Subject matter and time to reflect

One of the things that I’ve realised that’s stopping me from ending up with quite as many photos that I’m proud to show off as I’d like is that I simply don’t take enough photos. I don’t mean in the sense of not having my camera around enough to take pictures, although that’s a separate issue, but that when I do I have it on me I still don’t take many pictures.

The extreme example that really made me realise this happened last weekend. My girlfriend and I went out to the British Museum on Sunday and we came home after 4 and half hours with her having over 100 photos on her camera and me having 7. Granted, one of the reasons that we went there was to find interesting subject matter for her to complete some of the assignment from her photography course, but I was in the same place looking at the same things.

Quite a few of the photos I take try to highlight a specific feature, line or colour of my subject material that interests me, and I want my photo to take that feature and show it to the viewer in a sort of focused, almost pure way. Ideally I want my photos to take that feature and convey my interest and excitement about it to whoever sees the picture. I don’t normally have a problem with finding something interesting about a subject to get excited about, but conveying that through the photo is obviously the difficult part.

However, what I’ve noticed myself doing is framing a photo in my head, or even bringing my camera up to my eye, but before I take the picture deciding that it’s not interesting enough and not ending up taking anything. What I think I should be doing instead is either simply taking that photo, as it was obviously interesting enough to make me think about it, or better still spending a bit of time working out what it is that I find interesting and how best to capture that. If I spend some time thinking about it then I know I’ll have made a more well reasoned decision about the photo I was about to take and then either won’t feel like I missed out on something, or end up with something even better. Alternatively if I just take the picture then at least I’ll have a picture of something that got me interested or excited which I can look at at a later date and re-evaluate.

One of the worst habits that I’ve gotten into is deleting photos off my camera right after I’ve taken them if they don’t come out exactly how I was hoping. This probably is the main reason why I go home some days with very few photos on my camera, I’d guess that something like 2/3 of the photos I take get deleted within a couple of minutes of them being taken. This is awful for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’ve only just realised that I often come back to photos that I’ve taken days, weeks or even months before and like them a lot more than I did at the time.

That’s what happened today. I looked through the photos I took at the weekend on Monday night and decided that I didn’t like any of them. I had another look today and there were a couple that I really liked, which out of the 7 I took is a pretty decent success rate. I initially wanted to write a bit about these photos and help myself work out what it was that I liked about them, but I started writing and realised that I needed to workout why I was writing about them in the first place to set some context for myself.

Out of the 7 photos I took, I’ve ended up with 3 that I like, and one which I don’t like quite as much but serves as a good example.

This first one almost captures one of my favourite things about the British Museum, the contrast between the very clean & modern display cases and the cool old building it’s housed in. The rooms themselves tend to be very symmetrical and repetitive with the geometric display cases placed seemingly haphazardly around the room, and I think that comes across here. It also shows off the large windows down the right hand side of the room, but only through the lighting and shadows on the floor and pillars. I also enjoy the way the room is busy at the far end, but quieter where the photo was taken, and the empty space between the first 3 cabinets sort of draws the viewer in. This is helped by the fairly shallow depth of field for this kind of shot, with the focal plane being centered on the cabinet in the middle of the room.


This image was the one that I thought was going to be my favourite out of the 7, but after going through them again I don’t think it is. There’s a lot going on in this picture and I feel like the combination of the large white space in the bottom right, the brighter area behind the dragon’s head, the flower that’s also in focus and the area of yellow in the top right mean that the viewer’s attention is pulled away from the focus of the image which I wanted to be the dragon’s eye.


To try and combat this, I tried a much tighter crop with some different processing settings to bring out the details in the highlights that were a bit blown out in the original. I like this a lot better, although I still feel like my eye is drawn to the blue area that’s in focus just above the dragon’s head, rather than to the eye. There is also still quite a lot of white space in the bottom right here, but I think that’s ok here as the parallel lines that are in the original are much shorter and don’t pull the eye away from the left of the image quite so strongly.


This shot of the roof in the main concourse is my favourite one, I think it really captures the strange curve of the roof of that room which is what I was going for, as well as the same contrast between the old and new that the first photo is looking at. I tried this in black and white, but I like this version better with the blue-green greys coming through the roof from the clouds outside and the way they darken as the angle of the roof changes.


The final photo is the one I don’t like as much, but it serves to make an example. This photo looked great on the small screen on my camera but was decidedly less interesting when I looked at it on a bigger screen. The focal plane is just a bit out of place and there’s a tiny bit of motion blur as well which means that the lovely detail on the front of this buckle is lost, with some of the fabric on the backing actually looking clearer.

I do really like that you can make out the reflections of the people in the room around me in the reflections on the curved heads of the studs, and the colours are bright but still close to life. The combination of the fabric backing material and the camera noise makes for an interesting texture in the background, and one which I quite like. If the focal plane had been a couple of centimeters further forward then an even tighter crop might have been interesting to try out as to really pick out the details, but as it is, the whole thing is a bit out.


I’ve really enjoyed writing this post, and I think that writing my thoughts about the photos I take down like this can only help me get faster at it, so that when I have my camera ready I’ll be able to think through the shot and hopefully use that to get an even better one. I’m also hoping to have more photos that I’m willing to share with people, so that’ll provide some good subject matter to base future posts like this on.