Need a Fresh Perspective? Get Closer to Your Subject

As photographers we have a tendency to settle into a niche and do the same thing over and over. 

This isn’t a bad thing - it’s a great way to excel in our medium!

However, like most things, we can get very bored very fast with the things we do every day. Sometimes we need to look at things in a new way - so why not take a closer look and see what you find? 

Isolate Your Subject

One way to isolate your subject is very simple - so simple we can often forget to do it: Get closer to your subject.

There’s a bit of a trend in photography these days to position subjects (especially human subjects) far, far away from the photographer. This can work great if a background is repetitive, plain, or naturally directs attention to the subject.

However, if a background is excessively busy and full of interesting detail it can become subconsciously very difficult for viewers to understand what they are supposed to be looking at. ‘Is this a picture of a waterfall or that lady? Is this a picture of a dog or a pool?’ etc…

This subconsciously disturbing distraction can be easily avoided by getting closer to your subject or, more technically, filling more of the frame with your subject.

Take, for example, a street photography portrait on a city street. Street photographers are masters of isolating subjects because their backgrounds are, by nature, very busy and distracting. Shooting with a wide aperture helps a great deal by blurring out background elements, but getting physically close (or optically close with a telephoto lens) helps to isolate your subject even more. This can mean the difference between a photo of a crowded city street or a photo of a child attentively watching a street performer on a crowded city street - one is much more engaging than the other.

In the first example image above it is difficult to tell what my subject is.

Railroad Sign

In this second image, though, I’ve isolated the private railroad sign as my subject.

Isolating your subject in photography is like annunciation in public speaking - it helps viewers subconsciously understand your photography by communicating clearly and efficiently.

Try getting closer to your subject.

Detail Shots

Horse hair close up

One of my favorite tricks for creating compelling, unique photography is searching for good detail shots.

I often photograph horses for my clients and, as many horse owners will tell you, each horse has traits and features which are uniquely theirs. Some horses have characteristic swirls on their foreheads and others have very distinctive patterns in their coat. Something I started doing years ago was focusing in tightly on these characteristics and taking bold and up-close detail photos of them and delivering them as “bonus” images to my clients. They love them!

This works great with people, too. Parents can most likely tell their children apart just by looking at their eyes - so try grabbing some up-close and personal shots of just their eyes (or their ears, fingers, toes, and smiles). Photographing a little girl with freckles? Get up close and grab a shot of those beautiful freckles on a smiling cheek. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with detail shots (and so will everybody who sees your images.) 


Firewood close up

Another way to spice up your photography is to look for what I call ‘textures’.

Texture, as a photographic genre, is a little hard to define. Think of a texture shot as anything which conveys depth, contour, and (of course) texture by using pattern, light, shadow, or repetition.

The easiest way to understand texture is to do a quick web-image search for the word “Textures”. What you see in the search results will most likely help you understand more than anything I can try to explain.

The trick with texture photography, though, is to get as close as possible for the result you want to communicate and to position yourself as perpendicular as possible to your subject.

In the image above I spotted a stack of firewood at a local pumpkin patch with my family. I loved the mismatched directions of the grain in the wood and the amalgamation of shapes in the wood pieces. Even though they were all different and pointing every which way they seemed to make a perfect wooden puzzle.

To get the shot, I got down low in a kneeling position and lined myself up with a piece of wood right in the center of the frame. Then I moved myself closer to the pile until I liked the texture I saw through my lens. It’s as easy as that!

You can do this with just about anything with just about any lens you might own. Brick walls, beach sand, ivy leaves, fall colors, grass… the list goes on and on. It’s a great way to get out and try something new when you need to find some inspiration or just do something out-of-the-ordinary.

Try getting up close and perpendicular to capture some great textures.

Alex Lawson is a full-time portrait, commercial, and real estate photographer based in Bakersfield, CA. When he's not behind the camera he spends his time with his wife, his two young sons, and the best dang dog in the whole wide world: Mattis the Wonder Dog.


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