3 Easy Tips for Photographing Details in a Scene
Regardless of the type of event I photograph, I ALWAYS photograph details. Why? Because details help tell the story of an event that nothing else can. Details aid the recollection of memories: words and conversations, scents and aromas, spoken and unspoken emotions. Details also help cement these memories in our brains.
Newborns grow so fast and often parents are exhausted beyond belief. Photographing details helps them remember the sweet moments, especially of those first days. The first tuft of hair, the tiniest fingers, milk spots, windy smiles, hospital tags, first baby hats, and mittens. Captured in details, these moments can be cherished more often and for much longer.
Wedding days go in a total haze for many a couple. All the weeks and hours they have put into planning the decorations and color scheme down to the minutest detail and they don’t even have a moment to fully appreciate them on the wedding day. I carve out time to capture hundreds of detail photos during a wedding. They are just as important as all the other photojournalistic and documentary captures of people and events unfolding on the day.
You don’t need to have an expensive kit to take some good, solid photos. All the photos in this article were intentional snapshots taken during a day trip with me as a tourist. No flashes, just a camera, a 60mm fixed lens and an observant eye looking for details.
Here are 3 tips I find helpful when photographing details:
Photographs are no doubt one of the most visually exciting ways to tell a story, so tell it well using photographs of details.
Let’s consider the five elements of a story to help us communicate it effectively: setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution.
Below is a series of photographs I shot with intent to tell a simple short story (real captures and not staged) with the above elements in mind.
Characters and Plot
This is just a simplistic way of showing you how a story can be captured beautifully in details. The setting is in Copenhagen on a soaking wet and cold day. It had been heavily raining for a good while. Droplets have collected on the bridge adorned with love locks. It’s summer (as seen on the date in the newspaper), and the map is sodden. Somewhere nice and cozy to dry off and relax would be welcome. A girl wrapped in a thick blanket browses the menu. Hot cocoas put a big smile on the children’s faces. It’s a happy summer once again.
a. Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is probably the most well-known and popular composition techniques. It is also my favourite and the easiest that comes to me. The frame is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. Where the sections intersect are the strongest points where your main image or interest in the image should be placed.
This is illustrated above left where the yellow building occupies two-thirds of the space and one third on the left is the overcast sky. In the above right image, the two buildings intersect on a third of the frame. The point of the small tower is positioned about a third from the bottom of the image and a third from the left.
Plain snapshots like these look stronger with this rule of thirds composition.
Can you see how these two images above use the rule of thirds composition?
Another favorite of mine is symmetry; where the main point of interest in the image is placed at the center of the frame. A central composition accentuates the importance of the subject and emphasizes its superiority.
The image above shows the fish at the center and two symmetrical areas on either side of it. More symmetry – the tables and chairs and the windows on either side – strengthens this image further. You can feel the solidity of the structure because of the centered composition.
c. Fill the Frame
As with the above, filling the frame strengthens composition and makes the viewer focus intensely on the subject without unnecessary distractions. The viewer can explore details that otherwise would be lost had the image not filled the frame and cropped distractions. Filling the frame is an effective way of highlighting a point of interest and telling its story from much closer.
d. Depth and foreground interest
Photographs are two dimensional in nature. Many images only show the subject and background. Including foreground adds a third dimension to the space. It increases its depth and makes the viewer feel as if they are on the outside looking in. I use this technique for anything and everything: portraits, objects, or action.
A foreground interest also invites the viewer to explore other elements in the image and look deeper into the other areas of the frame, not just first thing that meets their eye. Because you are inviting the viewer’s eye to move around the image, you make your image more dynamic.
Change your point of view
We see virtually everything at eye level. We often walk around with our faces looking forward not upwards, downwards or sideways. So whenever we change our point of view into a bird’s eye view or worm’s eye view or perspective, we find ourselves seeing new interesting things in common and familiar objects. It’s something I always try to remind myself when shooting: look up, look down, look right, and look left.
In the image below, you can see I’ve also combined this bird’s eye view with the symmetrical composition and the rule of thirds.
Perspective and leading lines
Something as mundane as a bird on a bench can be captured with a touch more interest by moving a few steps sideways and photographing it from a perspective viewpoint. Doing this is making use of the line of the bench to lead the viewer’s eye to the bird – the focal point of the image.
I didn’t want to get too close lest I scared it away. It caught my eye because I thought it was a crow. Then I noticed it was wearing some white feathers like a cardigan on its black body. Look out for leading lines, whether they be straight like benches, rails and fences, or curvy like windy paths, a stream of water or patterned tiles on pavements.
I find photographing details exciting, mentally challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable. It keeps me on my toes, especially when I try to tell a story. I feel a sense of achievement when I’m happy with the results. I hope you try it sometime if you haven’t yet.
If you have any tips for photographing details, do share them in the comments below.