Connect With Your Subject

Connect with your subject, exhaust all possibilities and you’ll come back with great shots

There are many reasons why Photographer A may produce better pictures than Photographer B, who turns out more dramatic images than Photographers C, D, E. One photographer may have a better eye for composition. Another may possess better technical skills. Another may be out in the field six days of the week which adds to the odds of capturing a special moment. Also, one may have a better ability to read light. In a perfect world, every photographer would have all the above working in his or her favor. While most of the above reasons obviously contribute to excellent picture making, I offer you a more obscure one. One that I support and feel makes a tremendous impact on the final image: Learn To Connect With Your Subject.

Revisit Often: As a leader of nature photo tours to many of the most scenic locations in the US and Tanzania, I often have the following conversation with my participants. Whether it’s them asking me if I ever get bored seeing the same places or them telling me they have no reason to go back to (fill in the blank) because they’ve already been there, I ask the following: What’s your favorite flavor ice cream? Regardless of the answer, I ask them if they’ve purchased it multiple times. Of course they say, “Yes,” and I simply smile waiting for them to make the connection. We then discuss purchasing different manufacturer’s brands and I bring up the concept of different lighting conditions. We go on to talk about how the level of hunger may enhance the flavor. The point to revisiting a location often is each time it will “taste” a bit different - sometimes better sometimes worse but never bad. The better the taste, the better the photographs. The more often you revisit, the more you can connect with your subject.

Study It: The bottom line reason for making a photograph is something compels the photographer to lift the camera to his or her eye to record the moment, event, expression, etc. It’s frozen in time in a fraction of a second and more often than not, the photographer contentedly walks away. The moment is captured, but the potential for so much more awaits the photographer willing to further study the subject, invest the time, and make that connection. If all you make is one photo of the subject, it’s your best. But if you continue to further connect with the subject and make more, odds are the best one may come about after that first shot. Walk around the subject and study the light. Watch for compelling compositions that “call your name.” Get down low to change your perspective. Get up high and look down for unique angles. Every additional minute you spend with the subject allows you to make a deeper connection. Every step you make to your left or right provides the same. The next time you make that first shot of whatever the subject is, devote a few extra minutes to connect more deeply and you’ll be amazed at the repercussion.

Get To Know It: The first time you picked up your camera, did you know about all its features? The first time you got behind the wheel of an automobile, did you fell relaxed and comfortable? More than likely, the first click of the shutter of a new subject will not produce the best image. Connect with your subject, exhaust all possibilities and you’ll come back with great shots.

Visit for information about his nature photography tours.


    Thanks for this essay. You beautifully expressed something I needed to hear and take to heart. Thanks for a great start to a new year of deepening my photography.

    Russ, I have been enjoying your tips for a couple of years now and you have definitely made an impact on my photography. This time you struck a chord as I usually want to go someplace new, when I can get great shots in my own back yard. Thanks bunches and happy new year!

    Nan and Shannon – I’m happy to hear you continue to enjoy the tips. I love to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated to help bring people to the next level in their pursuit of photography. Don’t lose your passion and motivation.

    Russ, Thanks for this essay; one that I really needed. Seems when I am on a workshop I take the standard iconic pix and then get bored and start looking around for something new which contributes to a very eclectic portfolio but nothing in depth. Funny that this is not the case with birds or wildlife but landscapes and cityscapes. Short attention span I guess.So I need to work the subject as you suggest. Thanks!

    This question is a familiar to not just Photographers but all outdoor people. Do we visit old friends or make new ones? You make a compelling case for old friends.

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