Choosing the Right Subject
If you've been following these blogs of mine, you know I like to make pictures that tell a story or send a message and have some level of emotion to them. For documentary photographers, half of the road to success at this is simply choosing the right subject.
I taught photography in a high school in southern California for a short time. On my very first day, I went around the room asking each student the same three questions. One of them was, "What would you like to photograph this year?"
Naturally, the usual answer was, "My friends." I'd then ask, "Are your friends visually interesting?"
"Visually interesting." By this I did not mean good looking. In fact, I was thinking quite the opposite. While a pretty face is nice to look at, in my opinion, it gets old fast. But an ugly face, and I mean a really ugly face, remains fascinating.
I remember reading that a famous movie director, it may have been Frederico Fellini, purposely put ugly actors in the background of his movies. I guess he and I have the same idea.
So where do you find a visually interesting subject? They're all around. You just have to look for them.
The following is an excerpt from my autobiography, Mickey Rooney Was Right, which illustrates my point. (I wrote the book as D.W. Paone, which is why I refer to myself as that in this excerpt.)
Another girl who took a liking to photography was Amber Thometz. I took some pictures of her one day but they just weren't anything worthwhile. It was partly because she was wearing the wrong outfit.
She'd continually ask, "When are you taking pictures of me?" and I kept waiting for her to have the right look. She had had it on other days and I was waiting for her to have it again.
A trend at Palm Desert High was for the girls to receive balloons on their birthday. They'd be sent by their friends, delivered to the classroom, and it's like being Queen for a Day.
One day Amber was sitting in the front row of my class with her balloons. Her face showed a bit of sadness.
D.W.: Let's go take those pictures now.
AMBER: But I don't have any makeup on.
D.W.: I know.
AMBER: But I don't look too happy.
D.W.: I know. That's why we're going to take them now.
We went into the hallway and I knocked off a roll of film, or close to it, and I got a picture I'm very happy with.
So there you have it. The subject was right in front of me, literally, and all I had to do was recognize the moment had arrived and act on it.
Another example of this is I lived in northern California for two weeks. (Explained in my book.) During that time I helped someone take some large items to the garbage dump in my pickup truck. While we were there, I saw this huge mountain of garbage. I don't know why, but garbage fascinates me and I find it visually interesting.
I made a mental note: "Come back here and get a picture." So before I left for good, I returned to the dump and asked if I could take a picture of one of the workers standing in front of the mountain of garbage. I received permission from the boss and I put a guy up front... holding a broom. This was to give the illusion that he just swept up this mountain of garbage with a little broom, all by himself. I call the picture, Finished at Last.
Once again, the subject was right there. All I had to do was come back with a camera.
I have to warn you, though, this doesn't always work. I've had times where I swore I picked just the right subject but came up with no usable picture. Other times, after shooting a roll or two, I could see what I missed and went back to shoot again and the second time around achieved success. It can be hit or miss.
One of my students photographed her sister for an assignment. There were 12 pictures on the roll and frames one through 11 just didn't work. She had the right subject but her execution was poor. Until frame 12. With one picture left, she changed her angle drastically (shooting from high above) and the picture worked wonderfully. (Eventually we made an 8x10 of it mounted for presentation.)
I hope these blogs are inspiring those who read them to take more pictures. If you keep seeking out the right subjects, before you know it you may have a nice body of work to present. Now get going!
If you want to read more about how I found subjects, please read my book. It's available at the Malverne Public Library and for purchase through this link: http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000365853/Mickey-Rooney-Was-Right.aspx
Thank you for reading this.