I was walking through streets of San Francisco and found this interesting advertisement:

giraffe pole banner

The subject is obviously interesting, but the image here is very straightforward and feels comparatively boring. How can I translate the interest of the subject into an equally-compelling photograph?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Photography is a hobby for a lot of us — that definitely doesn't invalidate the question. The problem is that the question is kind of vague and open-ended, making it hard to give a correct answer — which means it may not work so well for this site. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question can be easily saved by saying what you don't like about this and we can help guide you in a direction to change that. Personally, I think contrast is too low and a different angle in the composition would help. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's still a very interesting question, and I'd love to hear what the excellent photographers here have to say. Perhaps if it was made community wiki? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:46
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ See also Should Photo Critiques be allowed? and How can we do photo critiques? on meta. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:54
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Either the question is too general and it should be closed (which is what it currently is IMO). OR it gets edited to be more specific about what aspect you don't like and what could be done to change it. Its awfully general right now. This really isn't what CW is meant for. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:54

5 Answers 5


You've identified your subject, the tricky part is expressing what you want to say to others in a single picture. What is it you want to say?

In your example photo, everything is in focus, there is little contrast between the post and background, and everything has vertical lines. How is the viewer meant to know what parts of the photo are important? What is it you want to show people?

The pole decoration incorporated into the banner? http://www.flickr.com/photos/mochiland/205416509/lightbox/

The pole in its environment? http://www.flickr.com/photos/lhirlimann/4375549238/lightbox/

Something a little more 'dynamic'? http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/2773153913/lightbox/

There's a ton of information about 'composition' on the web just waiting to be Googled. Some of it good, a lot of it so-so. Take it all as suggestion, rather than set-in-stone rules - as you develop as a photographer, you'll find your own way to do things.

Study photos you like (your own and other people's) - work out what it is you like about it and how it was done. Shoot as much/often as you can - to improve you need practice, practice, practice.

For starters though, direct people to what they should be looking at. (The links below are just extrem'ish examples grabbed from a quick Flickr search.)

Try separating your subject from the background (differences in colour, brightness, focus). http://www.flickr.com/photos/southen/5610096056/lightbox/

Draw attention to your subject - contrast between subject and background, lines pointing to the subject. Have a path for the eye to follow to the subject. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mecan/81470204/lightbox/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/sparth/5730541580/lightbox/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/smash13/5713904476/lightbox/

Is size important? Give a sense of scale by including something that people know the size of (eg a person, car, or building). http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabricabri/5713429646/lightbox/

Is the subject of out place? Show how it is different from others (eg a giraffe pole peeking out of a row of normal light poles, or the giraffe pole 'eating' a tree).

Before raising the camera to your eye, compose the photo in your mind. Know what it is you want to capture, then position yourself and make the photo.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ That last photo is tripping me out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 18, 2011 at 0:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is an excellent answer to a open ended question - well done \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 13:02

At least as I see it, the big problem right now is that the background intrudes too much into the picture -- in fact, it almost looks like it's intended to be a picture of the building, and this ad just happened to be in the way.

There are a number of possibilities for making the subject stand out more. First, I'd almost certainly cross the street so you're shooting along the street instead of across it. At least in most cases, this means most of the background will be a lot farther away.

Then I'd consider one of two approaches:

  1. Get quite close and shoot upward with a much wider-angle lens (if you have one). This will tend to exaggerate the height (probably a good thing in this case) and makes objects in the background get a lot smaller in a hurry.
  2. The direct opposite of #2: back away a bit farther (still along the same side of the street though) and use a very large aperture (small aperture number) to minimize the depth of field to blur the background as much as possible.

If there's just the one ad like this (in sight) the first is probably preferable, especially if you can get nice weather so most of the background is a nice, blue sky (but yes, I realize how uncommon that is in San Francisco...)

If you have a number of the ads in sight, then #2 might be better, assuming you can line things up so you have the one in focus, and more of the same making up a substantial part of the background. If you can get them to nearly fill the frame, it might be worth using more depth of field to get more of them (reasonably) sharp, forming a repeating pattern -- but only if you can keep from adding distractions in the process.

It might be interesting to try a variation of that last idea even if there's only the one ad in sight, but with other light poles in the background as kind of metaphorical giraffes. It's hard to guess how well that kind of thing will work until you see it though (and sometimes even after you take the picture, it's hard to decide whether it really worked or not). The more metaphorical you get, the more sophisticated the audience needs to be to have a hope of "getting" it.


I'd try to find a more appealing background to the pole. From this perspective, you have a 'boring' building which barely adds to the sense of location. Shooting from the other side of the street (i.e., from the pole's side), you may be able to catch a better, more detailed background. It may be less regular and geometric which can help isolating the subject (or not) and you definitely will have more depth to get a better blurring of the background.


I often wonder the same thing when I see interesting stuff just wondering about. I've found a few things I try to keep in mind when taking those types of shots:

  • Background -- what will end up being the backdrop of my subject?
  • Framing -- try to frame the shot in an interesting and unique way, your subject doesn't have to be in the center
  • Perspective -- Try getting some interesting perspective on the subject, in your example. I'd try shooting from below or from above instead of straight on. Get a good angle on the subject that helps make it more interesting

I agree with the answers about perspective. I would try to get way down low and shoot up at the sign. People are so acclimated to looking at things from 5-6 feet above the ground that when they see a picture taken from that range their reaction is many times, meh. Whereas if you show someone something they may have even seen before, but it's from a totally different perspective they will usually be really drawn in.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.