Why and How: Giving Meaning to Your Photos in 3 Steps – Part 2

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Landscape of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia in black and white.
Landscape of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia in black and white.

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

To give meaning to your photographs, it is simple. You have two ways:

  • Either you tell a story.
  • Either you create aesthetic images.

To tell a story, you must make either a strong photo, a collection or a series. A story is always symbolic. It is evoked through your photos.

For your story to appeal to an audience, you must have experienced it. Above all, it must be personal. It will allow the viewer to freeze your image or images in his memory. The story and the photos will become inseparable.

The different elements for you can use to tell a story are:

  • Emotions.
  • Feelings.
  • The messages.

I will not detail these points in this article because they are relevant enough for you to understand them. In addition, each of them will be the subject of articles in the coming weeks.

In my opinion, choosing one of these three elements to give meaning to your photographs is a guarantee of success.

Remember that a story must be alive, short, easily understandable. It can also be the subject of a few written lines that will accompany your photographic achievements.

You can also choose not to tell a story but to take aesthetic photographs. It is a great solution to give meaning to your photos.

Aesthetic photographs often have a very strong impact. They are not easy to build.

I recommend the method I use in ACANP: it consists to assemble photographic elements. An aesthetic photography allows the viewer to escape, to dream, to imagine, to make introspection in his own universe. When he finds and contemplates an aesthetic photo, the viewer creates his own story. You do not create it for him. He becomes the inventor of his own story even if it is fleeting just during the time during which he looks at the photo. In this second way, you give meaning without creating the story. You just do it by organizing the photographic elements harmoniously.

The 3 Steps to Create Meaningful Photographs

Whatever number of photographs you are going to take, just one, a collection or a series. The method is always the same. It is chronological.

Step 1: Find a Reason for Taking the Photos

In my opinion, this is the most important step. If you do not have a great reason to take your photos, you cannot give meaning to them.

Flattering your ego by wanting to post uninteresting photos of you or your trip on social media makes absolutely no sense. You are wasting your time.

Indeed, many photographers act in this way. They think that posting photos about them interests other people. They make a monumental mistake. Nobody is interested in this kind of images.

The human being is centered on himself. If someone is looking at photos, it is to learn something that will help him.

He does not want to see the photos of a photographer who wants to flatter his own ego.

Before starting a photo project, I record all my ideas in a special notebook. I list all the points I would like to address. This exhaustive list will allow me to define precise objectives of my project as well as the goals to reach.

If I had to make an analogy, listing the reasons for a project, would be like planning for an essay, a dissertation or an oral presentation. This plan will guide you throughout your project. Of course, it will not be set in stone. It may change depending on the shooting conditions. But the main guidelines will remain.

Step 2: Define the Message Delivered in Your Photos

The previous step leads you to a synopsis of your story. Once you have listed all the points that you want to develop in your photo project, you now need to define the message that you want to deliver.

This message should be in one sentence. It is a condensed summary of what you want to do. It is exactly the same approach as finding an answer to the question of why you practice photography.

This message will become a mantra throughout the life of your project. You should always think about it so as not to get lost on the creative paths. The creative paths that you will take only serve to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.

In my professional life, I meet dozens of photographers who show me their photos. When I ask them what message they want to deliver, they are unable to give me an answer. It is not that I want to put them in default, but I cannot see a clear message in what they show me. Most of them, however, show me projects carried out by passion and not by desire, but they did not think about the message. It is bad.

Step 3: Build Your Photographs to Better Deliver the Message

Once you know why you want to create a photo, a collection or a series and you have defined precisely the message that you want to deliver, you just have to write photographically.

You will use photographic language and assemble the various photographic elements that you need.

On the field, you must scrupulously analyze your scene by looking for the strong elements and by avoiding the disturbing elements. I advise you to use the technique of photographic elements that I describe in my ACANP method. This method allows you to compose better, to frame better so that your photographic message is clear, predicted, direct.

Never forget that a simple change from a photographic point of view can completely change the nature of the message delivered. As I described previously, the choice of your elements will condition the way to express your emotions, translate your feelings, transmit your messages or even show what you find beautiful.


If you want to give meaning to your photographs, you must do a very important work before your project.

You have to be very methodical. If you choose improvisation in the field, you are unlikely to be heard and understood.

My 3-step method will allow you to create interesting photos that make sense.

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Article published on Friday, February 07, 2020 . Written by
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