2 Steps to Understand a Photo

When you look at other photographers' photos for inspiration and new ideas, you analyze, judge, try to understand the images.

You are looking for meaning in what you see to create your future photographs.

I often do this as well. In order not to get lost and to be as efficient as possible, I have developed a two-step method to understand the photos.

I will share it with you in this article.

This article will help you understand how to implement a new tool in your photography toolbox. By implementing it, you will make your photos even more interesting and instill in them true meaning.

Road crossing Valley of Fire in black and white. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
This road crossing Valley of Fire can be read by differents ways. It is an example of symbolic photograph.

The Short History of This Article

I have always been passionate about the work of other photographers. I bought books. I consulted magazines. I went to see dozens of exhibitions.

Today, I continue. I also use the Internet and social networks to look for inspiration.

This photographic and artistic research also allows me to avoid reproducing what has already been done. I try to preserve my photographic identity. I claim to be unique and that is why I create photos that look like me. Photographs often reflect my moods, my states of mind, the emotions I feel and want to translate.

When I chose a career as a photographic artist, I watched and analyzed dozens of photos every day to define my photographic and artistic approach. I spent hours thinking, thinking, questioning myself. I lost a lot of time and energy. I realized this after months of intense and hard work. Indeed, I did not have a work methodology.

I was taking notes and analyzing without a clear guideline.

I admit to having lost a lot of time. But as always, I always learn more from my failures than from my successes. I have learned to concentrate and become very analytical.

To understand other photographers' photos, I developed a two-step method.

The most interesting thing is that I use this method to understand my own photos. When I move on to the development phase, I apply this principle to make sure that my photos will be understandable to other people.

This is what I will explain in the rest of the article.

Definition of The Word Understand

The transitive verb “to understand” has several definitions. I have chosen two of them which seem to me adapted to the photographic art.

  • Definition #1: to understand is to apprehend from the outset and through sensitivity the deep nature of someone, of an art, to keep close to it, to have an intuitive knowledge of it.
  • Definition #2: to understand is to picture someone, something in a certain way, to get a certain idea of it.

Application to Photography

If I apply this definition to photography, you realize that understanding a photograph is to understand the sensitivity of the photographer, his deep nature.

It also means representing the photographer by trying to understand his photos.

To understand the photographs taken by a person is to give oneself a representation of who they are.

Do Not Confuse Understanding and Judging

In the article devoted to the topic how to judge a photo, I gave you the definition of the word judge applied to photography: "Judging a photo is giving your opinion". You are going to make a value judgment.

The understanding of a photo is to apprehend the sensitivity of a photographer, his deep nature.

You are in a more subjective register even though I had mentioned the fact that a photo can be judged subjectively. But generally speaking, a judgment is rather objective. It is made on the basis of a grid of well-defined criteria.

As you can see, the two actions are totally different.

You are probably going to wonder what the right attitude is. You are perfectly right to ask yourself this legitimate question. But the answer is beyond the scope of this article. I propose to address this subject in a future blog post.

Why to Try to Understand a Photo

If you want to create interesting pictures that make sense and will appeal to an audience, you need to know how to understand a picture or a series of pictures.

The more you develop this faculty of understanding, the more empathetic you will be to your audience.

Understanding a photo will allow you to better choose your points of view, frame well, compose better to make and create photos that look like you.

You will be able to easily convey your moods and emotions by constructively assembling the photographic elements so that your audience will get a representation of who you are and who you really are. Isn't this what you are looking for when showing your photos?

Learning to understand photos, whether they are made by others or by yourself, will allow you to identify mechanisms and ways to translate what you want to show to the rest of the world.

After reading this article, I advise you to apply my method to develop your own.

You will find that understanding photos is above all a way to help you build your own.

How to Understand a Photo

If you follow my blog dedicated to the photographic approach on a regular basis, you have certainly noticed that I am passionate about photographic judgment, photographic analysis, photographic semiology, or photographic language.

In various articles, I have discussed methods for judging, analyzing, reading photography.

How to understand a photo is the logical continuation of all these articles.

Of course, you can apply the different methods. They will only help you in understanding the pictures. But in this article, I want to explain an empirical method based on two axes. It is a personal method. It allows me to go extremely fast in reading a photo and not to waste time in useless considerations.

Step 1: Visual Comprehension


I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos