a troop of baboons - one small section of the photograph can highlight some very interesting behaviour.


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