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Selecting a single subject for a photograph, or a series of photographs, is an effective way of focusing your attention and making a deep exploration of it. This technique can be used in many different ways to portray a subject; and whether it’s a human being, a building or even a hurricane, it’s a powerful method to explore, in detail, the various aspects of your subject.
You can work on one subject photography over any period of time that you want to set yourself. Longer term projects will give you more opportunity to experiment and get creative but even in an hour long photoshoot you’ll want to be adaptable and use a multitude of techniques to capture different aspects of your subject.
What is a ‘Subject’ in Photography?
Photography is the art of capturing the essence of a subject – but what is a subject and can it be anything you want? In short, the answer is Yes! The subject of the photograph is whatever the photographer is taking a photo of. It can be a human, an object, a building, something in the natural world or even a sunset.
A photograph can have multiple subjects in it or it can have just one – as in the case of a portrait. Working with a single subject is a great way to cut out the noise of other distractions and focus the entire composition on unearthing elements of your subject that might otherwise have been missed in a more cluttered frame.
What Are The Ways That You Can Explore One Subject?
Using only one subject in a photo might, on first glance, appear to be a limiting factor however it is anything but! When you work with a single subject you have the opportunity to deeply explore it and discover aspects of its true nature that your viewers might not have otherwise been aware of.
There are many different ways that you can begin to explore a single subject; the most important of which we will detail below. You can start putting these techniques into action immediately in your own work and even though they are extremely effective in one subject photography you can also incorporate them into other genres as well.
Use the Background to Your Advantage.
In many cases you may choose to cut out the background of a one subject photo entirely by cropping the photo closely around your subject, however, you may also choose to use it to give the image more depth and meaning.
When you are using a background it’s usually better to keep it fairly simple – you don’t want to draw the audience’s attention away from the subject you are exploring. You can use plain backgrounds or backgrounds with unobtrusive textures to add some interest.
If you want to create a colorful backdrop without confusing the image with unnecessary details you can use a large aperture to create bokeh photos. This will blur the background so only the subject will be in focus.
Lighting, Color and Texture.
When you’re exploring a single subject it’s form and shape are among the most distinguishing features of it, no matter what it is. In photography, shape and form are represented by the light captured by your camera as well as the textures and colors of the subject.
You can change the lighting in your photography by using artificial lighting or by using natural light in different settings and conditions. When you’re using artificial lighting you can use patterned or focused lighting, for example, to create dramatic effects. These effects can be used to highlight particular features of your subject or to further emphasize its shape and form.
Alternatively, you can work with natural lighting. The best way to make the most of this is to work at different times of day. For instance, when you shoot photos at midday, with the sun directly overhead, you’ll have short sharp shadows and strong contrasts; as compared to the morning or evening when the light will be softer and the shadows will stretch out across the ground.
Another interesting way that you can use the natural lighting to explore a subject is to use the moonlight! You’ll need to wait for a full moon, or close to one, in order to get the striking hues that it can give a photo.
Experimenting with the lighting is one of the most important ways that you can work on your single subject photography. Each set up that you use will have a massive impact on the photo since your camera only has the light it receives to capture the subject before it – so be as creative as you can!
Lenses – Experiment and Try New Things.
There’s a lot you can do with a simple lens change to completely alter the nature of a photograph! Experimenting with the types of lens you are using is both fun and productive. For instance, a fish eye lens will seriously distort the perspectives of the image while a good zoom lens will allow you to get a close shot of a subject if you can’t physically move nearer to it – in wildlife photography for example.
Always do your research and seek the advice of guides or professional photographers before you buy a lens although it will be well worth the investment. If you want to buy several lenses at a time you can also consider buying second hand ones to save on money; although if you are going to be using a lens a lot it’s better to buy a new one with a warranty.
The Changing Seasons.
An interesting way to explore a single subject over time is to make use of the different seasons throughout the year. You might choose a local monument, such as a famous statue, to photograph as the seasons change. In the winter it might be highlighted by snow that creates dramatic contrasts in the image while in the summer it will have a completely different look!
Other excellent subjects for seasonal photography might include a river, a bridge, a lone tree, a pet such as a dog or anything that takes your interest. However, do bear in mind that if you want to take on a longer term project of this nature it’s worth remembering that the more the subject changes during the year the more impactful the series of photos will be.
Perspective and the Angle of the Shot.
When you’re working with a single subject the perspectives and angles that you use are more important than ever to get right. It’s easy to fall into the trap of repeatedly taking your shots from the same angle and perspective but this can make your photos look flat and uninteresting.
Instead, you should try to use different angles and perspectives to bring out the unusual features of the subject’s shape and form, emphasize curves, textures and pertinent details. Experimenting with new angles and perspectives can really help to bring out the characteristics of your subject. This will draw in your viewer and increase the impact of the photos.
Most photos are taken from a flat angle so break this pattern and take shots from below, above and from different angles. You can take shots like this whether you’re taking a photo of a person, a landscape or a product! This forces your viewer to see things in new ways and will make your photography far more memorable.
When you’re working on one subject photography you don’t always have to fill the frame. This gives you the opportunity to use compositional techniques such as the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio to place your subject in the frame. Depending on where you place the subject you can change the entire mood of the photo.
Most standard photos will have placed the subject dead center of the image however this can be boring and leave the image looking flat. Instead of placing the subject in the center you can, for example, put it in one of the corners, especially if the change in perspective allows you to emphasize some of its characteristics and draw the viewer’s eye to it.
Framing and Cropping.
When you’re shooting your subject you don’t need to show the entire object, person or building! It can often be more interesting to crop the subject close up and focus in on certain details of it – especially if you can bring out some of its unusual characteristics, textures or elements by doing so. This also leaves a bit of mystery in the photo because your audience will have to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps.
If you are taking a series of shots of your subject, always try out some close ups, moving the camera to place the subject in different parts of the frame and see if there’s a special feature of your subject to focus on. All of this should become second nature to you as a photographer and once you start to incorporate this into your work you’ll instantly get better results.
What Can You Learn From One Subject Photography?
When you work with one subject photography you will learn a great deal about how to bring out the very best of your subject in a photo. The lessons you learn can be applied universally and will always stand you in good stead, no matter what you’re shooting in the future.
As you focus deeply on a single subject you will be forced to experiment and try out new techniques to create interesting photos, particularly if you are making a series from a single subject.
Working with different lighting, angles, perspectives and compositions will help you to develop a more intense and impactful style of photography which will carry over into all of your other work as well. While photographing a single subject your understanding of the relationship between the camera and the subject will improve and you’ll start to see new ways of doing things as you seek to bring out the essential characteristics of your subject in novel and exciting ways.
One Subject Photography is A Great Genre For Self Development as a Photographer.
There are times when you might look at a subject without using your imagination, coming to the conclusion too quickly that there is nothing interesting about it! However, as you start to think more deeply and explore the angles, perspectives, characteristics and features of your subject you’ll start to see that there is a huge amount of potential in any subject – provided you can work creatively with your camera!
Even a subject which might seem boring, or everyday, can be brought to life with the right lighting, consideration of your behalf and some good camera work. The skills you learn while shooting a single subject will help you to make the most of every photo you take and will stay with you for the rest of your photographic career. Keep trying out new techniques and always push yourself to the limits of your creative vision and you’ll be able to take stunning and attention grabbing photos of any subject that you choose!
Have you ever done one subject photography?
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