In photography the subject is the person or the object that catch the attention of the photograph’s viewer. Even when a photograph shows a lot of element there is a subject, which is the primary point of interest of the image. The most common subjects of photography are people, the natural world and abstractions.
Every photo need a subject. In fact, without a clear subject, a clear focal point, every image can be just quite ordinary.
The subject is very important. Not only to have a good image, but also for you as an artist/storyteller.
The subject of the image don’t inevitably have to be exceptional. A lot of great picture are about ordinary things or people captured in a unique and artistic way by the photographer. Let’s say that the most important thing is how you capture the subject and what you say about it.
The great creative journey of photography is all about self discovery. So as you discover what your photographs are about you will be more conscious of your own and your vision of the world.
To clearly define the primary subject matter in your photos you should pay a lot of attention to lightning, composition, colors, movement, depth of field.
Elliot Erwitt the renowned Magnum Photographer said: “it’s not the subject, it’s how you treat the subject”. As a result this will really impact how good your photos will be. There are two different ways to intend “the way you treat the subject”: the way you speak or act to the subject, and the way you “treat” the subject artistically.
The photographer Storyteller.
As a photographer you are a storyteller. So you need something to say. The way you say it is how you treat your subject. That’s why what you say about your subject really matter.
You can’t be an author unless you have something to say.David Alan Harvey
You must have something to “say”. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. Think about history , politics, science, literature, music, film, and anthropology. What affects does one discipline have over another? What makes “man” tick? Today , with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an “author”. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship. Many young photographers come to me and tell me their motivation for being a photographer is to “travel the world” or to “make a name” for themselves. Wrong answers in my opinion. Those are collateral incidentals or perhaps even the disadvantages of being a photographer. Without having tangible ideas , thoughts, feelings, and something almost “literary” to contribute to “the discussion”, today’s photographer will become lost in the sea of mediocrity. Photography is now clearly a language. As with any language, knowing how to spell and write a gramatically correct “sentence” is , of course, necessary. But, more importantly, today’s emerging photographers now must be “visual wordsmiths” with either a clear didactic or an esoteric imperitive. Be a poet, not a technical “writer”. Perhaps more simply put, find a heartfelt personal project. Give yourself the “assignment” you might dream someone would give you. Please remember, you and only you will control your destiny. Believe it, know it, say it.David Alan Harvey
Another quote of David Alan Harvey explain really well how important is your visual storytelling. As an author you want have something to say. You don’t want just make a photograph, as a photographer you are looking for something deeper. You decide what to include in the frame, and what to exclude. The photograph shows your unique vision of the world, how you feel, your emotions. Again it is you choosing the focal length, the light in the frame, the exact moment in the timeline everything is frozen in the picture.
Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.David Alan Harvey
The photographer has a responsibility towards his/her subject. In fact through photography you are telling a story about the subject. Your responsibility is about the feeling and the vision your are expressing in your visual storytelling about the subject of the photograph.
To take a photograph is to partecipate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time relentless melt.Susan Sontag
A photograph has is own life in the world. It can be shared on a Social Media, saved in a shoebox, or printed on a newspaper. For example you can sell a photograph, use it as an advertisement, or just hang it framed on a wall. The context in which a photograph is seen affects the meanings a viewer draws from it.
The Depictive Level of a photograph.
I wrote about the grammar of photography in the post about The Portrait, you can find it here. The famous photographer Stephen Shore found four elements that define the picture’s depictive content and structure. This attributes form the basis of a photograph’s visual grammar.
Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter starts with a black canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and select a picture. A photographer standing before houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an order on the scene – simplifies the jumble by giving it structure. He or she imposes this order by choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a moment of exposure, and by selecting a plane of focus.Stephen Shore
On the depictive level there are these four elements that transform the world in front of the camera in a photograph. These elements are: flatness, frame, time, and focus. They define the photograph’s depictive content and structure. And the are also the basis of the visual grammar of the photograph.
Trough flatness, frame, time, and focus the photographers “express their sense of the world, give structure to their perceptions and articulation to their meanings.”
You should always have in mind this grammar of photography to “treat” your subject.
Try to get the soul and the emotions of your subject in your photos.
It sounds difficult and indeed it is, but try to capture the soul of your subject. Try to express emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear. Force yourself to have something to say. A photo without emotions is just useless if it say nothing. Good photograph try to say something deeper about how it feels to be human, try to speak about the human condition through your images.