Add details into your session regime and you will find yourself being an observant, intentional shooter as well as providing more meaningful, iconic images to your clients by far. Before I dive real deep into this post, we have to talk about what the word ‘details’ really means.
So, what do you think of when you hear ‘detail photography?’
- Styled items, like rings, at a wedding?
- Some random object, like a cup sitting on a counter?
- Something a bit more meaningful?
- Or something more human (non-object) such as a toddler’s whispy hair blowing in the breeze?
The fact is, the term ‘detail photography’ is used broadly. Photographers in our community are wondering: ‘Should I photograph details or not at my sessions?’ without really having a concise understanding of what details are, what they could be, why they matter, and what they can mean for clients. I’m here to set the record straight on why Fearless and Framed® wants you to incorporate details into your sessions. I’ve invited my friend and fellow photographer, Max Grey, to help you understand what exactly ‘details’ means and how powerful they can be. Let’s begin…
Photo by Max Grey
Detail Photography for Storytelling, Documentary Photographers: How to Photograph them & 3 Details to Look For
Please don’t consider this as rules or gospel, this is merely my thought process. The first thing to know about details is that you can approach the photo with different techniques using composition, light, and context. There is not a one-size-fits-all way to shooting details. Set your own “rules” at how you photograph them, which allows your voice to shine through. For me, details are added to my images in one of two ways:
- The detail can compliment the main subject of the photo. Meaning, it’s pulled in from the environment and is apparent in the photo, but is not the main character. Max does amazing at doing this consistently in her images as you’ll see below.
- The detail can be the main subject; in the spotlight. You do not need a macro lens to make this happen, it’s merely how you use composition and light to inspire how you make the meaning of the detail shine. This is something I pick up on instinctively when I’m shooting now and are some of my favorite images to print.
To be clear, when I use the word ‘detail,’ I do not mean some random object. There is meaning with the detail, but the meaning can vary.
This is super important: YOU may look at an image and not understand the the photo, but with good reason: the photo wasn’t created for you. I think that last sentence is where photographers get stuck – in trying to create epic images that everyone will love to avoid any negative judgement. When you target a detail, the photo is made so that the detail evokes something within the person the photo was created for. The person who the photo was created for is all that matters, not the rest of the peanut gallery of the world. If your client looks at your photo and picks up on the detail, job well done.
The meaning can come across as a memory, a feeling, sentiment, personality, and more. Details can compliment the rest of your session by adding sensory play into the overall feel of the story: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste (<< this is actually an excellent photo challenge exercise: to try to create images that evoke one of your 5 senses).
The 3 detail categories we’re covering in this post:
- Object Details
- Human Details
- Object + Human Details (together)
- You may wanna pin this one:
Last month, I did a quick Periscope giving a tour of my home to show the many detail images I have printed and displayed through my home. One of the key things I spoke about is that Object Details are not random objects. They also DO NOT have to be styled. In fact, to keep yourself the documentary photographer you are, the object will absolutely shine when simply documented in its natural place. Even though you see people in these photos, the object overpowers the person, making the object the main subject here in these 4 examples below. One more fact to add, object details can be multiple objects together (not just a singular object), including the environment (you’ll see what I mean in the object + human details section).
Object details are super fun to incorporate into albums or print large on a canvas too. Here are some examples and why each was taken:
- Photo 1: This is from a night my husband & I had to pick our daughter up late in the night from Grandma & Grandpa’s. She was so upset and in pain over an ear infection that she couldn’t wait until the morning. This road sign is the first thing we see as we are exiting our neighborhood and will always be an iconic part of our time here… and specifically that night.
- Photo 2: Those favorite pink, rubber boots! Gosh she has loved those things ever since I brought them home and they were slightly too big. Soon enough, they will be too small. Through this photo, I’ll always remember her love for those boots & the thrill she would get out of running through the puddles on our dirt road.
- Photo 3: Looking at this photo, I can almost taste our favorite bottle of wine and the feeling of the early evening – when the light is soft, the kids are in bed and it’s time for us.
