How to Use Lightroom to Check if Your Photo Has a Subject

It’s important to have a subject in your photo. Without a subject, a photo may be less interesting to look at. Sometimes, the subject is easy to spot, but at other times, it might be more difficult. You can get some help from Lightroom to check if your photo has a subject.

I notice how often photographers struggle finding a good subject for their photo. If you’re shooting models, this might be reasonably easy. Unless you try to do something unique, it will be clear what you’re showing with your photo.

It becomes more difficult with something like landscape photos. A good landscape photo will have a subject also. It must be something that catches the eye and prevents the viewer from getting lost in the photo. It is frustrating to browse through a photo without something that stands out. The photo will be forgotten easily. Of course, there are exceptions.

Adding a subject not only attracts the eye, it will grab attention, and the photo will be looked at for an extended amount of time. In the ideal situation, it will be remembered.

Finding a Subject in Your Photo

A subject can be anything. It might be a single tree that stands out or a flower in the foreground. Perhaps a group of objects can form a single subject, as long as these are somehow related to each other or linked in some other way. Light and shadow will help isolating a subject. The subject can also be a human element in a landscape, like I explained in my previous article.

If your photo is missing something that attracts attention, you might try to determine if there is a clear subject in the frame. And if there is, does it stand out enough? This can be a difficult task, but if you determine the problem, it will be very informative. This knowledge may be useful next time you go out shooting.

Use Lightroom to Help You

In 2021, Lightroom got an update to automatically select a subject in a photo. It is used to make a mask for local adjustments or for global adjustments without the subject itself. The software does an amazing job in finding and masking a subject without much need for further fine-tuning of the mask yourself.

I use the options for finding a subject a lot in Lightroom, mainly for local adjustments. But sometimes, the software struggles when finding the right subject. It might choose the wrong element in the frame, or it finds too many elements. That got me thinking about the photo itself. Does the photo have a subject that stands out or not?

Instead of making local adjustments, it is possible to use Select Subject in Lightroom to help to determine if there is a clear subject in your photo. If it does find a subject, you need to check the result. Did it find the element you want to show in your photo, or did it find something else? Has the software found just one subject or a group of elements spread throughout the photo?

If the software has trouble locating a subject, you might want to ask yourself if the photo has a clear point of attention. It might turn out to be that photo where the eye keeps on wandering about. If the software selects the wrong element inside the frame, the photo has a distracting element. If either of these things occur, you might have found the problem with the photo. Perhaps that’s the reason why the photo isn’t attractive enough.

The Method Is Not Foolproof

Don’t make a mistake. This method is not foolproof. It even might go completely wrong, even when there is a clear subject in the frame. But remember, it’s a way that can help you to look through the photo itself. It can also give you new insights or ideas.

If the software is showing multiple elements, you might ask yourself if these elements have a strong relation to each other. Is the relative distance in the frame correct or do you need to crop the image to increase the relationship? The elements can also struggle for attention, making it difficult to focus.

It’s Just One Method of Many

Using the Select Subject mask option in Lightroom is just one method of many to discover why a photo works or not. Perhaps the subject, or lack of it, isn’t the problem at all. The photo may be less attractive for a completely other reason.

That’s why the method of Select Object in Lightroom is just a tool you can use to your benefit. It might not work, but you can learn a lot if it does.

Another simple tool for examining your photo is the removal of colors. Looking at a desaturated image will show you the overall distribution of luminosity. Another helpful tool is turning your photo upside-down. Don’t mirror the image, but rotate it 180 degrees and look at it from that perspective. And as always, look at the photo after a few days or more. Without the emotional bond, it is much easier to be critical about the result.

Try the Select Subject method in Lightroom and see if it’s helpful. It might not work for everyone or every photo, but you can always give it a try. If you have another helpful tip about examining a photo in a critical manner, please share it in the comments below.

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