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In this article we’re going to talk about how having a theme before you go out to shoot can improve your images.
I used to go out on the street, in order to find the perfect shot. Months in a row I did that. I knew that I loved this lack of control, but something didn’t match. I wasn’t as excited as I thought and even my images weren’t good enough, I couldn’t understand why.
So, I took a small break from hunting beautiful images and I started to watch how others worked. I looked at many professional photographers, to find what makes them click.
That was when I realized my big mistake. My problem was that every time I went out, I had nothing to focus on. My eyes were looking for pictures everywhere, but my mind wasn’t able to sort out all these images. Something was missing, and that was a theme.
Taking pictures based on a theme has a lot of benefits and it can change your shooting approach in a very positive way. That’s why many photographers work like this because it makes their life much more easy and practical.
Imagine yourself in a very crowded place, let’s say a musical festival. The possibilities for images and angles are infinite. You may take pictures of the whole crowd, of a couple spending time together, or a detail on someone’s jacket. Or maybe you can take pictures of the musicians only. How can you do all these things and not get tired or confused?
You need to remove the things that are not important for your ideas or style of shooting. Therefore, you have to know what you’re looking for before you go out to shoot.
Let’s say you decide that your theme at that music festival should be about ladies dancing. Now, you will focus all your attention only on them, taking pictures of details on their hands, clothes, etc., and mix it up with portraits and action shots. Try different angles and perspectives, because now you have something to focus on. As a result, you eliminate all the things that might get you disorganized, such as big crowds, couples, general landscapes of the festival, etc.
Elimination is the key.
Before working on themes in my photography, I spent many hours searching for wonderful movements and scenes to capture with my camera. On an average day, I would walk in the city for eight to nine hours and shoot for only a half hour. Why? Because I didn’t know what I was looking for.
By choosing a specific theme or subject before you go out, you will know where to look. For example, if you want to take portraits of dog owners, as a first step you can try going to the park where people walk their dogs and ask them to pose for you. On the next day, you may go at a dog grooming place, and so on.
Working on themes is a very good time-saving habit that can help you remove the gap between finding the perfect shot and actually doing it.
Regarding the topics you may choose, your interest can grow in time. You will start to understand more about what you’re photographing and after few months, you may find yourself with a strong body of work.
For example, if you have a passion for street fashion and you build a portfolio with great images on that theme, you can use that portfolio to find your future clients. You may try fashion magazines, agencies, or even online publications. Also, you can enter those images in a competition to see if they are good enough to grant you some recognition or a prize. But I don’t suggest you take pictures only for getting recognition because then you could end up working on things you may not like that much.
We all think about style, it’s an artist’s signature. We want people to recognize our pictures just by looking at them and say, “These are John’s images because they look this specific way.” We want our name out there in the best way possible.
Developing a style is a matter of time. You don’t have to fight for it because it will come by itself after years of hard work.
By working on themes and the things you care about, you’ll start to notice what things you like to photograph and how you like to do it. You will begin to understand and see yourself in your work. In this growing process, your style will evolve. It’s not a matter of conscious decision, but of knowing yourself.
If you are in a hurry to stamp your work with your style, then find a theme you are interested in and photograph that. You can’t go wrong.
So if you feel like your work isn’t progressing and you’re stuck, try shooting around a theme for a while. See how it helps you focus, improve your style and in the end become a better photographer.
Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.