Recently I took a stroll through my photo archives as a way of bench-marking my progress as a photographer and something dawned on me – I’ve begun to overcome a very troublesome disorder for photographers known as Single Subject Blindness.
Have You Ever…
Come home from photographing something spectacular only to have ever photograph you upload be of that one spectacular subject? I mean there’s nothing wrong with this problem – after all you are still getting a photograph of one spectacular subject, but could you have gotten more? Done something else? Seen the scene differently?
So when you think back to some of your recent photo adventures – Have you ever photographed a dramatic sunset and walked away with photographs of only the sunset? Have you ever hiked deep into a forest to photograph a waterfall to walk away with only photographs of the waterfall itself? This is what I’m calling single subject blindness and it is something I’d like to mention today and talk about how I avoid it.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Main Characters – But They Aren’t The Full Story
I do want to mention that there’s nothing wrong with capturing the main characters of your scene, the sunset, the waterfall, the expansive mountain range etc, but I do think that if that’s all you’re photographing when you go out on a shoot you’re missing a big part of the scene around you – the supporting cast!
I’ve done this myself for many years – I’ll get caught up in a scene and return to my computer to see what I’ve captured only to find every photo looks the same. Lately I’ve begun to catch myself doing it in the field and I’ve found a couple of ways to break the habit.
It’s not easy though – The thing is just like in the movies, a great book, or a dramatic play the main characters draw your attention, and keep it. The supporting cast is there to move the story along, but not necessarily be the story – however, they can make for very compelling and interesting subjects when isolated and taken separately. So while we can still photograph our main subjects I think it’s also important to find ways to steer our focus from the obvious subjects to those which are more subtle.
So How Do You Steer Your Focus?
There’s no denying that it’s hard to ignore the main character of your photo shoot – after all many times it’s the reason where there in the first place. If you want to have a chance to photograph the supporting cast of your scene you have to find the strength to divert your focus, even if only for a moment, from that main event. Here are four quick tips that I use to get myself noticing the smaller details of a scene – if you can think of more tricks leave them in the comments below!
4 Quick Tips to Notice the Supporting Cast of Your Scene
- Step back – It’s no secret that stepping back from you camera from time to time can be a huge benefit in improving your photography. It can help you see the entire scene as a whole, it can help you see different compositions of the subject you’re photograph, and yes it can even allow you to find and isolate the supporting cast of your scene which you might have otherwise missed with your eye glued to the viewfinder.
- Close Your Eyes – Take a minute or two and close your eyes. I love doing this when I’m in the middle of no where, sometimes I’ll even spin myself in a couple circles and really try to disorientate myself (make sure you can find your way home before you try this though). The reason this works is because it causes you to really focus in on your location when you open your eyes to find your bearings. You’ll have a new view of your surroundings and this will help you see something that you didn’t notice before.
- Don’t Get Caught Up – I once woke up an hour before dawn in the middle of winter after a snow storm and drove to a frozen lake to photograph sunrise. I took nearly 150 shots during the 45 minutes I was there and ended up with one photograph – the one of the dock above. Of the photographs I took 95% of them looked exactly like the one above. I was cold, tired and very disappointed I didn’t make an effort to photograph other subjects during that shoot, but realized it wasn’t that I didn’t make an effort it was simply that I was caught up in photographing one subject instead of diverting my attention to other smaller details in the scene before me.
- Set an Alarm – If you know you’ll have a problem with number three try setting a timer. Allow yourself only a predetermined amount of time to get the shot you want from your main subject, and then once that time is up, spend the rest of your shoot looking for interesting supporting characters. This tip works wonders and it has a two fold effect – one due to the time crunch to capture the shot of your main subject you’ll find yourself working harder to get the shot you want in as short amount of time as possible, two it gets you looking for other interesting details in the scene you’re photographing.
Have You Ever Been Afflicted With Single Subject Blindness? What have You Done to Fix It?
I’d love to hear your own take on this and what you’ve done to avoid the problem in the comments below!