Exploring Your Subject, Part II

Going Beyond One Picture

Last week In Part I of Exploring Your Subject, I introduced the concepts of environmental, intimate and abstract portraits. These approaches are means of exploring your subject so that “no stone is left unturned” in the process of searching for that one expression that communicates how we feel about the subject. In Part II let’s take it a step further and discuss the idea of going beyond one image to create a richer more meaningful story.

We have all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that is certainly appropriate in many amazingly crafted photographs, but not all subject matter can be described this way. Sometimes subjects needs more images to fully communicate your story.

There are many ways you could approach this as the photographer and one I discussed is in the last blog; exploring your subject through the concepts of environment, intimate and abstract portraits. If you decided to actually shoot all the concepts you could then use three of those selections to create something artists call a triptych, meaning three images shown together that develop the story even further. A diptych contains two images. You could also incorporate more than three to tell the story and for the sake of simplicity I use the “panel” reference to describe any number of images in the body of the work, since there are no proper words that describe more than three. How ever many you choose to express your vision, the images should strengthen the expression in a cohesive idea.

JohnsonDoug_Apples_TriptychThis triptych was created from an exploration of a bowl of apples on my dining room table and it shows each of the three concepts (environmental, intimate and abstract) that I explored. By showing all three concepts in one idea, the viewer now can share more fully my feelings about them. The beautifully round, smooth apples which accent a quiet space of a dining room table. The visual story is strengthened by the inclusion and study of all three photographs. The viewer would not create the same storyline by looking at any of the photographs individually.

The emotional story the the viewer might share is also strengthened; Mom’s homemade apple pie, a bite into one on a sunny spring day, a family gathering or even sitting there with a cup of tea on a quiet morning reading their favorite book – the list is endless depending on the viewer’s experiences. The left image is a intimate portrait. The middle is environmental and the right is an abstraction.

JohnsonDoug_Bayside_TripThis six panel of images are abstract portraits of historic small cottages that line the streets of a small town, and they strengthen the idea of a quirky little community which is what I see and feel when I walk the streets of Bayside on the coast of Maine.

On many workshops I present this compositional approach to exploring subject matter and frequently give a triptych assignment to be included with their favorite images for the final slideshow that wraps up the workshop. Many participants have told me it’s one of those valuable approaches to their workflow in the field and I agree. It has made me a much better photographer as well.


In the RMSP blog post called Sketching with your Smart Phone published this past spring, I discussed the advantages of using the camera phone to preview what the composition might look like before you haul out the big camera and tripod. In the article I also gave recommendations for apps that help us do this from basic composition to panoramic merges and HDR. The triptych concept can benefit from some similar applications that not only allow you to enhance the images and organize the multiple files, but add preset frames you can choose, too. What a great way to see a snapshot of your whole story before you begin.

There are many smart phone apps available to create a multiple panel view of your exploration. The one I use is PicFrame by Active Developed.











If any of you know of other good phone camera apps you use or know about, post it in the comments for this blog and share it with our community.

Enjoy the exploration!