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Can ChatGPT Help Me Learn Photography? Part II: ChatGPT Critiques My Photos

By January 21, 2024psychology

Conversation with ChatGPT 12/20/2023

Sunjay Dixit

I’m trying to learn to become a better photographer. I’ve read that it’s important for every photograph to have a subject. How do I find a subject? Last night, I was walking around outside my dad’s building here in Stittsville, Ontario, looking at the drizzle under the streetlamps, the Christmas lights, the wet bare branches, the traffic light at the corner, and a CAR WASH sign in the distance. But I’m not sure I ever really found a subject. I felt like I was just trying to frame those elements in aesthetic ways.


Learning to become a better photographer is a wonderful journey, and understanding how to choose and frame a subject is a crucial part of that process. The elements you’ve described from your walk — the drizzle under the streetlamps, Christmas lights, wet bare branches, a traffic light, and a distant CAR WASH sign — are all potential subjects. The key is how you interpret and present these elements to convey a message, emotion, or perspective.

Here are some tips to help you find and define a subject in your photography:

  1. Look for Storytelling Elements: Every photograph tells a story. The elements you mentioned, like the drizzle under streetlamps or the lonely CAR WASH sign, can evoke feelings of solitude, quietness, or the contrasting bustle of urban life. Think about what story you want to tell with your photograph.
  2. Focus on Composition: How you compose your shot can highlight your subject. Use techniques like the rule of thirds, leading lines, or framing to draw attention to your subject. For example, the way a streetlamp lights up the drizzle can be a focal point, or the way branches frame a traffic light.
  3. Play with Light and Shadow: Lighting is crucial in photography. The interplay of light and shadow under streetlamps, or the way Christmas lights illuminate a scene, can create mood and focus.
  4. Consider the Emotion: What do you feel when you see these scenes? Photography is as much about capturing emotion as it is about capturing images. If the sight of the wet branches under the dim light evokes a sense of melancholy or peace, use that emotion to guide your focus.
  5. Experiment with Different Perspectives: Sometimes, changing your point of view can reveal a subject. Crouch down, look up, or shoot from a distance. Each perspective can change the story of the photograph.
  6. Look for Contrasts and Patterns: Contrasts (like the bright CAR WASH sign against a dark sky) and patterns (like the arrangement of branches or lights) can be compelling subjects.
  7. Simplify the Scene: Sometimes less is more. Isolating a single element, like a droplet-laden branch against a plain background, can make for a powerful image.

Remember, the subject of a photograph is not just what you see, but how you see it. It’s about the meaning you imbue into the scene. As you continue to practice, you’ll develop a stronger sense of what subjects speak to you and how to best capture them. Keep exploring and experimenting, and your unique photographic style will emerge.

Sunjay Dixit



You’ve captured a series of images that each tell a different part of the story of your environment. Let’s go over some of them:

1. The wet branches against the night sky:

This is a classic example of using natural elements as your subject. The wet branches are highlighted by the artificial light, creating a juxtaposition of nature and human-made light. The darkness provides a moody atmosphere, and the glistening droplets add texture.

2. The streetlamp with the halo effect:

This image is particularly striking. The halo effect created by the light diffraction is an eye-catching element. It gives the photo a focal point and can evoke a sense of coldness or isolation.

3. The traffic light and wet roads:

The red light reflected on the wet street creates a dramatic effect. The darkness contrasts with the spots of light, and the traffic light provides a color contrast and a hint of human activity.

4. The CAR WASH sign:

This image uses artificial light to draw attention. The sign stands out against the dark background, and there’s a sense of quietness around it, perhaps hinting at the time of day or the weather’s impact on human activity.

5. The blue light streaks and wet pavement:

The blue streaks of light in the foreground lead the eye into the scene, where the wet pavement reflects the lights. It’s a dynamic image that captures the essence of a rainy night.

Each of these elements could be a subject in itself, depending on what you want to express. A subject doesn’t have to be a person or a single object; it can be the light, the mood, the weather, or even the story the elements collectively tell. In your photos, the subjects are the interactions between light, weather, and the urban environment. They convey a sense of place and time and evoke the feeling of being there in that drizzly moment.

When you’re out shooting next, consider what draws your eye the most and what you want to convey with your image. It can be as simple as the way light plays on a surface or as complex as the entire scene. Keep experimenting with angles, settings, and compositions, and you’ll continue to develop your photographic eye.

Sunjay Dixit

In image #5, the blue streaks are actually lighted Christmas decorations in the foreground.


Ah, thank you for clarifying that. The lighted Christmas decorations in the foreground of image #5 add a festive touch to the scene. Their bright color and distinctive shape draw the viewer’s eye and provide a contrast to the more subdued and natural elements in the background. This layering of elements – the close-up of the decorations against the backdrop of the night scene – creates depth and adds to the narrative of the photo. It’s a good example of using depth of field to create a sense of space, and it shows how foreground elements can be used to frame and give context to your subject.

