#598. To create you best photographs, you must exhaust your subject

By pascaljappy | How-To

May 23

When you think it’s over, there’s usually a lot more to find.


The secret to great photographs is the same as the secret to any great achievement. In Albert Einstein’s words, 1% inspiration 99% perspiration.


The difference between the low impact snap and the striking gallery image is just that. When you thing you’ve got the shot, push harder. Think differently, get out of your comfort zone and into a creative flow. Forget about Facebook likes and any other social metric. Focus only on what works for YOU. With 7 billion talking bipeds on the globe, chances are that if something speaks really deeply to you, it will to a few others.


Version 1


Deep is the important word here. Forgetting about speculation for one minute, deep emotional impact is what builds connection and gets the wallet out. In 2017, you can choose to impact a tiny number of people at a profound level or collect a zillion meaningless likes that are forgotten seconds after. One will nurture you more than the other.


About 60 meters and less than an hour separate these two (above & below) photographs of the Louis Vuitton foundation in Paris.


My guess is almost everyone reading this will like the image above. And forget about it in less than 10 minutes. The one below ? Most will either discard it, or think I’m just being silly for the sake of attention, or think “hmm, interesting”.


Others will feel deeply about a mega corporation bullying art students into submission to protect their brand and will read more into the meaning of the shallow reflection, the hiding face shape and the upside down composition. A tiny minority will be willing to pay significant money for a limited edition of 30″ piezzo prints.


Version 2


Even at a non-activist level, you might be more interested in that second photograph’s composition and processing than the first.


If you want to create something meaningful, you must exhaust your subject. Photograph it from different angles, using different focal lengths and let something, many things, that you hadn’t planned for, dawn on you.



Look hard before you shoot. Look for people. Look for composition. Look for meaning. Look for the unusual.



You’ll like some stuff, you’ll dislike the rest. That’s good. The only mistake is bland.



Think rectangle. Think square.


Another keeper & piezzo candidate


Think global. Think detail.



Think shape within shape. Think abstract.



Think story. Think environment. Think technology. Think human.



Think colour. Think B&W.



Think scale. Think movement.



Think light. Think heavy.



Think depressing. Think uplifting.



Think dynamic. Think static.



Think horizontal. Think vertical.



Think soft. Think hard.



Think balance. Think tension.



Think object. Think context.



Those are just a selection of photographs from this interesting building. Not really pretty as a whole but fascinating in pieces. I’m sure there’s a lot more to see there and that someone spending time there with a different personal vision would produce an entirely different set.


As destinations go, Paris is a bit of an obvious choice for many. But the Luis-Vuitton foundation borders on the un-destination concept we’ve grown to love here at DearSusan. As has the adjacent “Jardin d’acclimatation” which I’ll describe in a future post. Both come highly recommended.


But that’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s focus on working a subject for as long as you can bare it. In a feature-rich environment, it’s tempting to move from one subject to another as soon as a good shot has been secured. Particularly on a vacation or time-limited trip. However, in order to create more spectacular photographs, it’s often best to stick to just one and wring the last drop of creative juice out of it. It’s once you are past that zapping mode and deep in an receptive state of mind that you do your best work, often intiutively and without realizing. A new meaning for the Zone System, possibly ?


What say you ?


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  • Paul Perton says:

    Excellent and wise words, Pascal. Next time we get to Paris together, be certain I’m going to strong arm you into taking me here.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Looking forward to the wrestling πŸ˜‰ It is an interesting place, though. As is the adjacent amusement park / botanical gardens thingy which I’ll write about asap.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Metadata – which ones were shot on your cellphone? – which on a tripod? – which on liveview, which on AF and which on MF? – if you repeated the shoot, would you use any filters (eg polarising) to en hance the sky?

    I intrigued by suggestions I see from time to time, decrying the practice of taking several different shots of the same subject as “poor planning”. While this building looks simple enough, I suspect it is necessary to try a number of angles and different approaches to determine which are the most satisfactory. A well done shoot of a problematic subject, PJ.

  • philberphoto says:

    Actually, this Frank Gehry building, which I know somewhat, since I brought Pascal there (you can actually see me in one pic…:-), is far, but very far, from being easy to photograph. Oh, sure, you can get “something” out of it, ’cause I do. But to get to this level just leaves me breathless.
    DearSusan at its finest!

  • Sean says:

    Exhausting your subject has purpose. It also comes with it’s own set of challenges and rewards.

