Tag Archives: Meaning

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+.

Picture titles prompt your viewer

Picture titles - Quiet contemplation

• Quiet contemplation •

It’s all about communication.

It’s a great feeling when your point is understood. This is true with pictures too. When we show people our picture we want them to understand what it is about.

Sadly, pictures are often shown out of context. Then the meaning can be misinterpreted. For example, social networks and art sites show pictures. When posted with lots of other pictures the viewer sometimes needs some idea of the picture’s meaning. That is where picture titles come into their own.

Picture titles give context

A pro-photog tries to make sure their images have a point. They work to make their point from the moment they approach a scene. The final image is the result of a composition that pulls the essential elements together. It crystallises the point for the viewer.

In completing the composition the photog has a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve. It is that ‘idea’ that can be used to make picture titles. For the viewer it is the idea they need to explain the point of a picture when it is out of context on a gallery wall or where-ever.

How do you use picture titles?

The most important thing about a picture tile is brevity. To be effective you need to say it all in a few words. If the viewer has to read a long text about the point of a picture the meaning will be lost. A picture is worth a thousand words. It should express the point. The title is a sign post, a clue.

Your title will achieve two things. It will express the point of the picture. It will also give the viewer an insight into how your thinking went while making the image.

Think carefully. Leave out your brief clue to the meaning of the picture and you may leave the viewer clueless. I am sure you would not want them to miss the point of your lovely picture. Would you?

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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+.

Nine things to love about photography

• Tawny Eagle •

Click image to view large
• Tawny Eagle • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
I love that photography gives lets me opportunity to indulge more than one passion at once. I love birds of prey and I love photography, the two passions are complementary.

There is so much in photography…

We all appreciate the variety of the photographic craft. The interest and experience differs for all of us – except we share the passion. Here are nine other things photographers can share.

The power to move

Tank Man

• Tank Man •
Click image to see the Wikipedia article
Image taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press, from a sixth floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel. The Tiananmen Square protest was an iconic photograph that moved a generation.


There are so many things in modern life that grab our attention that it is easy to forget the most meaningful things. Photography has an exquisite power. It can both crystalise a story in an instant and move the world. The very existence of some modern photographs has moved people and created extraordinary outcomes. Photography has that power on a world scale, and a family scale. Photographers can use the power of photography to raise the emotional pitch, bring tears or move a generation.

Communication

If a picture is better than a thousand words, the power of photography to pass a message is absolute. It is amazing that I can say, “I love you!”, with a carefully thought out click of a button. With just the same determination I can express my anguish or make make someone’s heart ache at the beauty of nature. Each time I click the button I like to think about what I am trying to say. If my image tells a story, communicates some meaning, then it succeeds. Photographers are communicators and we all share that responsibility and privilege.

Bring people together

Even the simplest family snapshot is precious. Some of the most important events of my life have been preserved through photographs or because I held a camera and made an image. It is in those moments in which we feel so close to others that photography expresses itself most intimately. Family, friends, co-workers and correspondents across the world share an intimate connection through their presence on a photograph or the act of sharing a photograph. Photography has the power to knit people together.

Remind us

Photography has an awesome power to remind us of the good, the bad and the ugly events and times in our world. An individual photograph can be manipulated to create fiction. However, the collective memory of horrors like the Nazi atrocities in the Second World War are kept alive by the wide spread of stark images and horrific documentation from diverse sources. We are reminded of the past in very real ways by our photography. Any one of us photographers could, at any moment, make the picture of the century. Take your camera with you everywhere. It may be a picture you make now. For your grandchildren it may be history.

The story of a moment, and much more

When the button is pushed a story is made in the instant of a second it takes for the exposure to form. So much can be captured in that moment. The story of an instant is somehow more powerful than an hour-long documentary. It sums up so much about the situation, the people and the detail.

Dad and Harold Wilson

• Dad and Harold Wilson •
My father (right hand side) after a meeting, pictured with Harold Wilson (centre) shortly before Wilson became Prime Minister. One shot, in an instant, tells both a family story and a national event.

The moment of creation in a photograph is both unique and a shared experience. That instant will never happen again, yet we all recognise at least some of the imperatives in that capture. As photographers we share the power to see and tell stories through our pictures.

Sharing

So much of the photographic history of the world is about sharing. Collective experiences are seen in the most iconic photographs where historic memories are captured, right through to the humble wedding of your neighbour. At all levels in our society and in all aspects of our cultures we share our experiences with our friends, loved ones and comrades. Since the time of cave paintings humans have recorded collective events that draw the community together. Today our photographs continue help us to form communities and provide a focus for them. There is no better example than online photographic communities – great communities where a love of photography is shared with a passion.