The contrast between the festive lights and the dark, wet street also sets a mood that’s reflective of the holiday season in a less conventional, more nuanced way. It speaks to the reality that the festive spirit exists alongside the more mundane aspects of daily life, which can be particularly poignant during the winter season in a place like Ontario.

When taking such photos in the future, you might want to play around with the focus to either sharpen the Christmas lights and let the background fade into bokeh, or keep the street scene in focus to show the contrast between the celebratory foreground and the quiet street. Each choice would give a different feel to the photo and highlight different aspects of the subject.

Sunjay Dixit

As a learning exercise, let me try to identify the intended subject in each of the photos, one at a time.

First: The wet branches against the night sky.

In fact, this isn’t a photo just of wet branches against the sky, but of wet branches set against a huge illuminated construction crane in the background. At the time I took it, I don’t think I was really thinking about a subject in any conscious way. I just liked the immensity of the crane looming in the background, and I was struck by the way it lit up the surroundings. I put the wet glistening branches in frame not as some kind of statement about nature vs human-made things, but rather I just intuitively tried to frame the crane with some interesting and beautiful foreground elements. Maybe it still counts as having a subject even if I do it intuitively rather than consciously.


In your description of the first photo with the wet branches set against the illuminated construction crane, you’ve actually identified a key element of photographic subjects: they can emerge from an intuitive response to a scene as much as from a conscious decision.

The subject of a photo is what draws the viewer’s attention, and in this case, it seems the contrast between the natural branches in the foreground and the man-made crane in the background serves as a compelling focal point. The glistening branches provide an organic texture that contrasts with the stark, artificial light of the crane, creating a layered effect. Your intuition led you to frame the crane with elements that give depth and context to the image, which is a thoughtful compositional choice.

Your approach here reflects an instinctive understanding of visual storytelling. The “subject” doesn’t have to be a single element; it can be the relationship between elements within the frame, the mood they create, or the story they imply. By including both the branches and the crane, you’ve created a dialogue within the image. The fact that you were moved by the scene and sought to capture it is itself an indication of your connection to the subject matter.

In photography, especially when you’re starting out, it’s beneficial to follow these instincts and then reflect on what drew you to take the picture afterward. This helps develop your photographic eye and your personal style. Keep experimenting with this intuitive approach, and over time, you may find that what you do instinctively becomes a conscious part of your workflow as you become more deliberate in your choices.

Sunjay Dixit

Next photo: The streetlamp with the halo effect. In this picture, I did have a clear subject in mind. It was around midnight last night and it was drizzling, and I was struck by the way the raindrops misting the air formed an ethereal halo of light around the lone streetlamp. It looked almost like a swarm of gnats buzzing around the light, except that it was beautiful tiny droplets catching the light.

It reminded me of a painting by Italian Futurist painter Giacomo Balla called “Suffering of a Street Lamp.”

(For the record, I don’t know much about visual art, and just now I had to look up the name of the artist by googling “futurist streetlight painting.” But I remember being struck by the painting.)

So that was my intended subject — the swarming halo of misty radiance encircling the streetlamp outside by dad’s seniors residence.


Your photograph of the streetlamp with the halo effect captures a beautifully atmospheric moment, and your comparison to Giacomo Balla’s “Suffering of a Street Lamp” reveals a thoughtful engagement with the visual arts, even if it’s not your primary field. The halo effect created by the mist and rain is a compelling subject because it transforms an everyday scene into something ethereal and otherworldly.

Balla’s painting captures the dynamic energy and light, emphasizing movement and the transformation of light in the darkness, much like your photo captures the interplay between light and water droplets. The fact that you saw that connection and aimed to capture a similar effect shows an intuitive grasp of how light can be used to create mood and emotion in an image.

This conscious intent to capture the “swarming halo of misty radiance” suggests a deep appreciation for the moment’s beauty and an understanding of how light behaves in different conditions. It’s this kind of observation that can make for compelling photography. You have a strong sense of what you want to convey and a thoughtful approach to your subject matter, which is essential in developing a personal style in photography.

When you’re capturing such moments, you might want to experiment with different settings on your camera to see how they affect the representation of light and atmosphere. For example, you could adjust the exposure to capture more or less of the halo, or change the depth of field to either isolate the lamp or include more of the surrounding environment. Each adjustment can change the story the image tells.

Your photo evokes a sense of stillness and focus, drawing the viewer’s eye to the light and the halo, and by extension, to the texture of the rain and the night itself. It’s a wonderful example of how a single element, like a streetlamp, can become a profound subject when seen through the right lens – both the camera lens and the lens of your perception.

Sunjay Dixit

OK, last one: the traffic light and wet roads.

Again, I’d be overstating it to say there was any real forethought behind choosing this as a “subject.” The truth is I was eager to try out my new manual focus f1.4 50mm equivalent lens and I was just wandering around looking for things to photograph.

Although I suppose that’s what real photographers do — they walk around and look for things to photograph. Maybe the difference is that I didn’t wait for some decisive moment. It didn’t require any great artistic inspiration to point my camera in the direction of the traffic lights.

