Light, Subject and Style in Photography

If you want to photograph with natural light, you have to get really good at understanding how your camera reads light. Every camera setup is different and not every camera is equally good at capturing what you want, but if you work with any camera for a period of time you can discover what lighting situations work best. Looking for good light is a huge part of being a photographer, but that is only one part. Photography means writing with light, but what are you writing about?

Empty waves are a great subject

Sometimes photographers struggle with finding a subject that inspires them, but that can be achieved through trial and error, too. The thing is, you have to figure out what you are good at and what other people want to see. That is the goal: to give people something to study.

Apex predator hunts the cliffs in Santa Cruz

You might need to choose a few different subjects depending on where you live but that is a super important decision. Now, the subject you choose is going to be very key to how people perceive you as a photographer, but you also need to keep growing and finding ways to keep your tools sharp.

Big swells hitting Santa Cruz coastlines

Living in Santa Cruz, there is no shortage of beautiful scenery, but is that what makes a great photograph? Is it just being somewhere beautiful at the right time, or is it more than that? Sometimes it might be that simple, but that is not going to lead you to a personal style or a recognizable voice. I don’t think that I have enough power to resist the shots that want to be taken. When you look at a landscape, how do you make it personal? What are you looking for that nobody else sees or sees as being important?

Blackbirds in green grass

Subject can be an entry to style all on its own. Think about Humans of New York, which is possibly one of the biggest photography projects of modern times. That has little or nothing to do with Brandon’s style as a photographer. It has to do with his desire to collect stories and to celebrate the city that he loves. Because it got big enough, his project has more than a style: it has an ethos. People want to be a part of it. It brings you serious fame and acclaim to be featured on the HONY page.

Why you choose your subjects will matter, too. What is your personal connection to what you are hunting with your camera? It isn’t necessary for there to be a clear and obvious connection. Maybe sometimes that is better left unsaid, but you want to know why you choose a subject. There are some subjects that are hard to own. All subjects are hard to own. There are so many photographers working today and getting great shots that it is really important to do everything you can to set yourself aside from the crowd.

Connection with a place matters

Here in Santa Cruz we have a mixture of different cultural things that can make good subjects. We have the waves, we have skateparks, we have mountains, redwoods, wildlife and beautiful people. We have tons of possible subjects for photographers to choose, but what happens is usually everyone tends to go in the same direction, and it is not that hard to figure out why. The ocean has a huge allure for a lot of people. We are drawn to it. It has a mesmerizing quality.

Steamer Lane showing power

I shoot lifestyle, product and commercial photography for businesses in Santa Cruz and I am always looking for good opportunities to create some content that will work well for those brands. Creativity is just what it is. You have a task and you do your best to think of new and fun ways to achieve it.

Barney Roll?

This time of year, there is a lot of good light. The angle of the sun never gets too high, so it is always somewhat soft and golden. Plus, the sunrise and sunset each day doesn’t have that much time in between. We get some amazing color at daybreak and at dusk and it’s hard to imagine many photographers resisting the call of those tones.

Big Pete’s sunset

We are in a period of the month right now where the moon is already set by the time the sun goes down. The nights are cold and wet. The air is clean and stings your face in the morning when you go out to a pre-dawn car and head out to shoot. Being out for that kind of beauty in the morning is a great way to start the day. You have to be ready early, though, because the colorful part of the sunrise sometimes happens a full thirty minutes before sunrise. It’s good to know what the weather is doing so that you have some idea of if you need to be out there super early or what. It is probably a good idea just to always get out there early so that you have that as a habit. Even if there is no great early morning color, you can always make some interesting shots before the first light of day. Plus, you will be out there warming up your skills so that when the light peaks the way you want it to it will be easier to capture what you want.

Waves on waves

Even though photography only involves pushing a button as the consummate act of creation it is actually a difficult skill. All it takes to fire a gun is to pull the trigger, but there is a huge difference between shooters.

Rainy flowers

Santa Cruz is a surf town, a college town, an organic farming town. These are the things that define us. There are other factors, of course, but those are core to who we are. I think that your subject matter is best to have something personal and something about the place you are working. You should both be expressing something unique to your own experience and something that is useful to the people who live where you work.

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