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How To Make Extraordinary Photography from Ordinary Subjects

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A good subject does not make a good photograph. Nor does a good camera. Good photographers make good photographs. Ordinary subjects and ordinary cameras can make extraordinary photography. It’s up to the photographer.

These days it’s super easy to grab your phone or camera and take some photos. Most often, they are snapshots of nothing special. But when you want to make extraordinary photos of the ordinary things around you, thinking creatively is the key. 

Being confident to use your camera is another important aspect of extraordinary photography. The better you know your camera and how to manage the settings, the more creative you’ll be with it. The more extraordinary photos you’ll produce.

How Do You Take Good Pictures of Ordinary Things?

To make extraordinary photographs from ordinary things, you need to learn to see like a photographer. You need to look at what you include in your frame as what you exclude from it. Know what you want and be intentional about making extraordinary photography.

Taking photos is so easy. It’s so easy you don’t have to think much about it. But easy does not often mean best. If you want to take the best photographs, you possibly can by being mindful of the creative process. 

Don’t rely only on the camera’s technology or your subject, ordinary or otherwise, to make your photos good. The more involved and in control you are, the more extraordinary photos you’ll produce.

Know what you want. Then manage the process of capturing your subjects the way you want them to look. This is the first step towards creating extraordinary photography.

plant in black and white.
Photo by: Jocelyn Morales.

We all see the world uniquely. The more you can apply how you see what’s around you into photos; the more powerful your images will be. When you see something interesting and take a quick snapshot, don’t expect it to turn out as a masterpiece. 

Understanding what makes a good photograph will help you take more extraordinary photos. Being able to see the light and expose it well is essential to good photography. So is composing well and making the best use of color or tone in your images. Timing is also an important aspect of photography that cannot be overlooked.

coffee cup with shallow depth of field for extraordinary photography.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Extraordinary Photography Begins with How You See Things

What you find interesting other people may not pay any attention to. When you find something interesting you want to photograph, no matter how ordinary it appears, it’s up to you to make extraordinary photos of it.

There are times when you’ll find an amazing subject but not be able to take an amazing photo of it. Maybe the lighting is flat and dull. Or maybe there are strong shadows covering part of your subject. Possibly the background is too bright or full of distractions. All of these things, and others, can make capturing extraordinary photos very difficult.

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At other times you might see the most mundane subject and be able to take the most creative photos of it when the light is just right. The background complements the subject. There are no distractions, and the colors and tones are perfect.

Think about how you can manage your exposure, the depth of field, motion, and other photographic techniques. Being able to best apply the proper technique to an ordinary-looking subject can transform it into an amazing photograph.

capsule with reflection.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan.

If you rely on your camera to do all the work, you’ll most often capture rather bland-looking images. Auto modes on cameras tend to make very ordinary-looking photographs. Once you override the settings and take creative control, your subject will start looking much less ordinary.

Taking the time to learn how you make the most of your camera will transform your photography. You’ll be able to make everyday objects look extraordinary. To be able to do this the best, you need to see and think creatively. You also need to use your camera as a creative tool, not as just another electronic accessory.

extraordinary photo of pink rose in a vase.
Photo by: Tirza van Dijk.

What Makes an Ordinary Subject an Extraordinary Photograph?

The world of art is full of images of ordinary things. What makes Dali’s clocks or Picasso’s guitars so extraordinary?  It’s how you translate the ideas about what you see into photographs that make them good art or not.

Taking extraordinary photos of ordinary subjects requires you to manage certain things. These are regardless of what camera you use or what you point it at.

I believe the key elements that make up a good photograph are:

  • Lighting
  • Timing
  • Composition
  • Color and/or Tone
  • Relationship

That last one on the list might have you wondering if it’s a typo, but it is not. How you relate to your subject matters a lot and is reflected in your photos. This is more applicable to photographing people, so I’ll not dwell on it in this article. People are never ordinary, so I won’t include portrait photography as part of this article. However, it is important to note that each of these other aspects of good photography applies when you are photographing people.

close up of an old bicycle wheel hub.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Lighting

Light is the essence of photography. The quality and quantity of light that illuminates a subject can make the difference between an interesting photo or an uninteresting one. Some subjects will photograph better in hard light. Others will look stunning in soft light. How you manage the light that falls on your subject contributes a lot to what type of image will be captured.

