How I Shoot is a series where we ask Instagrammers to tell us about their photo-taking process.
Dan Cole (@dankhole) is a photographer from the Seattle area who has a knack for injecting mystery into his subjects, helping us see something different in everyday objects. We wanted to find out how Dan nurtures this element of transformation in his photography, and he was kind enough to share his insights with us.
Hey Dan! I’m intrigued by how your photos transform ordinary objects into something more mysterious. Can you tell us a little about where you shoot and what you keep an eye out for?
I live just outside of Seattle, in a rural area, but I find myself in the city quite a bit. When I’m downtown, I feel like I have to try harder to find interesting photos. I tend to avoid well-known landmarks, focusing instead on how many interesting things I can find in an alley. I shoot this way wherever I travel.
Some of your photos are shot really close-up. How do you decide what distance to put between yourself and what you’re shooting?
The distance between the subject and my camera is often driven by the scale that the texture or detail is best represented, whichever seems to distribute the elements in a pleasing way to me. I absolutely think the iPhone is a benefit to the type of photos I take. Its compact size allows me to put it in places I couldn’t fit my SLR, allowing me greater creativity and a larger variety of perspectives. The flat back and sides are just another part of the device as a photography tool-set, helping to align and steady the shot.
I noticed that in 3 of the photos featured below, you don’t include a caption.
Initially, I never captioned any of my photos. Part of it was (and continues to be) a conscious choice to not influence what other people see. And, generally I just can’t think of anything clever. Thanks to @lyricyst, though, I found other people are better at captioning my photos than I am. People’s reaction and enjoyment has become one of my favorite parts about posting. Often, I don’t even want to reveal what the subject is for fear of ruining the fun. When I do caption, it’s to share what I’m thinking more than to tell others what to see.
I love how your followers always have creative guesses as to what’s being captured in your photos. Do you ever have this in mind when you’re shooting?
I love it too. It’s one of my favorite things about my Instagram friends and the people who follow my work. @crusso comes up with some of the most creative guesses. I’m not often conscious of their reactions while I’m shooting. Since IG is basically my journal, a lot of it is focused on what appeals to me personally. But certainly, as time goes by, when I see certain subjects or I’m editing a particular photo, I get a feeling for who I think will like it, that’s when I’ll usually tag someone in the caption.
Any advice for people who want to improve their photography? how do you start turning ordinary objects into something more captivating?
I value composition and my advice to others would be to pay attention to the rule of thirds. I believe there is something inherently pleasing to the human brain when elements align to the thirds. I also recommend straightening your photos — it helps ground the elements and gives strength to your shots. As a first exercise, I would recommend changing perspective or distance. Taking the Space Needle as an example, try shooting from below, looking straight up, or focus in on one of the details, like the giant bolts that hold it to the ground. Always be looking around. The more interesting details are often below our feet or above our heads, rarely at eye level. And don’t be afraid to get close; sometimes I’ll even put my iPhone directly on the object I’m shooting.
On the road trip home from California this year, my wife and I stopped at a rest stop just north of Portland. I opened the door to find this cracked planet at my feet. Shapes like these really stand out to me, the force of so many cars parking on this road dot may seem simple but looking closely, it’s incredible to me how it reveals nature’s beauty, displayed in the uneven distribution of each fractured fragment (the beautiful way nature doesn’t conform to symmetrical or evenly spaced shapes).
I was riding my bike with a friend and made him stop so I could take this shot. A bridge was under construction, and the massive amounts of plastic sheeting diffusing the the light and the equipment behind were a beautiful and ominous sight, especially juxtaposed against the common concrete forms of the overpass.
On a particularly windy day, the plastic sheeting covering a storefront had come loose. I stood underneath this one piece for about 5 minutes taking photos while it ruffled in the wind. It was honestly hard to walk away.
This was a fibrous diffusion panel that separated seating sections in a cafeteria. The warm setting sun was streaming through the exterior glass, playing off of other fixtures in the cafeteria and creating these shadows and cool color tones behind the panel.
Sometimes, my original crop is too wide, and once I load the image into Instagram, I try to intensify the focus on the interesting details. I have never seen sap pool and crack like this. I took this at the same time as the other photos in my stream around it (most of my photos are in chronological order, like a journal) while I was exploring a power station. This is a good example of how interesting detail can be found anywhere — I almost walked right over this.
I had intended this to be an interesting picture of a regular power pole, but it just wasn’t gelling. Sometimes I’ll get all the way through the editing process before I decide something isn’t working. It’s usually at this point that I’ll load the image into Diptic to see if I can create something more exciting.