Breaking barriers

Seldom do we think of the author when we see a photograph. We are focussed on the subject and the meaning we see in that image. Photography is a medium where the outcome matters more than who made the image. Despite race, religion, gender, colour, sexuality or legal status your picture can compete on a level with all the others. Photography is truly an open and classless pursuit. I love that we can be all equal and have our own point to make. Photographers the world over share an equality that surpasses many other aspects of our societies in an unequal world. I celebrate diversity, welcome it, and rejoice in the fact that I am part of a community of photographers worldwide with whom I can share a common interest.

The expression of love

There is nothing more special than love expressed between people. Photography shares with other visual arts the ability to help us express our love. But the immediacy of photography can bring alive the imperatives of a loving relationship with graphic explicitness. Weddings, the kiss, love pictures and even the boudoir are just a few of the myriads of ways we can express the joy of love through photography. If there is one thing we photographers should share and spread around it is love.

Memory

Of all the things we will gain from photography, keeping alive personal memories must be one of the most important. As we get older the fleeting moments of our youth, which seemed to pass so quickly, become very precious. As photographers we have a wonderful opportunity to preserve our memorable moments for ourselves, our loved ones and descendants. We should not spoil the moment just to be behind the camera. But, we should enjoy the moments we take to capture the memories so that in the future we may recapture our lives all the more vividly and share them once again with others. Take every opportunity to capture images of those you love and who mean a lot to you. Blurred or ill-conceived, harsh or badly exposed, you will treasure every one in the future.

These are just a few things…

Photographers can share and give so much to the world. If you have some others to add to my list please leave some comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog 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+.

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Do you really understand what photography is?

A photography definition? The ramblings of a madman…

A photography definition is not easy. What we do with a camera is record part of the world where we point the lens. Right? Then again, you probably realise that is not true. Especially if you have been reading this blog for a while.

The lens does not faithfully record the world. The picture is always slightly distorted. Numerous technical processes are involved in the translation of a scene into a picture. These each add their own distortions and variations on the original scene. The unique approach taken by the photographer in framing the shot creates its own view of the world too. That view will be different to the next man. The perceptive filter of the viewer also affects what is seen. What is finally conjured up is an image beyond the mere recording.

So, what on earth is this thing we call photography? It certainly is not a mere technical record. Nor is it a simple interpretation of a scene. Those two roots are important. They are not the full story for a real photography definition.

Toward a good photography definition

I noticed I had not written a definition of photography in the “Photographic Glossary“. The latter is a collection of articles which has gradually grown with this blog. It’s now a good intro and background to a wide range of words, phrases, concepts and items of equipment. It is still growing. It’s on the menu at the top of every page. Or you can click this image and go there now…
Photography definition :: Link to the general Glossary

I wrote a definition of photography. In it I followed the conventions of most dictionaries. But there is more to a photography definition than technical sufficiency.

Meaning?

While researching a definition for “photography” I came across a whole range of explanations. They amounted to descriptive statements about:

  • derivation of the words related to photography;
  • the photographic act;
  • processes involved in doing photography;
  • post production processing of the image;
  • The history of the subject
  • the technical issues;
  • prediction about the future.

This is all interesting stuff. However, I found it sterile.

It is important for ‘meaning’ to be attached to feeling. A technical description of the process of photography (film or digital) is interesting but devoid of personal meaning. I am a committed photographer. I love to do photography and I invest a huge part of my life in its pursuit. To me it is not a technical process, although I go through a technical process to “do photography”. It is not just the statement about the meaning of a word (see – Definition: photography). Neither is it simply a picture. I am hoping that my picture will stimulate a living, three dimensional image in the mind of my viewers. If that happens then I will have created powerful image for them. That will be a successful image.

Photography is an attempt by the photographer to communicate with the viewer. Each picture may lie somewhere on the continuum between a “record” of the world and an “interpretation” of the world. No matter which end of that continuum the picture lies, it speaks to the viewer in a unique way.

My thinking…

I spent several hours trying to bring life to a photography definition. Through the technical mambo-jumbo, physical processes, history and so on, not one article adequately described our passion. So I resorted to trying to sum up how I feel. Here is what my photography definition is about…

Photography attempts to capture a view of the world with which the photographer communicates their particular meaning and perspective of a scene through a picture and, which if successful, will create a vivid, living image in the mind of the viewer.
Damon Guy, 09/06/2013 – Towards a good photography definition.

