As learner photographers we have probably listened to numerous vlogs giving tips for beginner photographers, or read articles with titles such as:
Top Tips for Beginner Photographers
(10) Things All New Photographers Should Know
7 Ways To Improve Your Photography
And so on.
Most of them are useful and practical and they give new photographers suggestions which they can incorporate into their photography practice.
At times, though, this advice can seem conflicting.
One photographer might recommend doing something one way while another will suggest doing the same thing in a different way.
All the advice given is well meaning but, as in all walks of life, different people do things in different ways.
Having so many different tips from many different sources can be confusing and overwhelming.
That’s why I like to pick one suggestion at a time and work with it for a while, until I can become familiar with the technique and using it becomes second nature to me.
The latest ‘tip’ I came across was to ask ourselves the question,
‘Am I taking a photograph of something or about something?’
'About' vs 'of'
The suggestion came from photographer James Popsys on his YouTube channel, which, as well as being instructional and relevant for new photographers, is also very entertaining and well worth checking out.
In many of his YouTube videos Popsys makes the distinction between photographs which are about our subject, which are part of the story of the subject, and those which are taken of a subject or scene, which may not have the same intentionality about them.
These simple photographs might explain the idea better than words can.
In the image below I made my image about two trees leaning towards each other. I liked the way they leaned into the frame and drew attention to themselves by being different to the other trees in the frame.
In the same location, the photograph below is not just a photo taken of trees.
It is a story about the trees and where they are placed in the woodland. The tree to the left is the main subject and the other trees are the supporting cast.
It is an intentional photograph, a photograph about the subject.
The image below, on the other hand, is an image of a peacock which I tried to grab as he walked around near where I was.
Basically, what I wanted to do was manage to get the whole bird into the frame (which I failed to do!), so the photo was not intended to tell a story.
I may go back to this location and try to capture the peacock in his environment.
To do this, and make the photo about the peacock, I would need to spend time watching his movements, mannerisms and habits and building a story around him.
The question ‘about' vs 'of’ has given me a lot of food for thought in relation to my photography.
It relates to my previous post on how it is important to be more intentional about our photography and to think about what it is we want to capture, and how we want to capture it, rather than simply turning up at a location and snapping away.
In the image below I wanted to capture the mountain in the background as well as the water in the foreground, yet the image seemed a little empty.
I then spotted the boat coming along so I waited until it was in the position I wanted, then I took the photograph.
How do we know if our image is an image of something or about something?
An image that is about something often evokes questions in the viewer.
In the image above the viewer might ask, ‘who is in the boat?’ or ‘where is he going?’
The addition of the person in the boat makes the image about the person and his boat, rather than just a view of the mountain.
To be about something the image doesn’t always have to have a person in it.
The story can be implied.
The image above is about the boats left on the shore. To me, some questions occur on seeing the image, such as:
Who owns the boats?
Will the owners be back soon?
Will the boats be taken out on the water?
Where will they go?
An image such as the one below is not just an image of a mountain; it is an image about this mountain on this particular morning when it was covered in mist.
The distinction between making an image about something and taking an image of something might not always be clear.
For me, it comes down to intention.
If I take an image of something it is usually a quick image and not one that I have invested much time in.
If my image is about my subject I spend time with my subject, observing, noticing small details, finding reasons why I want to make the image.
Asking myself the question Is my image of something or about something has made a significant difference to the way in which I think about the images I make.
It helps me to be more thoughtful, more intentional in the way I choose my subjects and more deliberate in the way I compose my images.
It is a question worth asking yourself each time you are drawn to capture an image.
Some days later...
This procession of peacocks and peahens gave me an image that is about the birds, even though it lacks their beautiful colourful plumage!
Do you make images that are of your subject or images that are about your subject?
Leave a comment below.