Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock and Watson, even the sun and the moon—a quick glance at the historical and mythological fascinations of our history makes it plain why “they say that the world was built for two,” as Lana Del Rey succinctly observed. Yet, as photographers, we tend to zero in on singular subjects unless we’re shooting something specific, like a wedding or a pair of brothers on their first day of school. On the one hand, this is generally a good thing. Keenly focused photography—conceptually, I mean—is more powerful and much more capable of expressing a point than a mushy snapshot of [error: subject unclear]. On the other hand, there’s a wide range of action that is only expressible with multiple actors.
Capturing a pair of subjects is an exercise with unique advantages. A pair lets you capture the aforementioned action (perhaps better described as interaction) without risking an overcrowded scene. A pairing gives you a platform to make an unambiguous direct comparison as well, whether pointing out similarities or creating a juxtaposition. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to say something in a photo with a pair of subjects. Read on for ideas and inspiration, then share your results to our Facebook page or Instagram tagged with #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework!
Couple’s portraits are often framed in such a way as to frame the pair into a single subject, from a compositional standpoint. Taking photos of a true pair of subjects is something altogether different. Look at the difference between these two:
Although both of these photos are of two swans, the one on the right eliminates the distinction that gives each subject its own voice. One advantage of separation which comes immediately to mind is that two well-balanced subjects naturally fall in line with the rule of thirds.
This is not to say that your subjects must be completely separated to make the picture worthwhile, only that (as cool as a two-headed swan would be) your subjects must be arranged mindfully to maintain their independent value. These birds cross one another, but with a completely different effect.
If you want to step outside of the box (you rebel, you), try exploring ways to double a single subject in a way that lets you capture the energy of a pair. Think about light in a more abstract way: reflections (in water, mirrors, etc.) and refractions that give you maximum photographic substance for minimum physical existence.
To illustrate what I mean by “refractions,” here’s a particularly neat composition I made with our Tamron representative, in which the photo suggests that the viewer is looking at him, he is looking at second version of himself, and both are looking back at the viewer, all at once. (Did we solve the puzzle of getting three people to look into one another’s eyes simultaneously?)
Speaking of eyes and eyewear, note that many parts of human bodies are also doubled. Hands, eyes, feet, and more are great paired subjects on their own, or they can add an extra layer of doubling—think of dance partners on opposite sides of a photo, arms and hands thoughtfully posed.
I get lots of joy out of creating mood from scenes that don’t necessarily contain that mood in real life. There are signs and signifiers hiding in almost every otherwise-uninteresting scenes which require only your creative eye to free them from their prison of normalcy. Take a prosaic moment of canine maintenance, as below, which takes on an almost human sense of dramatic discomfort (even sorrow) with the addition of nothing more than a suggestive angle and a few adjustments to contrast and saturation.
So, compare and contrast away. Balance your photos carefully, and be sure to share your favorites with your fellow photographers! I know I’m always hungry for stories, and experience has shown me that the Mike’s Camera family is full of people with exciting, creative brains.