Article published on Friday, September 06, 2019 . Written by

Why and How to Read, Appreciate a Nature Photograph

You certainly look at hundreds of photographs daily. Whether for your personal projects, professional or in the articles you link, your attention is constantly captured by images.

But do you really read a photograph? Do you know how to appreciate certain photographic creations?

In this article, I propose a method of photographic reading to better decrypt the content of photos.

This method will help you to develop your creativity and improve your artistic process.

Black and white landscape photograph of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, United States.
Black and white landscape photograph of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, United States.

Trois articles essentiels avant de continuer la lecture

In order for you to fully understand the reading grid of a nature photograph, I recommend you reread the article explaining why and how to analyze a photograph and the article about the method to judge a photograph.

These two articles are essential because they give you all the keys to well dissect the contents of an image. The ideal before addressing the rest of this article would be to re-read the article " why and how story telling makes an interesting image".

The Story of this Series of Articles

The four articles including the one you are reading is a progression.

You may be wondering why I wrote them by revealing personal techniques that I use in my professional photographic activities.

The idea of writing them came to me after the last workshops of nature photography that I organized. Many trainees regularly come to participate in the courses. Their level had become so high that I devoted a whole progression to the photographic consciousness.

I realized that very few of them had developed a true creative photographic consciousness. They had all become excellent technicians. They were all able to create photos for international competitions, exhibitions or publications for prestigious magazines.

But most of them remained blocked when I asked them to analyze other photos or to understand a photographic approach.

The blockage was even more obvious when they had to read a picture.

I thought it would be interesting to share my point of view with a larger number of people to exchange and have feedback on my methods.

These are all the reasons that led me to write this series of four articles.

Definition of the Words "Read" and "Appreciate"

Before revealing the method to read and appreciate a photograph, I think it is interesting to define the words "to read" and "to appreciate" to better place them then in the photographic context.

By definition, to read is to follow the eyes of graphic signs by identifying a writing.

One of the definitions of to appreciate is:

"to appreciate " is to judge the intellectual, moral, artistic value of something. It is also to estimate something.

Application to Photography

If I refer to the definition of reading, I can say that a photograph can be read. Artistic photography has its own photographic language. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to talk about reading a photograph.

Likewise, the verb to appreciate can be perfectly used in a photographic context because you can judge a photograph and give an appreciation.

Why Read a Photograph is Important to You

If you learn to read and appreciate the photographs of other photographers, you will gradually develop a real photographic consciousness.

It will allow you to build and to improve your artistic approach.

I remind you that the definition of a true personal artistic approach is the founding act of your photographic creativity. It is the foundation of your photographic activity whether for leisure or professional.

Knowing how to read a photograph in an objective, systematic and consistent way will help you to create different but above all interesting photographs.

This is certainly what you want to do by choosing artistic photography as a means of expression.

The consequence of a good photographic reading is the development of an extraordinary quality for you who are a photographer: to appreciate the creations of other photographers. In addition, you will be able to more easily locate you compared to the others. You will define your place.

How to Read a Photograph

My method for reading a nature photograph is always in three distinct steps:

  • Define the field of photography to which it belongs..
  • Analyze the content.
  • Judge and evaluate.

Step 1: Define the Photographic Domain

For this first step, you must be able to clearly say whether it is an illustrative, artistic or conceptual photograph.

Is it intended to promote a product or brand? Is the photo a translation of an emotion felt by the photographer who took it? Does it convey a message, an idea? Is this photo intended to shock, to question, to create a questioning of the viewer? Is it an aesthetic picture? Was it created to testify, to show a scene of life? Is it just a detail of a scene?

This step number one must allow you to define the purpose of the photograph.

Step 2: The Analysis of the Photo

During this second step, you must analyze all the photographic elements.

You simply make an inventory. I advise you to analyze the composition, the framing, the positive space and the negative space.

Try to study the construction desired by the photographer. Look for the elements of reading reinforcement. Try to understand why and how all the elements have been put in place.

During this step, you try to understand the technical reasons for creating the image. You must remain objective. You look at how the depth of field was managed, if the bokeh technique was used, what speed was chosen, etc.

If it's an animal, what does it do? What is his attitude? Where does he look?

If the scene represents a landscape, do you recognize the place? What do you see in the foreground? What are the details that you see in a second time?

Step 3: Judging and Evaluating

During this third step, you must try to clear the general atmosphere of the photo you are watching.

It is at this precise moment that I recommend you to read the title and the legend which accompanies the photograph. You will be able to discover its context. The proposed text will guide the understanding of the image.

Do you have to understand what photography wants to show? How do you react? What emotions and feelings do you feel?

The idea behind this third step is that you carry a value judgment. You have to make sense of the picture.

This step is subjective. It appeals to your ethical, moral values, your experience and your experience.

You do not make a criticism. You just have to formalize what you feel and what inspires you the picture you are looking at.

It is you who speak. Be honest, straightforward and direct.

Some Photos are not Readable

If you apply this method of photographic reading in a systematic way, you will quickly realize that many photographs are not readable.

Do not imagine that the method is ineffective or inadequate. Do not believe that you do not have all the keys to read them well.

It is just that the photographers who propose them have taken photos but have not created them. They just took snapshots.

As I wrote in this article, there are many reasons why people take pictures.

If you cannot read photos, it's because they were not taken in order to make them interesting. Do not waste time looking at them.

Spend your energy reading and enjoying photos that are worth it. Life is too short to waste time. It is this principle that I adopt in all that I do.

Finally

Reading and enjoying photos allows you to progress in photographic art by further developing your photographic awareness.

I proposed to you a reading guide in three steps. It is simple to remember and very effective.

If it does not satisfy you, do not hesitate to define yours. I recommend you always apply a systematic and consistent method to have the best results possible.

Knowing how to read and appreciate photos is a real lever for creating even more interesting and very different photos.

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