Photographing an ordinary subject with your camera set to any auto mode can mean the scene will be dull. Being in control of how you set your exposure allows you to make far more creative images.

Timing

A photo is usually made in a fraction of a second. When you choose to press the shutter button determines much of how a composition will look. Especially when there are moving elements in your frame. Even in a scene where nothing is moving, good timing is vital. It makes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary photographs.

When photographing action, good photographers are keenly aware of what is about to happen. Being able to anticipate the action takes practice and also makes a world of difference.

Composition

How you arrange the elements of what you photograph in your frame determines a lot about how interesting the photograph is. Mundane compositions do not hold the attention of a viewer for long.

Knowing how best to apply the rules of composition can turn an everyday object into an extraordinary photo.

red rose close up image.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Color/Tone

How you manage color within your photos or tone when photographing in black and white is important. To create the most interesting photos, photographers must be aware of the colors and tones in their compositions. They also need to look at the interaction between colors and tones.

Are the colors harmonious? Do they clash? Are your black and white photographs high contrast or low contrast? What do the shadows and highlights look like? Considering each of these details will help you make an ordinary object look extraordinary when you photograph it.

Combining the Elements of a Good Photograph

Managing to make photos with each of these is very challenging. Finding the sweet spot where they are all present and interacting well can be quite elusive. But, when you do, the most ordinary object will look extraordinary.

coffee cups colliding for extraordinary photography.
Photo by: Clarissa-Carbungco.

What Can I Photograph To Make Extraordinary Images from Ordinary Objects?

Photographers who take pictures of ordinary objects they love tend to capture more interesting photos of them. They will choose the right lens. Find the best angle. Set the exposure perfectly for the lighting conditions. They will focus where it matters most. All to try and make the most interesting picture of an object many people may think is mundane.

I love the photography of Irving Penn. His portraiture is most inspiring. He had an incredible approach to still life photography also. His images of ordinary things like cigarette butts, fruit, and even drawing utilities are quite extraordinary.

Penn was a prolific photographer. Photographers who work hard every day to practice their craft can learn to make extraordinary photographs of ordinary things. 

Make photos of what you love. What you are attracted to. Look around you and think about what catches your eye, and then photography these things. Make a habit of it. Don’t only take pictures of what you find attractive once. 

lemons and yellow jug.
Photo by: Garreth Paul.

Once you’ve photographed a subject a few times, study your images. Compare one photo with another. Think about what makes one more interesting than the other. Look at the details. Think about the lighting. Consider taking another photo from a different angle. Try to come up with better ideas as to how you can capture your subject.

After a while, try finding some tutorials on what you are photographing. Look at how other photographers capture pictures of the same subject. Think about what techniques they used and try to create a similar image.

When you practice every day, you are sure to improve. You’ll find it easier to come up with ways to capture the same ordinary subject in new and interesting ways.

close up of a dog's eye.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Learn to Make the Most Ordinary Subject Look Extraordinary

Each time you want to take a photo, think about how you want it to look. No matter what you are photographing. Some subjects are much easier to capture well than others. How you approach any subject though still determines how it will look in your photographs.

Don’t rely on your camera to make a good photo. Use it well. Focus your lens on what’s most important. Manage your settings so you can capture the image you want. 

Think about the lighting. Is it better in front, at the side, or behind your subject? Is it too hard or too soft? Can you modify the light by using a reflector or adding some flash?

Compose well. Look at the shapes and lines in your viewfinder. How are they interacting? Will changing your lens help you frame your object in a more interesting way and create a better image?

Take your time. Capture your photo when everything else lines up. Don’t be too hasty. Good photos are not often made when the photographer is in a hurry. Learn to slow down and anticipate the decisive moment.

Most of all, put your heart and soul into creating art. Good photography is not about grabbing snapshots of ordinary things. It’s about creating good art by applying your imagination and skills.

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KevinLJ
Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he's covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who's willing to learn.
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Did you learn anything? Maybe consider giving a small donation 🙂
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To stay online and become better in what we do, we depend on contributions and some products we sell. If everyone who enjoyed reading the above article gave just a little, we could keep Photographycourse.net thriving for years to come. The price of a cup of coffee is all we ask.

We know that most people will ignore this message. But if photographycourse.net is useful to you, please consider donating $2, $5, $10 or whatever you can to protect and sustain Photographycourse.net. 

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