Why and How to Analyze a Photograph of Nature – Part 1

Every day, you will certainly look for your photographic inspiration by looking at websites or by turning the pages of photography books.

You analyze and judge the photographs you see. You are trying to determine why you like certain pictures and not others.

But do you have a methodology with systematic evaluation criteria that allow you to do the same analysis every time? I propose a method of photographic analysis that has been proven for years that I use it.

Photograph in black and white of Upper Antelop Canyon in Arizona.
Photograph in black and white of Upper Antelop Canyon in Arizona.

The Meaning of the Expression Photographic Analysis

The word analysis has several definitions. The one I will keep for this blog post is:

An analysis is an intellectual operation of decomposition of an all-in element and their connection.

Analyzing an artistic photograph will consist of studying the various elements that compose it to detect the emotional sense, the message transmitted or to identify the aesthetic qualities.

Analyzing a Photograph Does Not Mean Judging It

Analyzing a photograph is an objective action on your part. Judging a photograph is a subjective action.

You can judge a photograph in parallel or after its analysis. For my part, during my workshops dedicated to nature photography, I always analyze the photographs that are proposed to me by the trainees and only after, I give my judgment.

To propose a judgment of a photograph without having provided a coherent, systematic analysis never brings anything. It is neither constructive for you, nor for the photographer who create the photo. It is totally counterproductive. The relevant judgment of a photographer is fed by objective elements of a correct analysis.

In this article, I listed some criteria for judging an artistic photograph of nature.

During all these years during which I built my ACAPN method to animate photo courses, I used this photographic analytical method.

Correctly analyzing a photograph is an essential act for a nature photographer who wants to create artistic photos.

Why You Need to Know How to Properly Analyze a Photograph

If you take the time to develop a method of analyzing the photographs you are looking at, you will develop personal qualities that will greatly help you in your photographic activity.

Being able to correctly analyze a nature photograph will help you to:

  • Better identify your own artistic tastes.
  • Define, improve or enrich your artistic approach.
  • Define precise criteria to better identify and limit your creativity. You will not disperse in the meanders of creativity.
  • Understand why you like certain photographs or series.

By knowing how to analyze a photograph in a systematic way, you will better determine your sources of inspiration. You will save time when you do research for your photo projects.

As a professional nature photographer, having created a good methodology has saved me a lot of creative time. When I search for a client project or for personal photos, I always look at what has been done on the subject. I do not want to do it again. The methodology that I apply allows me to write a scenario with clear and precise ideas. They will help me create interesting photos that will stand out.

My method of analyzing a photograph is based on four successive steps.

The Four Main Stages of the Analysis of a Photograph

When you find yourself in front of a photograph or a series, here is what I advise you to do:

  • Visually describe the different elements you see. It is an objective step.
  • Perform a technical analysis of what you see.
  • Contextualize the photograph or series in a narrative way with all the elements of which you are aware. It is an objective step.
  • Interpret the photograph or series based on how you feel. It's a subjective step. Be careful because I am not talking about judgment or criticism. It is just your feeling.

The First Step: Visually Describe What You See

This first step should allow you to answer this simple question " What do I see? ».

You have to be able to tell if it's a landscape photograph, if it's a terrestrial or underwater photo, if it represents an animal. You must be able to describe in a few simple words what you see.

Remember that photography is a visual art discipline.

For example, when you look at a photograph printed on paper, take a little distance by stepping back a bit. I recommend placing you at a distance of three times the length of the diagonal. This very empirical method works very well. You will be able to better distinguish all the elements that make up the photograph.

The first vision of a photo must always be global. Do not try during this first phase to look at the details by sticking your nose on the work.

Describe mentally all the different elements that you distinguish. Try to define the different relationships that exist between each of them.

Once you have answered the question "What do I see?”, you should be interested in the following points:

  • What is the name of the photographer?
  • What is the title of the photograph?
  • What is the title of the series?
  • What is the relationship between the title and what you are watching?
  • What is the nature of photography: illustrative, artistic, conceptual?

This first step is a visual inventory of what you see. It is always done mentally. It is objective.

The Second Step: Technical Analysis

This second step will allow you to dissect the different components of the photograph. It requires a certain photographic skill and some technical knowledge because you will have to name specific points of a photo. Without this technical knowledge, you will lose yourself in useless details. Photography is based on solid founding foundations established over decades. All photographers agree on these terms.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of components:

  • The impact.

    It is certainly the most important component for me. This is the famous "Wow" effect. The impact is given by the shock you feel immediately after the first look. This is the visual effect of a photograph. This is the essential component for an interesting photograph.
  • The foreground.
  • The background.
  • The negative space.
  • The centers of interest.
  • The elements of reading reinforcement.
  • The attributes.
  • The light.
  • The colors.
  • The management of the masses.
  • Harmony and balance of forms.
  • The framing.
  • The composition.
  • The format.
  • The sharpness.
  • The contrast.
  • Modeling management.
  • Creativity.
  • Etc.

All these components are part of a list of my own. You have to add your own criteria. But do not forget to stay simple and concise.

A technical analysis is always done mentally. It is objective.

If you apply a complex system, you will forget some components that can be very important.

The Third Step: The Contextualization of The Photograph

To Read the Next Part of the Article, Click Here.


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