Subject, how it applies to your inspiration, and how to look for it

Subject, how it applies to your inspiration, and how to look for it

What does it mean to look for a subject?

 How can I start my search? Where do I look? These are all things that go through every photographers head at some point in their career. It is something I struggled with for quite awhile. While many think that it is the important part of a photography this is simply not true. Through out my journey of finding my style and becoming a photographer I found this out through trial and error, conversations with colleagues, and studying the greats. In this post there may be several challenging thoughts that one has to think about before taking the step toward becoming a better photographer. All in all, subject however important it may seem there is a balance that you must maintain with the rest of the information and image.

Photography with an objective eye

Many times when I go to the field looking for a certain photo I get overwhelmed and scatterbrained looking for it. As I’m sure that many of you when looking for a certain photo or idea may feel the same at times. What settings do I use? How do I frame the image? Where do I even start looking for what I want? Going to the field with a plan is the first step. If you first identify what you are looking for the lens becomes more focused and the search narrows. Imagine going to an unfamiliar grocery store without a list. At first you would be overwhelmed and maybe a bit lost. Now picture you had a list, the store becomes more manageable and what you’re looking for start to become easier to focus on.

This concept is how I began to grasp the idea of a photoshoot plan and started to revolutionize my game.

In the grand scheme of things a plan is vital but an objective eye is its only equal. In the same example if you keep your head down in the store only looking for the items (photos) you are planning on you will inevitably miss something that you want or something that would help tie everything together. In later posts and videos I will discuss story and how it relates, but its not as big a factor as this. What is an objective eye? In my experience it is something that is difficult to attain of you do not practice or build a habit of. An objective eye is the idea of being indiscriminate about your subject. For example going to the forest and only taking pictures of trees, that would be a discriminative eye, because there is more to forests than trees.

Trophy hunting

Keeping your eyes focused on one image or set of images. This will lead to almost certain abject failure. This is learned only from experience and doing it yourself, however I intend to teach you how to skip it and keep you from wasting hours upon hours of searching and editing. From experience keeping an open mind and open eyes will help alleviate this. In the previous section we spoke about objective eyes and what they do. Trophy hunting is what becomes of your trip if your objective eye does not prevail. Narrowing your vision and focusing on one particular subject may cause the ordinary to remain ordinary. Overlooking the ordinary and only shooting the extraordinary the ordinary will become extra-ordinary. Nature and bustling human life is full of seemingly un-exciting benign subjects, however hidden in every mountain is a gem.

It is entirely ok to look for and actively search for your subject but do not become hyper-focused. Looking through your photograph at the viewers and seeing the subject you need to ask yourself,  “how does this make me feel?”. Shooting a picture of a mountain is probably one of the most exciting shoots I’ve been on. However in order to feel what I felt on that mountain I had to take a step back and take the whole image into consideration. If I just pointed and took the photo and called it a day my viewers would have missed every bit of emotion and awe I felt standing at the summit of Jungfraujoch. In the moment I just wanted to take a million pictures and hope one came out decent, nonetheless i stopped felt the moment and took my whole scene into consideration.


What is visualization? According to Ansel Adams, visualization is ” the conscious process of projection the final photographic image in the mind before taking the first steps in actually taking the photograph” (The Negative,1981). In a phrase its planning your shot. With your new found objective eye, you may embark on the path to planning your shoots. I have pent months breaking down and refining my process to planning and I’d like to share it with you.

It all started with a question, “how do you keep from getting caught up in all the technical aspects of a shoot?”

Step 1: identify the emotion or idea you want to convey in your work.   (how do you want your viewers to feel?)

Step 2: Brainstorm subjects to convey these emotion.                                       (what makes you feel like that?) if you have an idea for emotion you will probably have a pretty good idea on what will create those emotions

Step 3: Visualize your photo                                                                                     (keep in mind that it may be different than you first expect so come up with many different options and visualizations)

Step 4: Sketch out your idea and write down your ideas.                                   (it may help to scout your location first)

Step 5: Figure out general technical aspects                                                        (like what lens should I use? what time of day? what other equipment)

Step 6: Get specific on certain points.                                                                    (the focus being on the actual photo itself and not the camera) 

Step 7: Experiment with your equipment to find the ideal settings for your visualization

Step 8: Take the picture! 

Looking and seeing are two different things. What matters is the relationship with the subject. – Christophe Agou 

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