One Part Subject, One Part Photographer, One Image
For some photographers, it’s all about the subject, for others it’s all about the vision. I’ve never been able to separate the two. The subject becomes the vision, and therefore the vision is still the subject. Regardless of how much of me is in the picture, I still try to honor what the subject is.
I will admit that sometimes I find a great subject, and I interpret that subject with my own view and sensibilities, but I am always cognizant of what my subject is. On other occasions, I see light, shape and color or tone, and then I think about the subject after the fact, but I never separate the two, they always go together.
It would be hard for me to imagine not appreciating a wild animal, or a great rock or a river, or even a great old building. I try to make my work personal, but I also try to never forget that the subject was there (or somewhere) before I showed up with a camera. Even light and shadows, as fleeting as they are, are subjects in and of themselves. They exist first, before I click the shutter. Subject, is appreciation, self can be, well…..selfish. It is when we honor one and cultivate the other that we ( I think) reach photographic nirvana, or something reasonably close.
I did usually have a goal when I made an image. That is not for everybody, but it is my way. Firstly, I wanted to appreciate the subject. Secondly, I wanted to do that in a way in which I was a valid part of my finished picture. I’ve never been afraid of being a partner with my subjects, only of being “above” them.
Clouds are a subject. Even when they are lit with the colors of sunrise/sunset they were still clouds before they were my subject. I enjoy shooting skies full of clouds and they become ever more special when I can interpret them in a way that is specific to my tastes. I actually don’t remember making this 2009 abstract vision of sunlit clouds, but you can bet that this isn’t the only way I looked at them. My files certainly contain a more straight forward view, with land or water as a part of the image. Either way, even in the abstract, with color and form being featured in the picture, the star of the show is still the subject called clouds.
There is a highway (literally) running just under these clouds, and I did make a few pictures which included the highway in the scene. It didn’t work for me when I was in the field, or at home. Just the same, the clouds themselves were a worthy subject.
There’s a song that says, “ so many things I could have done but clouds got in the way”. Clouds are a photographers friend whether they be a targeted subject, an aid in the production of art…..or both.
Sometimes there isn’t much doubt about the subject. I claim no art in this straight up picture of a yearling Whitetail Deer in the winter. I think most serious photographers would refer to this picture as a snapshot, but a good one. I’ll give all the credit to the subject and accept that definition.
Birds make great natural history subjects. If they serve that purpose and no other, there is nothing wrong with that, but they can be natural art as well.
A Snowy Owl in Wisconsin means winter, and winter means cold and snow. I made this shot of what was then known as the Waukesha Snowy on a cold day in January, in 2009. The subjects were both the snow and the owl. The owl added a nice pose (they are the artists), and I added a thoughtful composition. I guess you can say that this shot is one + one + one equals one. One part subject (winter), one part owl (another subject), and one part photographer.
There is nothing like a good subject, and a nice artful pose to make any photographer happy.
I had been out the day before to photograph this wonderful Red Fox Vixen, and my wait was maybe 15 minutes before she came out gave me a wide variety of artful poses. On this day a friend and I waited for hours on a very cold May morning. She finally appeared and was too close for any pictures. As she trotted off with her back to us she turned around abruptly and scratched. One pose for maybe 15 seconds. Just the same my friend and I were happy. A great subject with an interesting pose. I went on to many a pleasure filled morning with this wonderful lady and her kits, and on a few occasions her husband as well.
Honeymoon Hotel. I caught these Purple Martins at the thresholds of the entrances to their suites at the specially constructed hotel for martins. I was making some flight shots when these two couples lined up perfectly one above the other, girl-boy, girl-boy.
Photos like the one above tell the story of man’s desire to help this species get along better with a vanishing habitat. That subject is worthy of photographs but as is usually the case, after the birds strike a pose, you still have to invest yourself in creating the finished picture. The birds, the photographer. In the end it still adds up to one.
Photographing a prairie covered with dew, can be about the subject, or anything you find within that subject.
Winter is a special season for nature photographers and the variety of ways with which you can display that subject, is vast. I choice to compose these frost covered branches to one side, while balancing the composition with negative space to the upper right. I couldn’t have made the picture without the frost, but of course the picture wouldn’t exist without the photographer…me.
This rusty old bridge is a busy car bridge. I was photographing the sunrise at the other end of this river just as countless photographers have done before me. As the red light of sunrise began to fade, I began to think about using the still vibrant and colorful light to add some pop to an image in the other direction. At first I could not find a subject and then I was jarred as a large truck made some loud noises as it traveled across the bridge you see in the picture. There it was. The bridge. I am betting that of the many photographers who have made pictures on this river, few if any have ever photographed the bridge. The bridge is in fact an excellent subject. I added my simple composition to the subject, and one + one equaled one.
The thoughts I have expressed in today’s post, are in many ways stating the obvious. Just the same, there have been times when it was necessary for me to remember, that the picture was not all about me, but not all about the subject either. When we are at our best with our photography, we may just become invisible, and that’s not all bad.
Take care, Wayne