Assigned subject value Citation metadata

In the December 1988 Diffuser, Richard D. Johns asks how it is that assigned subject competitions can help reduce the sameness of camera club photography. The answer comes from an understanding of the causes of this sameness: an over-emphasis in our clubs on craftsmanship (technical excellence and basic composition) and a lack photography tips holding camera of emphasis on seeing and expression.


This lack of balance has been a frequent topic in the Journal in the past year-and-a-half. With their seeing and expressive skills undeveloped, members find themselves relying on beauty alone, or on the borrowed (and frequently overworked) themes of others, as the subjects of their photos. And, without a focus on expression, our helpful guidelines to improved craftsmanship can become sadly misinterpreted as “rules” that govern photography. Fundamentally, it is this imbalance – not compositional “rules” – that has led to the lack of photographic variety which so many have discussed. If we all had well-developed seeing and expressive skills, it is likely our photographic works would be as diverse as our individual personalities.

Most letters and articles on this subject merely exhort us to be more creative and artistic. But I believe specific steps need to be taken if changes are to be made. Mr. Johns has found that assigned subjects can be valuable as a teaching tool. That’s just what we need – teaching tools that can be directed to help develop the needed skills of seeing and expression!

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Let’s assign themes (not just “subject”) that call for an expressive image. Themes that involve moods, ideas, or similar intangible concepts are best. My own club has nine assigned subjects each year. Some of the recent topics included “Helping Hands,” “Creat a Mood,” “Rain,” and “Soft.” Other expressive topics might include, “Blue Moment,” “Joy,” and “Friendship.” The objective is to cause the member to think through how a message might be conveyed with a photograph. We avoid many of the popular assigned subjects that merely invite the member to photograph familiar objects or scenes, such as “Flowers,” “Seashore,” and so forth. And we are careful of themes that are really just open competitions in photography jewelry tips disguise, such as “D is for…”

The photographers should strive to make the message of the assigned theme (rather than the material objects in the photo) preeminent in the photograph. As a result, members will develop and strengthen expressive skills. There are two books that photography tips birds provide excellent and practical guidance on this subject. The best is Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. The second is Developing the Creative Edge in Photography by Bert Eifer. Both are available in paperback.

Judging assigned subjects should be different from open competitions. Emphasis must be placed on the successful communication of the assigned theme. I know many of our members want to avoid establishing criteria for judges, but I have seen too many instances where judges quickly forget the assigned subject, and simply select the most beautiful image; as a result, the entire value of the assignment is undermined. For assigned subjects, I suggest that clubs let their judges know that, because members are working to develop their expressive skills, emphasis should be placed on how well the photo expresses the assigned theme and on the preeminence of that theme over any other in the photo.

Club discussion of the photographs will help strengthen the educational value. What elements of each photo contribute to the theme? What are the detracting elements? What might the photographer have done to further strengthen the theme and ensure its dominance in the photo? What compositional “rules” does the photo exploit or overrule to strengthen its expressive value?

Assigned subjects can play a significant role in developing the balance we need between craftsmanship and artistic skills. Let’s take advantage of them! We won’t create a transformation overnight, but we will be one step closer.

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