- Photo 4: I think any parent can relate to the chaos of kids and parents coming in from a cold, wet late winter day and the dump of all the layers by the front door. I see this and think of how today I’m in a season of life where outside, dirty wetness expands in a 3 foot radius around the rug onto our beautiful hardwood floors every time the kids come back inside. This is a beautiful mess that reminds me to chill out and let life be lived… let the kids be kids… and appreciate what we have going on in life today for what it is.
Photos from Marie Masse
It probably sounds pretty self-explanatory and you may be thinking lashes, little fingers, etc. when you think of Human Details, but I will tell you that this category can be so much more. I think it’s easy to understand details when we are thinking of young children and babies. We want to preserve and savor this short time in which they are little. The truth is, Human Details can be used for anyone, any age. They also do not have to be a body feature, they can also be a motion that you freeze with your camera. Human details are one of my most favorite things to shoot. There is no perfect formula that I can put into an equation or recipe for you to achieve this look. It’s more of a feeling, in the moment, while you’re shooting when you are able to get your frame just right.
It’s being brave enough to step deeper into your frame to intentionally leave out parts of the body, but maintaining a composition that doesn’t chop off body parts that look undesirable. Here are some examples:
Photo from Max Grey
Photos from Marie Masse
Object + Human Details together
This category pulls both areas in from above, but you are taking the detail a step further. You are including part of the environment or a moment in which the detail (object or part of a person) is used as a character in the story. Combining object + human details can also kick up the motion and let your images really feel like they are full of life. And this, my friends, is where Max Grey truly shines! This is what Max says about using details in your sessions:
“Details are a fantastic way to add content to the story we are already trying to tell. For me, using a macro lens doesn’t automatically mean “details”. Many seem to think that documenting details is by use of a macro lens and on small items such as rings at a wedding, or toes on a newborn. There are so many other ways to incorporate details into a session. Details don’t necessarily mean “items” or “things”. Sometimes a detail can be a very specific scene with a whole heck of a lot of content. For example, my image of the toddler standing over her baby sister (pictured below) is adorable on its own. However, if you notice she is holding an apple, which adds so much more to the context of the story. The Apple is the detail. Authentic, minimal and yet super bold.
I also find that when delivering a gallery, the details add to the experience. Not only bringing back nostalgia, but just the entire viewing experience. Details give voice to a cohesive gallery.”
Here are some examples of object + human details together:
All photos in this section are from Max Grey
But will my clients actually print details?
In my old Facebook group, the conversation about details has come up from time to time. I’ve seen members debate on this topic and reference another photographer that once said ‘don’t bother photographing details, your clients won’t print them.’ Consider this paragraph a call to use your own judgement.
Are your clients’ favorite images going to have their faces, looking somewhat flattering, and showing connection between them? Probably. Are your clients going to print a random object that means nothing to them? Doubtful. If you learn to master incorporating all kinds of details into your shoot, you will have a wider variety of images in your gallery that include more pieces of your client’s story.
And yes, clients will print them! Recently, I had an engaged couple choose this detail image over an image of themselves to print on a canvas. Why? Because this tree line is an iconic part of their everyday pontoon cruises that one day will be a thing of the past when they leave their condo for their next home. This photo will always take them back to this season in life.
Max has had this experience:
“I have had people say “wow i never thought to use that (whatever detail that may be)” or “Omg I love how ::blank:: fits in that picture perfect,” which was in response to this photo below using the key holder in background that reads ‘Jake is Awesome.’
In Conclusion: Details turn flat sessions into “OMG!”
I can’t tell you how often I review portfolios and see a big gallery of images with several chapters of similar images. This could easily be whittled down to show the strongest of images, but then even with different scenes and scenarios, the gallery appears to be much of the same, repetitive work. Many photographers shoot the scene straight forward, dead on MOST of the time. When you incorporate details, it’s sort of like adding nitrous oxide to your car… you just power everything up.
If this post has inspired you to work on details, there are a few troubleshooting areas to be aware as well as some easy techniques to use to incorporate details into your client sessions seamlessly (so you don’t have to feel like you may miss a moment with your clients!).