    Firstly, for example, how does one go about crafting something different each time one revisits the same subject and photographing it? Not sure, because in sum, it depends on the circumstances. On the surface the subject may often seem to be an unchanged constant. It’s about being perceptive enough to sense, recognise, and pick up on the general and or specific nuances that wait to be discovered in the subject, which maybe dulled by familiarity. It’s also about getting under the surface of the subject, and, once there, responding to those small subtle discoveries as they reveal themselves. These discoveries are important triggers for understanding just how malleable ones drive towards exhausting the subject is – regardless of how constant the subject appears on its surface. The only constant is change, when one tunes into it.

    Capturing these undercurrents of change occurs within a context ‘seek and you shall find’ – because the impermanence of change won’t allow a passive approach to exhausting all potential possibilities of photographing the subject. It’s an active process, that change causes and secures, every time one visits the subject when striving to exhaust all photographic possibilities. You just have to be actively aware of, and pick up on, say, what changed and where was the change, in the subject, regardless of how subtle.

    Constantly revisiting the same subject can drive one to be more enquiring and be more lucid, and hopefully, to be more astute and re-examine to go deeper, and appreciate just how rich and rewarding a regularly photographed subject can be, when striving to exhaust its photographic possibilities.

    Secondly, another challenge is to be able to continually compose and craft a meaningful photograph, in relation to a familiar subject. The singular or combined use of, for example, pattern or design, highlight or shadow, or sharpness or diffusion can eke out and reveal new aspects of that familiar subject – as is colour, or mono.

    One hurdle is achieving a harmonious and purposeful geometry, within an image. This can take some time to master and also realise its importance to the crafting of an image when exhausting the subject being photographed. Again, change can hinder or help in achieving a harmonious and purposeful geometry.


  • Steffen says:

    That is an good advice and wonderful examples. During a creative process in general, getting rid off obvious ideas and common perspectives, and coming up with new solutions, is the most important part. There are several frameworks from agile and design thinking to cover this particular process. You probably can adapt these techniques so you don’t need to shoot so many photos but do it all in your head.

    However, exhausting a subject has to disadvantages:
    1. It seldomly works with travel photography due to time constraints and context (this is a travel photography centered blog at last).
    2. Having so many images makes it really hard to select the final best photo. And this is where many photographers struggle: bad editing and dozens of similar photos from the same place/event that gets tired and repetitive after the 3rd version.
    3. Getting really deep under the skin is hard work. So the photographer is biased to his later work that took more effort and which he wants to show. Therefore he’s likely to dismiss the first shots that are probably better.

    • Adrian says:

      As someone who photographs a lot of “travel”, I somewhat disagree with your points:

      1. The worst sin of photographing a new location is to immediately shoot whatever you see when you first see the subject. It’s what every tourist with every camera phone will do (probably whilst posing in front of said attraction for a perfect selfie). Dear Susan has already discussed the “plague” of destination photography, so every photographer does the same research and gets the same online advice and goes to the same spot to take the same photo. It is frankly pointless. If you are photographing “travel” with any commercial intent, rather than as a simple tourist seeing the sights, then you either need to do something better, or you need to do something unique. “Exhausting a subject” is perhaps a metaphor for making the investment in time to find better views, locations, compositions, abstractions to make you work better and unique. It’s not uncommon for travel photographers to scout locations and understand the light only to return at a later date or time to get the shot they pre-visualised.

      2. An important part of the creative process, and being a good photographer, is being able to select your best work. I agree that many people show too many similar pictures taken at a location, when an edit of the truly great images would have made a more concise and impactful visual story (this is fresh in my mind having looked at someone’s pictures of a museum of sculpture, which was 3 times longer than it needed to be, but social media online etiquette prevented me from saying so as negative comments are not allowed, only “wow! wonderful set” type ephemera). Learning to know and select what’s good is as important as knowing how to take the picture in the first place.

      3. I’m not sure I fully understand this point, but I agree getting into a subject can be hard work. Sometimes inspiration comes early, sometimes it’s the last shot. I openly confess that on some occasions when shooting physique portraits, test shots to check lighting are better than the actual shoot, though that is at least in part because the model changes when they think you are doing the shoot – inanimate objects don’t do that, so it’s down to you as the photographer to find and make something great. I would always recommend taking 3 shots for every 1, at least to remove technical error (focus, DOF, straight horizon etc) checking carefully between each one to ensure technical merit and adjusting accordingly. The same is also true for composition and vision. Keep going until you have nothing more to say.

      My response here isn’t criticism, but pre-empts an article I have written for DS and discussed with Pascal on the subject of suffering from creative block. The “cure” was to an extent doing just what Pascal describes in his earlier article here.

  • GH says:

    Love your take on one subject and just amazed by the many different perspectives you managed to achieve from just 1 subject! Well done and looking forward to more great photographs! πŸ™‚

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