Why and How: Giving Meaning to Your Photos in 3 Steps – Part 1

You should most often hear the expression "giving meaning of your photos", whether in magazines, exhibitions or photo blogs.

But what exactly does this expression mean? I feel more and more that it takes the form of an injunction or even a requirement.

In this article, I will explain why in my opinion it is important that you make sense of your photos but especially how to do it.

Snowy landscape of Yellowstone during winter.
Snowy landscape of Yellowstone during winter.

Definition of the Expression ‘Giving Meaning’

I have found many definitions of the expression ‘giving meaning’. It is a expression that is used in many contexts.

For the purpose of this article, I have retained the following definition.

Giving meaning is a direction, a certainty that what we are experiencing has a meaning.

For me, this definition means that finding the sens of something is enough to find the way. This is exactly what I am going to show you.

Application to Photography

If I apply this definition to photography, to give meaning to photographs means to have a direction when they are created.

Your photo projects must have meaning. You should not create your images out of envy but out of passion, as I had described in the article concerning the photographic state of mind.

But you are going to ask me: why giving meaning to my photos? What is the point? Your questioning is legitimate. I also asked myself this crucial question many years ago. I found the answer. It can be approached along two different axes.

Giving Meaning to Your Photos is Important for You as Photographer

The first reason to give sense is to your photos is to be yourself as a photographer.

By giving meaning to your images, you will improve their quality.

By seeking to give meaning, you will develop your own photographic language. You will express yourself better. You will also learn to better master the semiology of your photographs.

In short, you will learn how to build your photographs in a more interesting way. You will develop a real methodology. With this method, you will no longer waste time in the field during your sessions. You will go to the basics: create interesting photos.

Personally, this is the whole adventure that I lived a certain number of years ago when I created my ACANP method.

I wanted to give meaning to my photographs. I wanted them to become timeless artistic works. So, I created a working and research framework to situate myself. I wanted to organize my creative approach and have time to better create and express myself.

Finally, my research led to the creation of ACANP. I always use it in my professional activity. It is also the one I teach during my nature photo workshops.

Giving meaning to my photographs has allowed me to progress in my field and to become very creative.

Giving meaning to your photographs will also allow you, as a photographer, to develop empathetic qualities towards your audience and the world around you. By trying to make sense of what you create, you will try to better understand the expectations of others and you will try to respond to them as best you can to please them. You will become empathetic. This is what happened to me!

Giving Meaning to Your Photos is Important for Your Audience

The second reason to always seek to give meaning to your photographs, concerns the audience or the viewers of your achieved images.

Giving meaning creates a unique emotional connection with the people who view your images.

You create an invisible connection with the mind of the viewers. They will listen to you. They will understand you.

Giving meaning to your images will stimulate the imagination and provoke emotions in viewers.

Several scenarios are then possible:

  • Either the viewer will ask questions about the nature of your photos.
  • Either the photo is explicit, and the viewer will find through the symbolism evoked a way to translate his own questions that he cannot express.
  • Either the photo will answer a question that the viewer is asking without ever having found an answer.

In all cases, your photographs must ask questions, give answers or get your audience to escape.

The 3 Ways to Create Photographs that Make Sense

There are three ways you can take meaningful photos. I did not rank them in order of difficulty. They are all difficult to implement because they all have advantages and disadvantages.

  • The first mean is a single photography. You create a single photograph which is sufficient in itself. It tells a story. It is strong, powerful, suggestive. The scene photographed speaks for itself. You do not need to add a subtitle, to give explanations. To succeed in this kind of image, you must photograph a strong event. You must be tenacious, opportunistic and above all be very lucky.
  • The second mean is the collection. You create a few photos that put together tell a simple, easy-to-read story. All images must be consistent in artistic style and photographic construction. I generally recommend a maximum of 6, 9 or 12 photos. Remember that the formats must be the same. The viewer must have a coherent overview. Do not cause dissonance in the presentation.
  • The third mean is the series. In this case, you group different collections within the same theme. The story you tell has several chapters. Entries in the series can be multiple. There is no need to be consistent in framing. By story the style must be. No question, for example, of mixing black and white with color within a series. The aim of the series is to tell a long story that the viewer can interrupt or read it in its entirety photographically.

The 2 Ways at Your Disposal to Give Meaning to Your Photos

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Article published on Friday, January 31, 2020 . Written by
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