Always Have a Clear Subject

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[singlepic=224,320,240,,right]I took this photograph in October, 2007.  I am already amazed at how far I’ve come since then.  I kept this image in my work flow for two reasons.  First, I liked the subject.  Second, at the time I thought this had the potential to be a good photograph.  As naive as I was at the time, a year of experience and reading now tells me that this is, in fact, a bad photograph.  A lot can change in a year.

In photography classes back in High School (almost 14 years ago now), my instructor taught us that every photograph must have a subject.  That has stuck with me, and I have always made sure that I was taking picture of something.  That something could be a sunset, a leaf, a boat, animals, children, whatever.  In my ignorance, I felt that I had mastered that aspect fairly easily, my practice focused on composition.  My first mistake.

This past year, I picked up a few books and in one of them I read a similar lesson:  “Every great photograph must have a clear subject.”

Let me reiterate:  A clear subject.

My real problem was that I was reviewing my works with a complete understanding of my own intent.  I was blind to the fact that the subject matter may not be so apparent to the casual observer.  A great photo, on the other hand, shouldn’t leave any doubt.  Suddenly, everything clicked together and I realized the real difference between a snap-shot and a work of art:  Clarity of subject.

With that in mind, I started going back through my queue of images.  This one (among many others) is proof of concept.  There’s too much going on in this photograph.  My intended subject was the tall ship.  But there are too many potential subjects in this photograph.  The city skyline, the tie-point in the foreground, the tower to the right, the boat in the foreground, the USS Constellation in the back…the list goes on.

I should have framed this differently to cut out most of the skyline and some of the other distractions.  I should have chosen a different angle.  I should have filled the frame, at least, with the USS Constellation.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do any of that.  I’m not sure that this photograph is worth saving.  But all is not lost – I learned from this image…and isn’t that the point?

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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