Your choice of subjects should vary to challenge you

A light snow dusts the foothills of San Gorgonio mountains after rains.

Recently I declined an invitation to go camping and to shoot in Joshua Tree National Park.

That got me wondering.

When I first picked up a camera while working in the airlines, those were the only kinds of pictures I made.

Back then I was a cabin attendant so I worked on the plane.

Except on the return trip, whenever I got off work, I could count on being some place other than my home base, Singapore, so I always had places to explore with my camera.

I suppose I could have just bought postcards, but how much fun was that?

So why the change in heart?

Every photographer/artist needs to feel challenged so they can push themselves to be better.

I’m no different.


I must have been crazy carrying 2-motorized Canon F-1 bodies and bag full of gear, standing in front of former Portuguese colony, Macau's most famous landmark, the Barra Fort, circa 1980.

I seldom go out of my way to shoot scenics and places, not because I’ve mastered them and I can’t get better.

Please don’t misunderstand me.

Over time, I realized doing landscapes and scenics well requires a lot of planning and commitment in terms of time.

You have to plan on being on location when the light is perfect.

Furthermore, if you’re traveling with a family in tow, I’m sure you must have heard these:

Come on Dad, how many pictures do you need of the seagulls?

Dad, you want us to be up at what time because the light is just right?

Finally, I don’t favor scenics and places as much anymore because cameras are so ubiquitous and do such a great job for anyone.

The popularity of the iPhone speaks for itself in this regard.

Doesn’t the artist in all of us like to think we are always creating an original work of art?


Hong Kong close to the Star Ferry Terminal circa 1983. It wasn't until much later that I realized I could actually get better pictures if I went up to my subjects and spent some time 'connecting' with them. Fujichrome 100

It wasn’t till much later after I got the hang of my camera that I started pointing my camera at people.

But I didn’t exactly confront my subject or accost them right away.

I would approach them as if I were a carnivore stalking my prey.

That approach, as I found out later, doesn’t work so well.

I was already very at ease with accosting strangers thanks to my stint as a cabin attendant.

It made a lot of sense for me to combine the two skills.

What I didn’t know was how to light.

Learning to light didn’t come till many years later after I started shooting color transparencies.

Most photographers graduate to portraiture very naturally after they gain mastery of their camera handling techniques.

One of my former students confided this to me recently.

I had said that eventually she would outgrow the landscape, not to the point that she won’t shoot them entirely, but she will favor other more challenging subjects.

It amuses now how adamant she was about only doing landscapes at the time.

When I ran into her recently, she pointed out my prediction was correct.

Next time: Interesting cases

Peter Phun Photography

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2 thoughts on “Your choice of subjects should vary to challenge you”

  1. Hi Melody,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. If you’re having difficulty, I can assure you that you’ll get past that.

    You just have to practice and know your camera gear. You need to know the gear so well that you can consistently get the results you want every time you shoot.

    Once you have that, you are free to concentrate completely on establishing the all-important rapport with your portraiture subject.

  2. Portraits are the most challenging for me because I have to step out my shyness and approach people. I have actually guide the shoot. It’s the main area that I know I need to work on yet it’s the hardest for me to take that step. Which is funny because portraits actually got me interested in photography.

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