Work Your Subject

Work Your Subject

Seasoned photographers develop a couple useful habits when they’re out in the field. Here are two things pros do when searching for an interesting photograph.

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If you’ve ever watched photographers at work, you’ve probably noticed that they all have a few habits in common. Initially, you’ll see the photographer with his camera dangling around his neck. He’s just walking around, looking at things. It seems a lot like he’s just out for a leisurely stroll, most of the time. Then, all of a sudden, he’ll stop and start taking photographs. Usually, there will be one thing that the photographer is focused on, and he’ll move all around this thing. Maybe he’ll even crouch down or lay flat on his stomach to take a few photographs of whatever caught his eye.

I do this sort of thing when I’m out in the field, and I’ve seen many other photographers do it. That time that we spend simply walking around? That’s time spent observing. And it’s one of the most important things that we can do because that observation is how we learn about our surroundings and how we become in tune with them so that we can spot those interesting photographs.

Among new photographers, there is often a temptation to cut this exploratory time short. It’s so exciting to be out and taking photographs that there’s a natural urge to rush to the location and start pressing that shutter button. But this isn’t a process to be rushed. Of course, we may only have a limited amount of time on a given day, but whatever time you do have, don’t hesitate to use it just immersing yourself in the scenery.

And that leads me to the second habit, which when the photographer stops wandering around and starts taking dozens of photographs. When photographers do this, it’s because they’re extracting absolutely everything they can from whatever interesting thing they’ve just found. This is a wonderful way to go about creating artwork. Don’t just take a handful of photos. Instead, really work your subject material hard. We’re not limited by rolls of film anymore, so you can take as many images as you can possibly think to create. Try lots of different compositions, perspectives and camera settings. Get outside your comfort zone to experiment with angles and compositions you wouldn’t normally think to try.

Who knows? These images could turn into a small series—and you’ll almost certainly have at least one that can become a single work of art. That’s the primary reason why seasoned photographers take so many photographs when something finally captures their attention. Because they want to get as much as they possibly can from it. They understand that when you’ve taken enough images, the likelihood that one of them will be a showstopper increases.

And they also understand that in taking all these photographs, and in experimenting with different angles and settings, they come to know the subject even more intimately. You may see a photographer stare at his camera’s live view as he flips through the last few frames. His head will tilt, and then he’ll go right back to taking photographs again. Likely because he’s seen something in the images he’s just created that has given him ideas for further shot—and now he’s going back to work.

When you find a subject worthy of photographing, don’t just stop at a handful of images. Work that subject hard to get everything you can from it.


About the author

Will Moneymaker

I love making photographs and exploring my surroundings through my lens. Follow along as I share my thoughts and adventures in the art of photography.