3 Tips for Working a Subject – Part 2: The US Capitol Building

By Lane Erickson

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” – Ansel Adams

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, there is art in creating a great photograph. It is the photographer’s job as an artist to use the tools he or she has available to create the art. But don’t worry. I pointed out in a previous article that you don’t need professional cameras to create great images. However, it is important to understand that regardless of the camera you use, you will have to make some decisions about how to create a great image of your subject.

The good news is that due to modern digital photography, we can experiment endlessly until we have captured just the right image. Because of memory cards, different lenses, and a variety of lighting conditions, a person can create numberless images of the same subject until they have created one or more great photographs.

Most people don’t do this because they don’t know how to. They take a snapshot of the subject and then move on. If you don’t have much experience and you want to improve your photographs immediately, start with the technique I described in my previous article: A Simple Formula for Awesome Photography.

Experienced photographers know that working a subject is key in creating a great image.  To help you understand how to work a subject, we used the St. Louis Arch as our previous subject in Part 1. In today’s article, (Part 2), we will focus on the US Capitol building. I know we are using another building to illustrate how to work a subject but don’t worry.  In upcoming articles we will use people, and nature, and other things to illustrate how working a subject will help you create great images.  

Tip #1 Use a Unique Angle of View

Our first tip in what you can do to work a subject to create a great photograph is to use a unique angle of view. What this means is you are finding a perspective or an angle that is unusual, that helps capture the image and bring out the character of the subject of your photograph. This doesn’t mean you need to get wacky. It just means that you are looking for something unique.

In my experience, most people that take a picture of the US Capitol walk up to it and snap a shot or two. I totally understand, and this is exactly what I did in these first two photographs.

After getting the broad view, some people will stay and look for an additional angle or two. This is a natural step in the process of working a subject. I did the same thing and created this picture.

United States Capitol Building in Washington DC.

I like this image because it eliminates the distraction of people, focusing the viewer to look at the subject, which is the Capitol building. Am I done? Most photographers would be. However, a photographer wanting to capture a great image will keep looking and creating photographs as they search for that unique angle of view that will give them an image that really captures the heart and essence of the subject. This is exactly how I created this next image.

United States Capitol Building in Whashington DC with Flag

(Note: I used this same image in my article A Simple Formula for Awesome Photography to illustrate how the final image was created.)

Tip #2 Try Different Lens Perspectives

Most photographers that would have captured an image like the one above would have moved on to a different subject. A great photographer doesn’t. Rather, a photographer who is intent on creating a great image, will continue to work the subject. One of the ways this is done is through using different lenses. Each lens will allow the photographer to view the subject differently.

For me, I realized the image I took with the tight crop of the flag and the dome required a telephoto lens. So in my mind, I decided I would switch to a wide-angle lens, a super-wide, fisheye lens. This required me to get in close to the building and include much more of the structure. This lens included the stairs, providing a strong set of lines drawing the viewer’s eye to the main part of the Capitol, which is the dome.

Wide view of the Capitol Building for United States in Washington DC.

Tip #3 Find the Right Light

The final tip on working a subject is to find the right light to complement the subject so it looks its best. As I created the image above, I could see the lighting was getting good (see the backside of the dome). It dawned on me that if I hustled, I might be able to find a location where I could get a compressed image of the Capitol building with the Washington Memorial in the foreground.

I found just the right spot and created this image as an experiment. 

Washington Monument and US Capitol Building.

I like this image.  In fact, I like it a lot because of the golden, directional light.  I also like the repeating pattern of the flags. But . . . I realized that if I waited a little longer I could get an even better image because both buildings would be lit up by lights. 

As the sun went down and everything darkened, the sky turned a magical shade of blue. The lights were turned on and both buildings began to glow. I didn’t have a tripod, so I used my camera bag as a support. It was unstable and I captured many blurry images until I got a few that were reasonably sharp. Here is my final photograph.

United States of America Washington Monument and Capitol Building in DC.

Is it the world’s greatest image of the Capitol? Not likely. However, is this photo stronger (better) than the first images I made that are at the beginning of this article? Without a doubt. What’s the difference? I did more than most people are willing to do. After snapping a few shots I then used a unique angle of view, I tried different lenses and perspectives, and most importantly, I worked to find the right light. In the end, I have a photograph of the US Capitol building I am proud to say I created.

I look forward to seeing you in Part 3. Until then, try using these tips in your own photography. I’m confident that if you do these things, your photographs will improve and you will have images you are proud of too!

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