Very often, we create or look upon photos that may have multiple subjects. In a previous post (albeit, very old), I spoke of having a clear and well defined subject. That is something that I truly believe in (there are exceptions like with abstract, but that’s a tangent for another day). But some might misinterpret my article to suggest that you should only have a single subject. That is not the case. If done well, multiple subjects are well balanced and quite provoking. A beautiful example of a balanced, multi-subject composition is Parrish Colman‘s photo, Three Boats of Aldeburgh.
I know what subject Parrish would like the viewer to focus on: The Boats. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have mentioned it in his title: Three Boats of Aldeburgh. But let’s pretend we don’t know the title. Let’s imagine that we have happened upon Parrish’s works in an art gallery and this particular piece caught your eye. Even if we were to assume that the three boats were pieces of the same subject, there are still three clear subjects in my mind: The Flowers in the foreground, the Boats, and then the Ocean seascape. If you were to poll every person to look upon this photo, assuming they were ignorant to the title, I’d say that the great majority would actually select the flowers. A close second would be the boats, followed by the ocean (as most people would probably consider it context). My point is that the experience and the connection with Parrish’s photograph would be different for each observer. And my gut tells me that most people would identify most with the subject in the foreground.
So what does this really mean? It means that we are often faced with compositions that have more than one specific subject. That’s okay, so long as the creator is aware. There needs to be balance between these subjects. They must either be equals, or there must be a well defined hierarchy. Many would opt to compose with some sort of hierarchy using tools such as Depth of Field or lighting techniques to define the most important subject. But Parrish chose to have a balanced approach. With Landscape Photography, this is a tricky but powerful proposition. The trick is in the lighting – or more accurately, the time of day. Parrish was up very early to catch sunrise for this shot. In fact, he pokes fun at it in the description, noting that he was up at “stupid o’clock”, coaxed into it by his friend. But the sunrise makes all the difference in a shot like this, and I’m sure that Parrish is more than happy to have such results. Truth is that the sunrise is what truly gives balance to the two primary subjects (I’m considering the seascape a tertiary subject). The lighting that makes the flowers pop in the foreground is the same lighting that makes the boats pop off the beach in the background. In this early morning light, the sand is dark and barely noticeable. But the boats with their vertical, pale surfaces pops right out at the viewer and they strike a balance as compared to the flowers. With balance achieved, Parrish has ensured that the photo will be a different experience for each and every viewer. He has also ensured that his photo would be well liked among a much larger audience.
Parrish Colman is a nature and wildlife photographer who has really only been shooting since 2009. Despite his short duration as a photographer, his learning curve was very steep, and his work is now top notch among his peers. In other words, you’d best follow him on Flickr as his works are very impressive and inspiring.