I expect to be shot down. What does “photography” mean? You tell me. Have you got a good photography definition?

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Damon Guy - Toward a photography definition.

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+.

Do you have an intention for your photographs?

Retired Aeroplane - Going wide really brings out certain features of a shot

• Retired Aeroplane •
Going wide really brings out certain features of a shot
Click image to view large.
• Retired Aeroplane • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Consider the reason for taking a photograph…

I had cause to consider the nature of several photographs this evening. A judge was discussing the photographs in a competition. On several occasions he referred to photographs he was judging as “record shots”. This is not a negative term.

I have made several references to this type of shot in past posts. Here is a definition from the Photokonnexion Photographic GlossaryRecord Shot. This is a type of shot that you might use to remember something as it was. It is a type of shot that is a legitimate representation of the subject but without any deliberate artistic interpretation. But, there is the rub. What on earth is artistic interpretation?

It surprised me when a judge in a competition called the photograph above a record shot. I enjoyed taking this photograph. I had seen the aircraft on a previous visit to The Imperial War Museum at Duxford  External link - opens new tab/page. It is a replica of one of the wonderful fighter aircraft of World War II – a Spitfire. I had considered it for some time and had lined up this shot in my head for some weeks before my arrival. I was fortunate to be blessed with a great sky. The angle of the shot was in line with the movement of clouds in the sky. I put on a wide angle lens and took about 10 shots along the lines I had planned. I wanted to make the wing disproportionate to the fuselage to give it foreground weight and invest depth in the picture. With a wide-angled lens this would make the wing seem really wide and long.

I may not be an artist in the traditional sense. I know I tend to take a rather geometric view in my pictures. It’s my signature, my style and my pleasure. However, it is also my interpretation. In this shot I really took my interpretation to some length. The body is distorted, the wing out of proportion. The sky deliberately elongated by the perspective of the wide angle lens. But to me this view showed the plane off in a unique way and presented a powerful perspective. I think this picture is heavy on interpretation and personal vision. Call it what you will, one thing it was not, is a record shot.

So, this evening when I was considering a judges words on what he called a record shot I was suddenly reminded of my picture above. It struck me that very often the viewer reads into the photograph more than the author has to say on a particular subject. In the case of my picture above the viewer saw a straight forward representation of a great aircraft. I on the other hand saw an opportunity to display, in a unique way, the wonderful geometry that made this aircraft great – its superb flying design.

The two views, my geometric tribute and the judges record of a great aircraft, may not seem too far apart to you, the reader. Yet, to me it signalled that I had failed in my duty as a photographer to represent my vision. I had not convinced the judge that I had invested my personal view, my artistic impression, in this photograph.

As photographers we are communicating a point of view with every shot. It may be appropriate to devote time and effort to faithful reproduction, equivalent proportion and careful exactitude to create a record shot. That is a worthwhile endeavour.

It is equally important that at other times we express our interpretation of our subject in a manner that brings out our unique view, comment or observation about a subject. There are two issues to keep in mind. First, we should always have a clear vision about what we are trying to achieve with a shot. Second, we should be finding the strongest and clearest way to express that intention, lest our viewers miss the point of the shot.

More after this…

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Art is fickle but viewers are more fickle…

Yes, throughout the ages art has been misinterpreted. And, we must sometimes acknowledge that the viewer may not understand our point of view. You will never convey your meaning to 100% of the viewers. However, I believe that viewers have a right to expect that you make every possible effort to communicate your intention for the photograph and make your point as clearly as possible.

The difference between a record shot and an artistic impression may be a thin line. But if your photograph is to succeed there should be no such lack of clarity when conveying your communication or meaning.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog 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+.

Zen in the art of photography archery

Combination of mind and camera can create more than a picture.
“Zen in the art of archery” is not about photography. But it has such strong parallels to the learning of photography that its meaning is unmistakable. Professor Eugen Herrigel explains how he took the path to Zen (a balance between the body and the mind) through the medium of traditional Japanese archery. His beautifully written book explains his personal journey, in a very-easy-to-read way.

In Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One (Arkana) the professor simply explains his experiences and the physical and spiritual lessons that he learned. His vision is clear and his insight instructive. The reader learns that the way of Zen is not learned through archery and the book is not a guide to learning the art. Instead his book shows us that the journey to Zen is about enlightenment, inner selflessness and clarity of thought.