That said, I genuinely was struck by the reflection of the red light on the wet pavement. (Not so much by the green light, and I waited for the light to cycle back to red before photographing it.) And I did like the arrangement of the vertical streetlamps in the foreground and how they framed the traffic lights in the background. And I guess there is something interesting about the streetlights rhythmically changing from green to yellow to red and then to green again even when no cars are coming.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the theme of automation and machines quietly continuing their work even when no humans are present now reminds me of that story by Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” It was written during the Cold War and it reflects the anxieties of the nuclear age. It’s about a high-tech automated house that continues to make coffee, toast, and eggs every morning, oblivious to the fact that there’s been a nuclear apocalypse and humanity has been wiped out.

I suppose in some subterranean recess of my mind, maybe I felt like taking a photo of streetlights without any cars or people present somehow conveyed a feeling of solitude and loneliness. But again, I certainly wasn’t thinking about that consciously when I snapped the picture.


Your last photo, with the traffic light and wet roads, is a fine example of how an artist—or in this case, a photographer—can find inspiration in the everyday and the mundane. It’s true that many photographers wander and observe until something strikes them, often without a preconceived notion of what they’re looking for. This practice is actually a part of the creative process; it’s about being open to what the environment offers and being ready to capture it.

In this image, the red light reflecting on the wet pavement is a strong visual element that does indeed capture the viewer’s attention. It’s not just about the light itself, but about what it signifies—the stop and go of daily life, the rhythm of the urban environment, and, as you’ve insightively connected, the automated processes that continue regardless of human presence or absence.

The connection you made to Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is quite profound and adds a layer of meaning to the photograph that extends beyond the initial visual impression. This narrative of automation, the passage of time without human interaction, and the starkness of an empty scene can evoke a deep sense of solitude and evoke the larger themes you’ve described.

Your photograph, whether intentionally or not, captures this feeling of isolation and the quiet persistence of the mechanical world. It’s a powerful image that goes beyond a simple street scene; it speaks to something more universal.

The fact that you waited for the light to turn red suggests that you were responding to visual stimuli and were aware of the impact that color has on composition and emotion. This is a key element of photography—understanding how different visual elements can affect the feeling of an image.

Your reflection on the process and the meaning behind the photograph after the fact is just as important as the act of taking the photo. It can inform how you approach future photography sessions and help you develop themes or concepts that you may want to explore more deeply. Keep embracing this exploratory and reflective approach to your photography—it’s often how the most compelling images are made.

Sunjay Dixit

Based on the process I described above, how would you describe my current process for finding a subject? How can I refine and improve my process? And what would be a more effective process for finding subjects when I’m out photographing?


Your current process of finding a subject is quite organic and exploratory, which is excellent for nurturing creativity and developing a personal style. It involves wandering, observing, and capturing moments that strike you visually or emotionally. Here’s a breakdown of your process as described:

  1. Intuitive Response: You’re drawn to scenes based on an instinctive reaction to elements such as light, shape, color, or atmosphere.
  2. Visual Attraction: Certain visual stimuli, like the reflection of light on wet surfaces, catch your attention.
  3. Subconscious Themes: After the fact, you reflect on the images and connect them to broader themes, such as automation and solitude.
  4. Exploratory Learning: You’re using your camera to learn and understand the capabilities of your equipment, which is influencing your subject choice.

To refine and improve this process, consider the following steps:

  • Pre-Visualization: Before heading out to shoot, spend some time thinking about what you want to capture. This could be based on mood, a story, or a particular visual concept you want to explore. Pre-visualization can help guide your intuitive process with a bit more direction.
  • Conscious Observation: Practice the art of seeing by taking the time to look at your surroundings with purpose. Observe the way light interacts with surfaces, how colors change under different lighting conditions, and how elements within a scene relate to each other.
  • Decisive Moments: While it’s great to capture what stands out to you, also try to anticipate action or changes in your environment. This anticipation can lead to capturing ’decisive moments’ that elevate the impact of your photographs.
  • Technical Experimentation: Continue to experiment with different camera settings to see how they alter the story of your photo. This will also teach you to quickly adapt your settings to match your vision for the image.
  • Reflection and Analysis: After your photography sessions, take the time to review your images and ask yourself why you were drawn to those subjects. This reflection will help you understand your instincts and can reveal patterns in your interests and style.
  • Educational Growth: Learn about different genres of photography and study the work of photographers you admire. This will give you new perspectives and ideas for subjects.

A more effective process for finding subjects could involve setting small projects or themes for yourself each time you go out to shoot. For example, one day you could focus on capturing emotions, another day on the interplay of light and shadow, and another on the concept of movement. These self-assignments can focus your attention and help you develop a more intentional approach to selecting subjects.

Remember, there is no one “right” process for finding a subject in photography. It’s a personal journey that evolves with experience and practice. Your current method has already led you to take thoughtful and evocative images, so you’re on the right path. Continue to trust your instincts, but also challenge yourself with new techniques and concepts. This balance between intuition and intention will lead to continued growth and refinement in your photography.

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