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The Secret to Great Landscape Photos: Focus on a Subject

This article is based on concepts from The Advanced Composition Course (currently 93% off) if you want to dig deeper for further training.

What kind of things make a photograph interesting? What can we include in our photos that will make them stronger?

This is going to sound completely crazy, but I believe one of my biggest improvements in my photography came when I discovered the power of taking photos of “something” rather than pointing my camera at large areas of “anything”.

What do I mean by that? Our job as photographers is to take photos of what we find interesting and capture that interest in a way that is completely obvious for those viewing our photos.

importance of subject in photography

If you are looking for something to include that will make your photos more interesting to your viewers, look no further than subject, subject, subject!

Including a subject is the most important element of any photo.

Even if there is nothing obvious, decide what is the most interesting element within your location and choose that as your subject. It doesn’t have to dominate the frame—it can be an interesting foreground, mountains in the distance, amazing sky, interesting rock formations, or a jetty, boat-shed, lone tree… You get the idea. Finding and showcasing the subject is the fastest way to make more interesting photographs.

Actively including subjects in your photos not only makes them stronger—having a subject also makes storytelling and composition easier.

Pick up your favourite photography magazine and I bet you can easily identify the main subject in almost every photo on every page.

The next time you go shooting, try to seek out and include obvious subjects in your photos.

For me, the number one element that I am always on the lookout for is a strong subject.

importance of subject in photography

Subject = Story and Drama

Like a movie without a lead character, photos without a subject can often struggle for impact.

News photographers are some of the best when it comes to including a subject to help tell their stories. It’s really no different for landscape photographers—in its simplest form, it is our job to tell compelling stories using just the photo itself, without words. If you can tell interesting and compelling stories without any narration, you will be well on your way to creating powerful high-impact photography.

Of course, you can use words also, but in its simplest form, your photo should be able to tell its story without the aid of words.

The inclusion of a subject makes storytelling much easier. Regardless of whether the subject is a rock, tree, shack or human, you now have an object to tell a story about or a perspective to tell your story from.

The inclusion of a subject helps add emotion and mood to your photos. Once again, even if the subject you choose is an inanimate object, your viewers will still be more likely to relate to that image by imagining themselves in the position of the main subject.

If this boat shed in the image below had human feelings, could you imagine how it might feel?

Do you get a sense of loneliness and isolation, or maybe even depression?

By focusing on this lonely boat shed, I tried to tell a story of my very own struggles with anxiety and depression. Using the boat shed gave me a great subject to express this story.

importance of subject in photography

Subject and Composition

As I mentioned earlier, choosing to include a main subject often makes choosing your composition much easier.

Again, let’s use the above boat shed photo as an example. Once you have decided on the subject to photograph, it’s just a matter of deciding where the pieces of the puzzle look best. In this example, I had a couple of choices.

The First: Did I want the jetty (leading lines) running straight down the centre? My answer for jetties or roads is almost always yes!

The Second: Now that I know that I want the jetty in the centre, where do I want to place the subject? Again, I really only have a couple of choices: bottom, middle or top third. Again, on the day, I felt the middle was the best composition. Below are some other crop options—I think you’ll agree the above composition is the strongest.

importance of subject in photography

Subject and Simplicity

The issue with not having a subject is that I often find myself trying to include too many details. I end up with a cluttered, confusing photo and a muddled story. By focusing in on a single subject, I can leave out all the details that are not directly helping to tell that story—and I end up with a much simpler, stronger photo. Almost always, less is better in photography.

importance of subject in photography

Conclusion

By including a main subject in your photos you will find you begin to capture more simplistic, stronger, emotive photos with excellent compositions.

Next time, try and include a strong subject in your photos and see if you like the inclusion.

For Further Training:

This full in-depth Advanced Composition Course is currently 93% off today if you want to take a look. Once you arrive at the advanced levels of composition it is no longer about leading lines or natural framing, it is not the rule of thirds or the golden ratio.

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Advanced Composition Course

Advanced Composition is the ability to use these guides to arrange the elements and create a story that has the power to communicate our thoughts, stories, passions, and emotions to our audience through our photography. It also comes with a generous 365 day happiness guarantee so there’s no risk in trying it.

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