For photographers the book shows us that there is more to taking a picture than the physics of holding the camera, pointing and pushing the button. Technique and thought become one and the art in the moment becomes a part of the of the shot. For beginners that may seem bizarre. For the experienced photographer it is a self evident truth.

The mere picture is the result of a harsh capture of the scene using point-and-shoot technique.

The making of an image is more than that. Creating an image in the viewers mind is the essence of communication. It flows from the photographers interpretation of the scene through the photographic process to the published medium. In its pictorial form it serves to conjure in the mind of the viewer an image that inflames feelings and passions, creating a lasting mental experience. A great image flows from interpretation, capture and creation through a work flow that is a smooth and practised extension of the photographers commitment to the communication. The creation of a great image in the viewers mind is as final and precise as the arrow hitting the dead centre of the target.

“Zen in the Art of Archery” shows us that in the physical process there is something deeper than is visible. Something that is a selfless act of complete focus. It is an act that is both totally committing and yet subconscious.

Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One (Arkana) is a short, beautifully written book. Its beauty lies in its simplicity.

Details:

Title: Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One (Arkana)
Available: Amazon
Paperback: 112 pages; Publisher: Penguin; Language: English;

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog 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+.

The meaning in a photograph

 The upstream struggle

• The upstream struggle •
Does the meaning of the photo always come across? Has the photographer succeeded if there are different interpretations?
• The upstream struggle • By Netkonnexion (Flickr)External link - opens new tab/page

What does a photographer mean by their photograph?

Photographs are open to interpretation. In fact people see all sorts of meaning in photos as in other forms of media and art. So is there really meaning in photographs? Does the photographer really have a clear point to make?

Interpretation

Everything is open to interpretation. Art is a particular case in point. We see what we want to see in a photograph especially if the message is not clear. If the photograph is a good one however, then we understand it and it helps us to feel, know or understand something. That is what lies behind the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Nevertheless, a picture is only worth those thousand word if it speaks to the viewer about the point of the photograph. If every viewer understands the point, then the picture probably is worth a thousand words.

Fuzzy concepts vs. powerful meaning

We only feel compelled to push the shutter button when we have something ‘worth’ capturing. This ‘value’ is how strongly we feel about what we create and whether the photograph reflects the effort we made to capture the scene. For a photographer to feel that the picture was worthwhile they have to know, each time they look at it, what they felt when they took it. The meaning for them is in their connection to the moment of capture. The photographer, however, needs only a weak conveyance of meaning from a photograph. Their connection is supplemented by memory.

What about the general viewer of the photograph? They have no memory of the capture and so must find one hundred percent of the meaning in the shot. This a is greater and more intense problem than the photographers own satisfaction. For the viewer to get the message without a memory connection the message must be clear and on target.

I think this is where the true photographer departs from the happy snapper. Some people take joy in snapping merrily away at things they like. This is a great pass time and a fun activity. All photographers probably started with the sheer joy of capturing a scene. Then, later, feeling the moment come alive again when reviewing the pictures.

What makes a true photographer, I think, is in a question. When a photographer asks themselves, “How can I best capture this scene so viewers will understand what I feel right now”? Or, a similar question, “What is the best way to capture this so viewers know what I am showing them/explaining to them”? The photographer is essentially looking to create value in the picture so the viewer will find it worthwhile taking time to look at it.

Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer once said…

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
Ansel Adams

The fuzzy concept idea relates to how well the photographer answered the appropriate question(s) above. Adams is saying, “it’s all very well to be technically excellent, but if you cannot convey feeling or meaning the picture is worthless”.

By asking how to phrase the picture for someone else, who was not at the capture, you are actively looking for ways to clarify the message of your picture, to give it clear meaning. When you have a clear message, meaning, or can convey a strong feeling, you have connected with the viewer. The concept is no longer fuzzy.

This idea about the ‘worth’, or ‘value’ of a picture provides a defining concept. The happy snapper is pursuing the pass time of photography for self-gratification.

The photographer on the other hand is creating images. These are pictures that are designed to conjure up feeling or meaning in the viewers mind. The photographer is actively seeking to stimulate minds other than their own with clear ideas conveyed through an image. Ideas that are not supplemented by the capture-memory.

The upstream struggle for the photographer is clear. Their work is to distil from a scene a clear meaning or feeling that is readily understood by others. The photographer is gratified when others are satisfied, pleased or stimulated by the image.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog 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+.