Lately I have found myself coaching people on how to improve their photography skills and take better photos. And one of the things that I emphasize the most is that when we take a photo we need to understand what is the subject of our image to be able to convey a message about it. Sometimes the subject is very clear: a person, a building, a landscape, a dish; but other times we create images about experiences, about feelings, about moods, and then it is difficult for the viewer to understand what the photo is about. And even if it is difficult for ourselves to explain what an image that we took is about, there was a reason why we felt the need to capture it. The answer to the question "what is the subject of my image?" lies in the answer to another question: "why am I taking this photo?"
In this day and age when photography has been so democratized, I would say that the majority of people take photos to show others the experiences that they are living or the places where they go, some sort of visual journal of their lives. Other people, on the other hand, take photos in a less self-involved manner and more like witnesses of the world that surrounds them, like "a tourist in other people's realities" (Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977). But there are also people like me, photographers who get hired to take a photo of a person, a product or an idea for commercial purposes. No matter which type of photography you do, there is always a reason why you are taking an image. There is always a subject in mind.
The challenge relies on how to transmit the message to the viewer, how to make them understand what our photo is about. And for me the first step is understanding ourselves what the subject of our photo is. In my experience, this idea that might sound so obvious is not so obvious at all. Today's technology lets us take an infinite amount of photos for a very low cost which means that we end up clicking away every time that we want to capture something. Amateurs and professionals alike, with the "think less, shoot more" strategy we take a massive amount of images in the hope to be able to rescue at least a few good ones. And even if admittedly there are some instances when there is no time to think for too long because time is precious, most of the times stopping for a second to think about why we are taking an image translates into a better photo.
Do you want to improve your photography? Stop what you are doing and look around. Do you see any photos? Are you able to tell what the subject is? Now do this with your own photos. Is the subject as clear as you thought it would be when you took them?
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