Images should make a point… photographic meaning

No Image Today - put photographic meaning in every image you make.

• No Image Today •
There should be a point to every image you make. An image is a communication. Without meaning it is just a picture.

What is a true image?

If your picture has succeeded it has to conjure an image in the mind of the viewer. But if your picture is just that, a picture, it will not succeed. For the genuine photographer, nice is not good enough. A picture should have a meaning, a point, something that makes it a communication. It should have something that makes it an image in the viewers mind.

Photographic meaning… the punch in the picture

Uncertainty about the validity of an image is a necessary part of creativity. Especially in the sense that you should always question, “Have I actually said anything in this picture?” Photographic meaning is an important idea. To really comprehend it, ask yourself if your picture says anything. Be sure you have really transformed it into an image.

I remember once sitting by an autumnal birch tree. It had lovely little yellow leaves and was a nice shape. I took a picture of it. But in the end that picture was simply a nice tree. It spoke to me because of the few minutes pleasure it gave me as I admired it. The picture had nothing to say to anyone else. I never showed it to anyone else, ever. It was about my feelings. It said nothing and was of no benefit to anyone else. It had no photographic meaning. It’s now lost in the obscurity of hundreds of thousands of my other images. ‘Nice’ is simply not good enough to achieve photographic meaning.

We could be picky and obtuse. “Well, it had a non-fatalistic statement to make about the environmental impact of an autumnal tree in its cardinal state, doing what birch trees do… etc.”. Actually, saying anything about it would be mere fluff on the wind. It was a non-picture. Devoid of photographic meaning, it satisfied nothing in the viewer.

You could say the picture now has a ‘raison d’etre’ following this blog. But that was not a necessary, or sufficient, reason for the picture. It’s a post hoc justification for its existence.

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

When I first read this I wondered how useful it would be. But I learned the importance of photographic meaning. Composition in all its forms is critical to great image-making. Read this book. It is a visual treat as well as a great insight to the power of design and composition in your photography.
The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

Communication

Think of all photographs you make as a way to communicate something. That birch tree picture did not speak to an audience. I remember it now because I sat and stared at the picture for ages thinking, “What was I thinking about to take this picture?”. As an image it conjured nothing in the mind of the viewer. As a picture it failed to pass the photographic meaning test.

Nice is not good enough – images must carry photographic meaning

The ‘birch tree’ incident, not the picture, serves as a reminder. Creativity should have a point – be an actual communication. Otherwise it will have no photographic meaning and little else to commend its existence.

A dedication – Photographic Meaning

This is dedicated to my friend Alison. She struggles to understand her own significance as a communicator. Actually, her astute photo-observations convey a lot of photographic meaning.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

2 responses to “Images should make a point… photographic meaning

  1. It seems to me there can be a picture which we take merely for our own meaning- perhaps our memory. These photos are not “artistic” and therefore may not evoke any feeling on the part of the observer, but for us they do carry some sort of emotion and response related to our memory of the moment. These are the photos that end up in our scrapbooks, photobooks and digital frames. When WE see them, they conjur up good feelings and they are significant to us (and probably anyone else who is in the picture or has been there) because of us. Will they hang in a gallery or a photo spread in Time Magazine? No, but were they taken with intent? No as well. So although the person who took it may feel an attachment and response to the shot, most people will have little or no emotion involved with viewing it. I guess that really speaks to whether or not a picture is worth taking as opposed to its “photographic point” but your article raised that question in my mind- do ALL pictures NEED a photographic point? And my own answer was, “Not necessarily!” Just a thought!

    Freeman is an excellent author! I have been greatly impacted by another book of his- Photography and the Art of Seeing. I’d highly recommend that one too!

    • Hi Anne,
      As always you make a strong point. Some photos are the preserve of the person who took them – quite definitely. But, it may just be semantics when I say you defeat your own point in the end. If a photo satisfies the photog who took it then there is a point to it.

      The question you ask is right, of course. But, I sometimes look at some of the thousands of my early images that have little to say and I cannot even remember. And, I can truly say, “no, they mean nothing and have no point”. I took them without thinking and now they are outside my thinking unless I stumble upon them again.

      My point here is that you don’t need a reason to take a photo. You can just aimlessly push the button. Or, again aimlessly, you can make a casual picture without thought. But unless that has a meaning for you (at the least) or for others there has to be a point to it. Otherwise it blows away like fluff on the wind. You can hardly call such an ephemeral happenstance an image. It is hardly even a picture. It does not persist in the mind.

      But thank you – a beautifully put point. Thought provoking!

      And, yes, I agree about Photography and the Art of Seeing (http://amzn.to/X6yrHG) – a great book.
      Damon