Directing Attention to the Subject

by | Jan 21, 2022 | Perspective, Stories & Expeditions | 0 comments

My brother Michael works as a beekeeper at a giant apple orchard on an abandoned coal mine site in southern West Virginia. The abandoned coal mine site is giant too. Like, ginormous! Hundreds and hundreds of acres of empty West Virginia wilderness. The bee yards he maintains are scattered sporadically from one end of the acreage to the other with the roughest of roads connecting them. He loves it.

And in the autumn, he took my family on a grand tour of the place!

We hopped in the back of a giant black pickup truck and headed out into the backwoods. We passed deserted mine shafts. We collected lumps of coal. We climbed higher and higher to the top of a mountain with spectacular views!

211015_James Staddon_1766 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 89 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

211015_James Staddon_1729 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 100

211015_James Staddon_1731 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 75 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 100

At one spot, we stopped to pick the abundance of wild grapes hanging right along the side of the road. And it was not too far from that spot that I asked them to stop the truck so I could take a picture of a picturesque trickle. Yeah, like, you couldn’t exactly call it a waterfall. It was just water trickling down through the streambed.

But it was pretty. So that’s why I wanted to stop.

Here’s my first shot (unedited).

211015_James Staddon_1736 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 500

You’re probably thinking, “What, you stopped to take pictures of that?” Yeah. That’s because, in this photo, I’m not doing a very good job of showing you what was there. I’m not drawing proper attention to the subject. You can’t tell it’s a pretty scene. And there are more than a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, the lighting. It looks like I’m blasting direct flash right into the scene. But it’s actually sunlight, shining in from behind me. Regardless, it looks unnatural, and the light-illuminated rocks are drawing attention to themselves so the little “picturesque trickle” isn’t much of anything to look at.

Another reason. The white balance. It’s quite cool. Not the warm tones you would expect from natural sunlight.

Another reason. The trickle isn’t what’s in focus. In case you didn’t already know, a good way to draw attention to the subject is to focus on it.

And another reason. The elements I included in the scene. Rocks are nice. But there are so many of them that my eye wants to go explore them, and the trickle is now just an aside.

I took four more photos of this particular trickle, and decided it just wasn’t the right place to be spending my time. So I moved to some trickles a couple yards up stream.

211015_James Staddon_1743 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 200 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 2000

A much better spot. Everything’s in the shade now, and it’s focused properly. But still, I don’t have the white balance right and the composition still includes a lot of random elements that draw attention away from the subject and don’t contribute to the feeling I was trying to capture in this scene.

So I snapped a couple more photos and came up with this one. (Again, a completely raw, unedited version.)

211015_James Staddon_1750 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 169 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

Even lighting, no distracting highlights. The foreground trickle is tack sharp.

There are no major elements that compete with the subject. The out-of-focus trickle in the background complements the in-focus one. Bang, you know right off what this photo is all about. The blurred leaves in the foreground not only provide some depth, but contribute to the feeling I wanted to portray of an autumn scene. Attention is being drawn to the subject.

The main problem now is the white balance. I was using Auto WB (I think), but that was easily fixed in post.

211015_James Staddon_1750 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 169 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400-2

Wow, what a difference that makes! Now there’s no opportunity to think creepy, deep-dark-spooky-forest thoughts. This is a peaceful, autumn expression. You can almost hear the gurgling sound of the water!

But it’s not perfect. Let’s tweak the brightness, contrast, and saturation a bit so we can eliminate anything that would make viewers want to think about anything other than the subject. And maybe a little crop too, to remove such emphasis on the foreground leaves?

211015_James Staddon_1750 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 169 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400-3

And one final edit. A fairly heavy vignette. Not enough to draw attention to itself. Just to further draw attention to the subject.

211015_James Staddon_1750 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 169 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400-4

There! PERFECT! No question now about what I’m trying to share with the viewer. All the attention is going to where it’s supposed to go. To the subject.

If your life was a photo, what would be your subject? Are you the subject? Or is Christ the Subject? What are you focused on? Does everything about you point others to Christ, the Subject of all your affections? When others are around you, do they see lots of distractions, or do they see Christ?!

Thus the exhortation from 1 Peter 2:11-12. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

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