For any photographer, discovering the right subject matter is always difficult. Knowing just what to look for, and knowing just when and how to photograph that subject matter is a skill and talent that is developed over a period of time. The discipline is a little different for everyone, and so there is no definite method of choosing subject matter that works for every photographer. However, it is often helpful to know what helps others choose excellent subject matter, and what sorts of subject matter are popular with viewers of photography.
It can be difficult to come up with a creative subject matter idea on a whim. Ideas come unexpectedly, while driving, talking, sleeping, or even at work. For this reason, try to keep a notepad nearby, or at least a notepad app on your smartphone so that you can jot down those fleeting ideas before they’re gone for good.
Another place to look for inspiration is by considering the kind of photography you already like. What is it that you like about those photos? Can you do something similar with the subject matter you have access to?
The Importance of Limiting Yourself
One great way to break ‘shooter’s block’ and find new kinds of inspiration is to limit yourself. Only allowing yourself to shoot photos with a lens aperture of f/4 is a great way to challenge yourself, or only using slow shutter speeds. One classic way to challenge yourself as a photographer is through black and white photography. While really taking black and white photos may seem as easy as taking color photos, in practice, taking really exceptional B&W shots is a talent that takes some time to learn; check GuruShots’ tips for black and white photos. The interplay of light and shadow, the relative values of the various colors in the frame and how they translate into shades of gray, focal length, framing, and nearly every aspect of photography can be rethought when translating an image into a black and white photograph.
Landscape Black and White Photography
Black and white landscape photography can be striking, stark, and can entirely reinvent the mood of a certain setting or place. A forest that looks vibrant and alive in color can be a place of profound solitude and loss in black and white. A snow-covered tree, on the other hand, may look lonely and dead in color, but when captured in black and white with the right emphasis on the play of light, it can suddenly become a source of indescribable magic.
When designing a building, architects often take into account the way that light will fall across the building’s facade. This interplay of light and shadow makes architecture one of the most perfect subjects for black and white photography. Architectural details like gargoyles, carvings, aging hardware on doors and windows, and even natural sources of texture and shadows like the rough surface of stone or brick, or flaking paint on a windowsill, can create images that convey emotions far beyond the mundane nature of their subject matter.
While much of street photography tends to be bright and vibrant, shooting street activity in black and white can be a definite challenge. The photographer learns to notice different things when shooting in black and white – like the crumpled backpack on the sidewalk rather than the happy couple sitting on the bench, or the way the light poles’ parallel shadows run out toward infinity, rather than the flashy ads and billboards on the buildings beyond.
Art portraits are a classic subject matter for black and white photography. Subjects can be lit in dramatic and new ways, allowing light to play on the structure of their faces or the folds of the fabric of their attire. Black and white photography allows a photographer to consider any subject in a new and different way, and taking a truly striking and effective black and white portrait is far more than merely taking a traditional color portrait and simply converting it to a black and white photo.
For any photographer, there are times when no idea seems to work. In these moments, simply shoot everything, as much as you can. Now that we live in the era of digital photography, the days of wasting the precious resource of film are gone, so you can’t take too many photos. Capture the wheel of a shopping cart, a discarded newspaper, people in a crosswalk, the cocktail you are drinking; check this amusing article on cocktail photography. Over time, you will learn to recognize great subject matter when it appears, and will either be able to capture it immediately or take a note to try to capture it later. Do this, and you’ll find yourself with marketplace-worthy photos in no time.
Image courtesy of ClickASnap user Gjesdal