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What To Photograph - Everything or Just One Subject?

What To Photograph - Everything or Just One Subject?

Have you noticed that photography has evolved into an obsession of documenting everything including the proverbial kitchen sink? If it exists, if we can get to it, and if it can be done, someone out there would have already photographed it. And it doesn't matter if it should or shouldn't be photographed. If it can be photographed, someone would have already taken a picture of it.

It's almost as if the world has become a checklist of possible photo opportunities, and it's up to us, the photographer, to demonstrate our worth by accumulating as many diverse image captures as possible. Only through a portfolio of diverse image capture would a photographer be proven accomplished.

So it comes as no surprise that photographers try ever harder to capture the un-capturible if only to to set them apart from those less committed. Focus thus compels them to trek the lengths of the world, to and fro, atop the peak of Everest and down the depths of the Mariana Trenches, just to get that elusive image that is seldom ever photographed - all for the sake of posting that trophy image on a well curated Instagram feed.

Makes going the extra mile worth it, huh?

But then, when you look at the image - albeit perfectly polished in post - there's something missing in it. The collection of diverse image looks exactly as such - a collection of diverse image. Delving deeper into each individual image, and you begin to see a pattern emerging.

All the images are beautiful on the surface, but empty on the inside.

The thing that contemporary photographers fail to understand is that diversity in image capture is overrated. At best, it is a demonstration of effort in documentation. Fundamentally, going the extra mile to document a wide range of subjects and settings isn't a demonstration of photography. It is a demonstration of effort - in a skill unrelated to art and photography.

Consequently, the resulting images of diversity tend to be homogenized. They all have this similar look of perfection, since each subject, each setting, each opportunity needs to be optimized in one singular image capture to represent the entirety of the photographer's effort. Unfortunately, what's missing in homogenized perfection is any sign of presence from the photographer. It's missing individuality. And it's missing uniqueness.

In other words, picture perfect could have been photographed by anyone. In that respect, it's ironic that photographers go out of their way to make a name for themselves, only to become ever more anonymous.

Breakfast with Anna. My recurring subject. This shoot was originally part of my Leica SL with fast lens test. But I figure that I'd rather use it for this write up. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

I've been photographing Anna for the better part of three months. From the side. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

What began more formal, has become more casual. Now closer up. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

Continental breakfast basket of pastries. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

With our interaction becoming more casual, a bond of trust has developed. On the bar stool. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

Trusting each other, we can explore more possibilities. Admittedly texting isn't one of them. Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

However, here I was able to photograph Anna in the process of illustrating something. She is especially good with cats and dogs, in watercolors, no less. The illustrations are so cute! Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux

What might not be entirely evident to most is that historically, art had seldom been about a demonstration of diversity. Rather, the emphasis had always been on exploration of variations. This is not to say that an artist would not jump at the chance of doing something different. But what it does mean is that an artist generally followed the time honored practice of studying a single subject, theme, or setting. In concentrating exclusively or predominantly on one subject, the artist is compelled to explore variations in portraying the same subject.

Exploring variations has always been a mainstay of Western art. We see it with Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Irises, and we see it with Monet's Water Lilies. And the reason why they do this is clear. Through the act of redundancy, the artist, familiar with the subject, is better able to fine tune both observations and techniques, resulting in a more unique level of individual expression. 

It is this expression of individualism that we recognize, given how much more genuine it is over superficial crowd pleasing images. Seeing this expression is unavoidable, because of how close the photographer is to the subject. There is clearly an emotional bond, which compels the photographer to portray the subject in a more deliberate way. And in doing so, a glimpse of the photographers' soul is revealed - showing mood, perspective, and intent.

Clearly, my bias is in favor of exploring variation versus seeking diversity of image capture. That is because I believe the individual expression of the photographer makes an image capture unique. At the very least, it means something to the photographer. And if the subject is a person, the image also means something to the subject, given the care taken by the photographer in making the image.

With that said, is it still worth it to overextend one's self in accumulating trophy images for the sake of appearing like an accomplished photographer? Obviously that is a personal question that only you can answer. But you know where I stand on this issue.

All images in this writeup have been optimize in Lightroom, None of the images have been cropped. Images were all shot wide open on the Leica SL.

Thank you Anna for being here.

Below are some more images. If you like what I post on my website, please don't forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook. That's all I ask from my readers. It's how I know that you appreciate my effort. More importantly, It's the best way to get updates of new write-ups on my site. And I'll do my best to make it interesting.

An appreciation of fine Egyptian cotton. I love how the light in the room brightens the foreground without lightening up the background. Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE

The bone white sheets acting like a natural reflector bouncing off sunlight from the window. Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE

Closer up again. Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE

It should be noted that I am under no illusion that just because I'm photographing Anna a lot, that my pictures somehow hold the moral high ground. On the sofa. Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux

But what is clear to me is that I am refining my observation and technique, because of familiarity in photographing Anna. Reclining. Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux

At the very least, I know how best to portray Anna, or at least, based on my preference. Close up at 280mm. Leica 90-280mm f/2.8-4 Vario Elmarit

PS: A second reminder... If you like what I post on my website, please don't forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook. Thank you!

Photographing Without Purpose

Photographing Without Purpose

Leica 85mm f/1.5 Summarex - Vintage Lens

Leica 85mm f/1.5 Summarex - Vintage Lens