What Is The Focus of Your Photography?

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Does your photography have a point? And how can your images engage with more viewers? You can help define your photography by implementing these few very helpful following techniques, especially if you have reached that stage where it may be a struggle to clearly answer those opening questions.

If you are grasping for creativity and inspiration in your photography there may be some very insightful things that will help sweep away the fog and clarify things for you. It’s not the kind of overnight epiphany that Eckhart Tolle might have rather more of a reinforcement of what you already know but might not have been able to incorporate into your work as you might have wanted to. It’s the realization that your work needs to be a reflection of you: from your life perspectives, your character, your views, and your emotions. How many people state the obvious by putting themselves in their work?

For example, you may have been focusing on just one aspect up until this point, like how to get great portraits if you are a portrait photographer or landscapes if a landscape photographer. Camera settings, light, colour combinations, composition – these are all technical aspects of photography which tend to be the focus. These things are all extremely important and there is much material out there to help you learn those aspects of photography but once you’ve sharpened and honed those skills sufficiently you don’t want to allow your photography to become mundane and tedious. This is where you should make a concerted effort to put more of yourself into your photos, and not necessarily in a selfie-type way.

Using People To Tell Stories.

Let’s boil it down to two main things you can do with your photos once you’ve mastered the technical aspects. First, give insight into your character and emotions, and second, tell a story to evoke emotions from others. Storytelling is one of the most common aspects of your photography that experts will tell you to work on. Without anyone telling you what that actually means, however, the phrase can be extremely frustrating. There needs to be depth to the recommendation as opposed to a soundbite for the pseudo experts to spout off in conversation. Give it your own interpretation by means of it going beyond the technical, pretty aspects of the image in order to engender in viewers a strong desire to ask more questions about the image and their reactions to it.

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Let’s look at the technical aspects of the above image: the surfer being in the bottom right and the sun being in the top left gives symmetry to the composition; both sit on a rule of thirds gridline; it uses warm, analogous colours and positions the surfer so he’s paddling towards the sun. These aspects show that from a technical analysis viewpoint it’s a good shot but it’s also easy to see that the photograph is likeable because it reflects the soul of the photographer. The photographer, Iain Stanley, grew up surfing on a beach in Sydney where he would spend a large amount of his childhood spent in scenes like this. It speaks to those who revel in solitude or those that feel uncomfortable in crowded places as the image perfectly encapsulates what is precious to the photographer and what he has in common with the viewer.

Iain says: “When people view this image they tend to respond the same way. Invariably, they don’t talk to me about settings or which lens I used, but more about the ocean, surfing, their childhood, or memories that this evokes. To me, that’s what storytelling is — conjuring up thoughts in people that go beyond colors, or gear, or rules of composition.”

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This is another image that has a resonant feeling. Technically, it’s not perfect but it’s not too bad either. Compositionally, there is the river that divides the frame and there is a contrast in colour – the gorgeous, soft hues of a dimming sky, and moreover, the subject of a father and a daughter exiting to the left which reflects closure. But what are the emotions that this image evokes? For example, a young parent might have precious little time and this image raises those feelings in the viewer – time spent with family, what kind of parent you’d want to be, introducing children to the beauty of nature and what that would mean to them when it’s passed on down through the generations.

Iain says: “This scene brings together absolutely everything that I cherish — my daughters, the beauty of nature, and solitude. When you look at this photo, I sure hope you have a lot more running around inside your head than simply “I wonder if he shot this with a prime lens or zoom lens.” That’s what storytelling should do — provoke thought.”

Telling Stories Without People.

So, we have seen two examples of Iain’s work that use people in a frame but what about without a subject? What does the focus of storytelling become? You need to think about insight into how you see the world and the opportunity for viewers to conjure up a raft of thoughts and emotions that go beyond the compositional elements. Naturally, utilising people is easier because they can be used as reference points for viewers to empathise with but it’s not a black and white rule.

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Obviously, you need to learn the importance of compositional elements. As the rocks get smaller upstream the eye is lead through the frame because of the way that the bigger rock is situated as a strong point of focus in the bottom left corner. Once again, using a rule of thirds gridline helps the viewer to see light at the end of a natural tunnel with an intersection in the top right. You are drawn into the subject by the leading line of the river. And, analogous yellows and greens form the colour scheme. But there is more to Iain’s picture than just the compositional elements.

Again, it speaks to the lover of solitude. He says: “I never had brothers or sisters to play with, nor cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents because they all live in England (my parents migrated to Australia just before I was born). I spent pretty much my entire childhood and most of my teenage years finding things out for myself and exploring the beautiful coastline and nature trails around my home in Sydney. And I’ve carried that love of solitary exploration through to my adult life and into my photography. This photo is a representation of that as I took it high, high up in a valley without a soul around for miles and miles. It took me about 2.5 hours to get there, hiking alone.”

Iain goes on to say: “But I also love that opening of light in the distance. It’s almost like a light at the end of the tunnel and can be used as a metaphor for life for those who like to have philosophical whims. This photo has led to many a conversation about the afterlife, religion, and near death experiences among other things, again, exactly what storytelling is all about for me.”

Evoking Emotion.

Again, to return to using people to evoke emotion in the viewer: it is important, Iain thinks, that whenever possible, to leave people in your photos unidentified, or unidentifiable by things such as clothing or hairstyles. This is for the very reason that you want to make your viewers believe that the people in the scenes could be them. When they spend time looking at your image you want them to be allowed to daydream about thoughts that are conjured up because they have placed themselves in that scene.

Silhouettes are a good way to bring that ambiguity to your subjects.

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You’ll notice that in each of Iain’s three images with people subjects he has used silhouettes. The above image of the fisherman shows how you can leave your subject unidentifiable. We can’t see his face, hair colour, race, age, or even brand of clothing; to take it a step further, it may even be a woman. This allows anyone to gaze at this image and place themselves here without any effort. Identifiers like loud clothing or specific styles act as distractions.

Final Thoughts.

The summary of this piece is to reiterate the importance of giving yourself to your craft. How can it be more than just going out and shooting nie scenes with beautiful colours? There’s nothing wrong with that from time to time (or in situations where it might be a paid job, for example) but you will feel much more of an affinity for photography when it became something you begin to emotionally invest in. And when you do that, your storytelling becomes so much stronger because you’re trying to say something more with your images and put a part of yourself into them and that really does resonate with people. Iain says: “You genuinely feel that there is much more of a point to what you’re trying to create.”

Words by Elijah (Content Marketer).