Behind the Lens: Circling your subjects can lead to better photos

When I offer instruction to people on how to take better photographs, I usually lean on my list of 10 or so visual devices.

These include techniques adaptable to every camera and photographer and include things like the use of dominant foregrounds and contributing backgrounds, juxtaposition, internal framing and linear perspective.

What I often forget to mention is that these techniques work best if you move around a lot.

A good photojournalist should circle a subject or event kind of like a turkey vulture circles road kill.

I circle subjects and events to explore options, discover unique perspectives and observe how the light falls from different directions. In other words, good photography is not something you can pursue from a lawn chair.

This spring I happened to be driving by Lawrence High School when I spotted a group of students drawing outside.

I approached a group of six girls and determined they would be the subject and focus of a feature photograph. I got their names, took some basic straight-ahead shots and started exploring different angles and options to improve my image.

I put my camera on the ground for some low-perspective shots to eliminate background clutter. I zoomed in tight on just three girls to catch interaction and facial expressions among the trio. I attempted a shot down the row of girls from the side. I even moved so far away from the group that they were no longer identifiable but were just one of several groups of painters, dwarfed in the scene by a large tree and the school building.

I wasn’t particularly excited about any of the shots but I kept circling, even widening my search. That is when I noticed how I could frame one of the girls at a distance with a foreground form of another student. Because of the way the sunlight was landing on the student’s sketch pad in the foreground, his face was brightly illuminated providing nice highlights and definition to his forward leaning frame as he sketched. While the other shots were not necessarily failures, by continuing to circle my subject and consider other opportunities, I found one framing that I thought created a unique and successful feature.


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