Does Subject Matter Matter?

February 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

(Or … What is the subject, anyway?)

Does subject matter matter?  Well, yes.  And no.  But then … maybe.  Whether your subject matter matters depends on your reason for shooting the photo.  Who is the intended viewer and what is your reason for shooting?  Perhaps you’re shooting for a client, or for a class assignment, or just for your own pleasure.  If you’re a pro, and you’re shooting for a client, the answer is clear … you need to please your client.  This is not to say that you can’t provide creative input or put your own unique touch to the photos.  You certainly can and should!  Your eye is probably why they engaged you as their photographer, but at the end of the day, the subject matter choice will be largely or entirely the client’s decision.

If you’re a student of photography, formally or informally, there will certainly be times when your mission, assigned by an instructor or self-assigned, is to shoot certain subject matter … a person, a flower, a building, etc.  Naturally you will want to use techniques and perspectives that enhance, and will vary with, the subject matter.  Of course, the basics of good photography always apply, but beyond that, what works for a portrait is different from what works for a building!  Learning to shoot a variety of subjects is a great way to build your photographic skills.

And then there’s the ever-popular … my favorite … shooting for pleasure and relaxation!  When you’re just spending quality time with your camera, does subject matter matter?  I say no!  I like to grab my camera and wander, not knowing what I will find.  If you keep your eyes and mind open, subject matter will present itself.  When you have very limited time, perhaps can’t even leave the house, with an open mind, you can find subject matter.   Check out the photo above.  I shot this on a humdrum day, stuck at home doing chores.  I happened to notice midday light through the beveled glass of my front door playing on the wall of the darkened foyer and across a humble electrical outlet.  Now the casual observer may say that subject matter can’t get more boring than an electrical outlet.  But look again … What is the subject of the photo?  Maybe at first glance, it’s the outlet, but the star is really the light and its interaction with the outlet.  I was fascinated by the way the beveled glass refracted the light, revealing its component colors, and how it “painted” the wall and outlet, almost like nature’s graffiti.  Would the outlet have been interesting without the light painting?  Certainly not.  Would the light have been as interesting without the outlet?  In my opinion, no.  The light is cool, but the outlet punctuates it and gives it more oomph, almost a reason to be there.  The components of the photo need each other.  But that’s another topic …

So pick up that camera and shoot.  You never know what subject will present itself, and what you may discover by shooting what you find.

That’s all for now.  Leave me a comment and tell me about your subject matter … what you shoot, what you’d like to shoot, what you’ve never shot, etc.  I’d love to hear about it!  As always, I wish you happy shooting and a satisfying photographic journey!


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