Photography 101: Two Photos, Same Subject, Two Stories

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Two photos of the same subject resulting in different stories. What do you want your photo to convey? What’s the message, what’s the story? If you’re shooting as a pro these questions are critical to your result.

But serious amateur photographers should be asking these questions too—the only real difference between professional photographers and serious amateur photographers is money. One gets paid and the other one doesn’t.

I am now in Aberdeen, Scotland for three weeks having arrived yesterday from Perth (see my earlier posts). Rain was in the forecast for today but by 11:30 a.m. I saw a bit of blue sky and sunshine from my window. Grabbing my camera I hustled my butt out of the hotel to explore The Grey City (so named for its impressive grey granite buildings). Within minutes of leaving the hotel, however, it began to rain in earnest—yep, both my camera and I got soaked through & through (the trials & tribulations of the serious photographer). You photographers know what I’m talking about—suffering for our art.

Image #1: The Tolbooth – Aberdeen, Scotland (1/40s @ f/16 ISO 100 @ 16mm 16:9 Aspect Ratio)

Just a short walk from my hotel is The Tolbooth. The Tolbooth was a 17th-century prison but has since become a museum. It’s an impressive structure covering one or two city blocks and is an iconic landmark in Aberdeen. Its been photographed thousands of times by thousands of photographers from around the world. However, doing a quick Google search for photos of The Tolbooth results in hundreds of mediocre to lousy photos of this beautiful building (most are probably cellphone photos taken by tourists). I took multiple shots of this iconic structure just minutes apart and I think they tell different stories.

Image #2: The Tolbooth – Aberdeen, Scotland (1/50s @ f/16 ISO 100 @ 16mm 6:4 Aspect Ratio)

I timed Image #1 so the building stood alone without any cars or buses in the foreground. There are people in the photo but they’re pretty small and insignificant and don’t really create a distraction (or a sense of scale). If you do any travel photography at all you know that it’s almost impossible to capture shots of iconic locations without lots of people milling around. Image #2 intentionally includes cars which lend a sense of motion (intentional motion blur on the cars) and scale (how big the structure really is). The same subject taken just minutes apart with two different stories.

I think Image #1 is more of an artistic piece whereas Image #2 is more photojournalistic in nature. Image #1 could work as a piece of wall art in a home or office (maybe) but Image #2 would more rightfully belong in a newspaper, magazine or travel brochure. Again, to the point of redundancy, I think Image #1 has more of an aesthetic quality to it and Image #2 would be more commercially viable (stock photo, travel brochure photo or for advertising and promotional purposes). Image #1 is what I would shoot for myself and Image #2 is what I would shoot for a paid commercial client.

Field Notes: Both images were captured as CameraRAW files with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame sensor DSLR and Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM ultra wide-angle zoom lens. The settings for both images are virtually identical with the exception of shutter speed 1/40s versus 1/50s. They were processed pretty much the same using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and Photoshop Elements 15 (PSE15). Image #1 was cropped to a 16:9 Aspect Ratio and Image #2 was left at a native 6:4 Aspect Ratio. By the time I got these shots both my camera and I were soaked with the rain. SFD

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