Photography Tip: Ease Discovery of The Subject in Our Picture

There’s one thing that I learned from doing photography as a hobby: make it easy for the audience to discover the subject in our picture. It is like saying “Hey man, you gotta look here”, to our picture’s audience. But it’s not us who says that. It’s our picture.

But why is this important? Why do we bother? Aren’t our audience intelligent primates which evolved 300.000 years ago? Can’t they figure it out themselves in every picture we take? Also, isn’t photography an artistic expression that requires a master’s degree to understand?

A Form of Visual Communication

To me, photography is also a form of visual communication. One of the most critical factor in any forms of communication is clarity — achieved when the audience immediately understand the message.

As it seems to me, the importance of clarity is also true in photography. In photography, however, it has a different twist: the message is the picture’s subject.

When our audience spend less effort to discover the subject of our pictures, it means they have less mental load. Less mental load they have, equals to them feeling delighted. It’s about that Noice feeling they get.

The argument is mostly applicable if you shoot categories I typically shoot: travel, landscape, urban, and lifestyle. In the categories I mentioned, it is good to include a context for the message: the location, the feeling, the mood, the time of day, the situation, and what the subject does.

The message and the context

When our picture is not composed properly, however, the context can distract our audience — instead of helping them understand what we’re trying to communicate.

For a lack of a better word, the key here is composition. The “composition” here is not just “rule of thirds” — it’s more than that. I just don’t know a better word for it, so please bear with me.

To achieve clarity, I identified four things that we need to be aware of, or utilise, when composing our pictures. They are Focus, Light/Brightness, Color, and Spatial Composition.

Focus

In a nutshell: make our subject in focus, and the rest not in focus.

This is great especially for human subjects, or portraits. As the cherry on top, it is very easy to pull off, too — provided we have the right tools or know the right technique. Sometimes, with the right tool, we can make the area in focus (depth of field) really thin like pictures above.

However, since it is relatively easy to use shallow depth of field without thinking, it is also very easy to misuse it. I still overdo it sometimes, too — just shoot wide open. Then, boom! Look! I’m a pro!

Nope. There are times when we want to have more of the context in focus. It really depends on what we’re trying to convey.

Light/Brightness

In a nutshell: Make the subject is relatively bright or dark, compared to its surroundings or the rest of the scene, to achieve more contrast. The pictures I put here are the extreme examples of that: silhouettes.

I wish there were fewer birds on top of the church

This is typically achievable during early mornings or late afternoons, when the sun is at a steep angle. Or maybe if we’re shooting indoors and there’s a window light available.

This can be quite hard to pull off because it is environmentally dependent. During post processing, however, we can actually control it. I usually do a selective adjustment (using brush or gradient) to brighten or darken the subject.

Color

In a nutshell: Make the subject having a different or contrasting color, compared to the rest of the scene. Like the Light/Brightness, this is done to achieve contrast.

Black catto sleeping on a light orange stone.

This is also dependent on the things and environment we want to shoot. However, we can easily control color in post-production using tools like Lightroom or Photoshop. I am currently using a mild orange-teal color palette on my pictures to pull this off.

Spatial Composition

In a nutshell: This is done by placing the subjects in the scene based on other objects or shapes in the scene. The other objects can be simple lines, circles, or more complex objects, like… um… a corgi.

There are many techniques that you can utilise. I mainly use the Rule of Thirds, the Symmetry, the Leading Lines, and the Frame in Frame. These have worked well.

Symmetry

The Symmetry is tough to pull off, since (1) we need to find the symmetrical scene, and (2) we really need to be aware where our camera is when shooting the scene. Although we can correct the geometry later in post-production, it’s always good to have a great symmetrical starting point.

The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds technique is discussed everywhere in the photography world — just google it for the details. It is powerful because, I think, our eyes naturally rest in the third left and right part of a picture the first time we see it.

However, I have a personal tip regarding The Rule of Thirds is: Give a negative, or empty, space for a breathing room and to provide context. This works really well for travel photos to my experience.

Frame in Frame

I love the Frame-in-Frame technique, because it trains my eyes to see frames. Also, the resulting picture is usually very pleasing to see! It directs the eyes of the audience immediately to objects inside a frame. Noice.

Leading Lines

Like the Frame-in-Frame, what it does is helping the eyes of our audience to the main subject of our picture. Leading lines are everywhere, and yet it requires us to pay attention to see it. We need to be aware of its existence in the scene we want to shoot to utilise it.

Wrap-up

To summarise: Photography is a form of communication, therefore clarity is important. To achieve clarity in our pictures, we need to utilise four things in our composition: Spatial, Color, Light/Brightness, and Focus. And yes, we can combine them all!

All in all, I hope what I just shared is useful for you. If you feel that way, feel free to put a comment below or hit me up on my instagram.

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