Adobe Photoshop introduced the Subject Select feature in a 2018 update, but it’s more useful to us as photographers than we may have first thought. The ability to select a subject on command is a great feature that can help us with our creative vision, too.
The subject of a photograph is the most important feature. The subject guides our composition, exposure, lighting, and all other creative decisions. Our subject is the main focus of our scene, both figuratively and literally. It should be the sharpest point across the scene as well as being the obvious main feature our viewers are compelled to look at. We can use a simple trick in Adobe Photoshop to check whether our image has a subject. Here’s what to do:
Select > Subject
That’s it! If Photoshop selects the thing that we think is the subject, we’ve done a good job. If it doesn’t, maybe we should rethink the shot. (And sometimes photoshop is wrong, but still it would be a great exercise) Here’s what Select Subject thought of my shot from Lake Bled, Slovenia:
As a demonstration of where this shows other image features when determining the subject, here’s a shot from the Old Man of Storr, Scotland:
The pinnacle itself has been selected, but so has the cloud beside it. The cloud is brighter than the pinnacle, which is probably why. This is something we need to make a judgment call on, and this method gives us a very good idea of the subject of our shot.
Here are more tips to help find a subject when shooting.
Look for light
We’re subconsciously drawn to the brightest part of an image first. Consider the light and how it falls on the intended subject when shooting. It’s great to have a nice shape to the light that helps distinguish the layers of depth in the image, too.
Placement matters. We’re armed with all the rules of composition, and we should use them to place the subject in a prime position. For example, if you place your subject at a rule-of-thirds intersection, it’s likely to be more obvious and appear more intentional. For more composition rules, just look here.
Tell a story
Storytelling is hugely powerful in photography, yet it’s hugely underrated. It seems a lot of photographers take a step back in this regard. If we relate this to art in general, almost every piece aims to tell a story interpreted by the viewer, provoking some thought to fill in the blanks. We can achieve this by taking a step back and leaving hints as to what the bigger picture really is.
Play with familiarity
One key to great photographs is to shoot familiar objects and locations from an unfamiliar perspective. A trick to make this work is to think of the subject of our image as more of a feature. Check out this example of the Eiffel Tower to see what I mean.
In this shot, the Eiffel Tower is clearly the subject, but the way it’s been shot makes it seem more like a feature in a larger scene. In the foreground, forming the first layer of depth is the structure of the Bir Hakeim bridge. The Eiffel Tower itself is in the middle ground, along with the River Seine. The sky at dawn forms the background. This separation helps to tell a story as well as play with familiarity.
Overall, the subject can make or break a photograph. We need to give it due consideration and use a subject, even if it’s a plain or boring element. Presenting something as a subject causes interest. Try this trick and see if your photos have a distinguishable subject.