5 Ways to Create Detail Photos


Like any form of art, compelling photography is not simply about reproducing your subject, it’s about representing your subject with visual hints and clues that suggest the larger scene. Accuracy isn’t what’s going to excite your viewer and draw them into your image, it’s feel, style and message.

details-photography-01.jpgWhen composing your photos, you don’t just want to show your audience what they can already see when they look at things in real life. Instead, you want to give them an abbreviated version of the scene that will make them try to visualize what lies beyond the borders of your frame. Your goal is to make a creative depiction of the world that invokes the imagination and emotions of your viewer. If you can activate not just their eyes, but also their brains, you’ll go further towards holding their attention with your shot.

One way to shoot abbreviated scenes is to accentuate details that your viewers might not notice as they speed through life. These kinds of shots often make for powerful photographs because it’s an easy way to fire up your viewer’s imagination. Let’s explore a few different examples of how you might approach shooting these kinds of detail photos.

5 Ways to shoot detail photos

1. The single detail

Sometimes you can show a single aspect of the scene without giving away any other information about the rest of the scene, other than what is clearly apparent in your image. Just about every type of subject lends itself to this type of photograph: architecture, travel, environmental features, landscapes and even action.

When shooting the single detail, make sure you focus on creating a simple yet powerful image. Since your subject matter will be limited, the strength of your image will depend on a good composition and the strong use of light, colour and form. (see photos above and below as example)

Details photography 02

2. Details that give a sense of place

Including more elements in your shot often hints about how the subject relates with its surroundings. This can really add depth to your shot, because it starts to imply reference and narrative, instead of just being about a single thing. You’ll want to include enough information in the image that suggests a greater story about the scene to your viewers, without giving away too much information or weighing down your photograph.

Details photography 03 Details photography 04

3. Larger details

Detail shots don’t always have to be photographs of smaller objects and they don’t always have to be taken up close. There is enough detail of different sizes in the world that you can focus on nearly anything, as long as you can accentuate that particular subject matter in a visually appealing way.

This is where long lenses really shine. I love shooting long, suggestive shots, of distant subjects with my telephoto zoom lens. The narrow angle of view lets me focus on just two or three elements, and the shallow depth of field creates a soft background that doesn’t distract from the main subjects.

Details photography 05

Details photography 06

4. Lines and textures

Sometimes your shot will be more about simple graphic form and texture, instead of a physical object. When done right, you can still tell a powerful visual story with limited subject matter. Experiment with lines, shapes, colours, patterns and other abstract subject matter that appeals to you. Shadows can be powerful compositional elements because they suggest how your subject relates with other tangible objects around them.

Details photography 07

Details photography 08

5. Human details

People often make for the most powerful subjects, because as humans, we all relate with and respond to each other on some level. There is an unending variety of details that you can capture when shooting humans and their actions. Try focusing on elements such as interaction, motion, emotion and their association with others and with the world in general.

Details photography 09

Details photography 10

Less is more

Remember, you don’t always have to show the whole thing. Sometimes even a single abbreviated detail can be a powerful image. Experiment with cropping and zooming in on your subjects, to show the minimum amount of visual information needed to make a good photograph. You might be surprised at how little you need to show in order to create a compelling image.

As I like to say, any time you can invoke your viewer’s imagination, you’ve gone a long way towards creating a successful image. Strive for simplicity with your photography and see how far you can take this concept to its fullest potential.

What is your message?

Accuracy isn’t what’s going to excite your viewer and draw them into your image, it’s feel, style and message.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dan Bailey is a full time professional outdoor, adventure and travel photographer based in Alaska. When he’s not off exploring in the mountains, writing about photography, or riding his bike in foreign lands, he can sometimes be found lurking in the forums right here at DPS. Check out his blog and find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Ruki

    This is a well-written and insightful article.
    Thanks and have a nice day !

  • Raghavendra
  • fotobytes

    I’ve tried the link for “Snapndeals” several times, and I’m unable to find the deal for the books …. is the link correct … what am I doing wrong?

  • ladyhelipilot

    I went to purchase the 3-book bundle on SnapnDeals via the link in the post, but am unable to find it. I’ve tried about 7 times in the last couple of hours. Different browsers and clearing cache etc. But still taking me to the same page and still unable to find the offer. Please advise. Thanks!

  • Sorry about that the deal will be live shortly and I’ll update the link

  • Don

    If you’re having trouble ordering Dan’s books, keep trying they are worth it.

  • fotobytes

    Okay, now the link actually works!

    At the top of the blog the offer is 3 ebooks for $29, while at the bottom it states “get 4 titles”. Which is it? The Snapndeals site shows 3 ebooks, normally $36.95 on sale for $29.00. Does this mean the 4th book is not included?

  • It should work now the link has been updated, sorry for the confusion.

  • It should work now the link has been updated, sorry for the confusion.

  • Sorry about that it is three books. I did not have the right link when I queued up the article and my mistake for missing the 3/4 error. Thanks for letting me know so I can correct it.

  • Never have really tried the less is more approach! http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Great article. It is important that the small detail can be related to its place in the greater scene, like the crevasse in the iceberg in the mountains. Also good to see the other foot in the shot of the boot. However, I was disturbed by the shot of the arm holding the climbing rope – would have liked to see a bit more of the surroundings here – maybe include a fraction more of the climber? Composition is very important.

  • Great article and yes less is more when it comes to most images. Less is more tell more of the story and leaves the viewer asking question and wanting to find out more about the photo and hence often the photographer. Less is more with landscape as we are blasted daily with way too many images that show grand images and iconic ones that all have seen too often. Find the partial and unusual. The wedding ring tells of the wedding and bride, capture that and other details. Leave the viewer wanting more. Not true with portraits of course. http://www.tlgphoto.com

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Black is black.

  • Carol L. Watts

    Great article! I love the “less is more” approach, or minimalism as many photog’s call it. I would like to see more of it in my own work; I have a tendency to ‘think for the viewer,’ which I know isn’t a particularly good habit. I’d love to see more articles on this intriguing subject, please. Well done and thanks, Mr. Bailey!

  • Carol L. Watts

    I agree w/your statement re: portraits for the most part. Some black and white portraits show only a portion of the face by using imaginative lighting/shadows. Beautiful images. I am not a portraitist, but I truly admire those who are …..

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