Beyond snapshots - part one
'Of' or 'about'... It's not just semantics.
Take a look at your photo gallery or your Insta profile (or someone else's) and ask yourself whether the photographs are of a subject or about it.
If you're not sure, the first question to ask yourself is "how does it make you feel?"
If it leaves you cold, then it's likely to be an image of it (or it's something that you are completely disinterested in!).
Take the image
of about the mackerel. Perhaps it makes you feel hungry or inspired to buy / catch / cook some. Or you admire the beauty of its iridescent scales. Or, like a close friend of mine, you're filled with revulsion at the sight of any ingredient with its head still attached. But you do feel something. And the reaction is personal based on your preferences, experiences and values.
Next ask yourself "what does the image tell you?".
This fish is freshly caught / bought and has been carefully / skilfully prepared, ready to be cooked. It's going to taste delicious. Fresh is suggested by the great condition of the mackerel and the freshness of the lemon, beans and rosemary. Skill and care is suggested by the arrangement of the ingredients and by the fact that it's a whole fish, ready to be cooked by someone who knows what they're doing.
Imagine it was just placed anyhow on a scratched plastic chopping board, along with the trimmings from the ends of the beans. That would be a completely different feel and story.
That's what we've just been talking about: what's the story?
Let's look at the key ingredients (see what I did there) of a story: What, Where, When and Who? In some stories you could also have Why and How?
In the mackerel image there's a clear 'what', but 'where' and 'who' are suggested by subtle clues open to your imagination or interpretation. A chef in a trendy restaurant with a penchant for slate? What would it say if the fish was presented on a white marble board or a rustic chopping board?
If it had been shot from a different angle with a glimpse of the kitchen and the people, then you'd also be able to determine more about where and who, and perhaps when (time of day).
Of course the technical part of taking a good photograph matters too. The subject should be in focus and exposed as you'd like it to be, but without strong composition and an emotional connection or story, the image is just of something and not about it.
There's lots of different ways that you can use to convey the where, why, who and when of a photograph, so watch out for the second part of this blog post to discover what they are.