How to Photograph Details
Details are an important part of our life. From the artistic miniatures found on book pages to meticulous architectural details, from the texture of our clothes to the pattern of a leopard, people are drawn to details. They may be small, but they are powerful.
We notice the smallest detail before noticing the bigger picture. Details make us curious and raise a thousand questions. A red lipstick, a fancy hat, a different flower in a bunch, a strangely shaped window in an entire building, a traditional motif on a towel, a symbol on the frontispiece of a church are just a few examples of little details that can make a difference. One of the most famous photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, said: “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.”
What does it take to find a small detail and get a great photograph? To start, it requires inspiration and a good knowledge of your subject. It’s one thing to take an artistic image of an arbitrary subject and it’s something completely different to find the specific detail which best describes a subject. Think of art history. Every period had a special feature which defines its essence. Details in photography define the uniqueness of a subject, a mood or a context.
How to Find the Perfect Detail
If you want to learn how to find details, you have to learn to work with geometry. Practice the art of seeing in shapes, textures, patterns, lines, and diagonals. Decompose the objects around you in simple geometrical shapes and see what defines them. For example, a forest is composed of trees. A tree is composed of leaves. A leaf has ribs and different textures. The same process can be applied to animals, architecture, fashion, interior design, ethnic objects, and so on.
Ask yourself why a certain detail attracts you and try to understand if this attraction is personal or it is a characteristic of the detail. As Bresson said, some details are leitmotivs. For example, the columns of Greek architecture are a leitmotiv. They are the details that define a style.
Details Photography Technicalities
Detail photography has many characteristics borrowed from close-up photography. You need to get as close as possible to a subject. Because the optical zoom is limited, reducing the physical distance may be easier. Use macro lenses or lenses with a small focal distance (to allow you to photograph from a small distance).
As a composition rule, the detail, your subject, have to fill the frame. The entire image is about it. Make it important. In order to do this, you need to use a deep depth of field. Your entire frame is the subject, your entire frame needs to be in focus. This is different from close-up photography where a shallow depth of field is preferred.
When the focus is on geometry, color is less important. You can achieve dramatic effects by using black and white photography. Although monochromatic images are often colored images edited, it’s better to practice taking pictures using monochrome mode. A good photograph happens in your camera, not on your computer. Use color filters to get good contrast and pay attention to exposure and sharpness.
Still, if the color is an important element for the purpose of your subject, do your best to preserve it as real as possible. For example, pink marble may be an important architectural feature. Also, red cross has a specific meaning which can not be ignored.
Details photographs are always required in one’s portfolio. They are part of travel photography, documentary photography, storytelling, fashion, and even wedding photography. It’s a type of photography which needs attention, dedication, and technique. The images have to be clear, sharp, without noise or blur. But most of all, they have to be authentic and representative.