Why Mastering The Semiology of Photography

A scene of nature can be photographed in a multitude of ways. The change in composition, framing or choice of point of view generates hundreds of possibilities. The photographer must be vigilant because time is often counted because of variations in natural light.

A good knowledge of the semiology of photography can help to quickly create "the right photograph" without having to hesitate.

This photograph of the fine art collection 'The paths of the spirit' was the subject of a precise analysis before the shooting.
This photograph of the fine art collection 'The paths of the spirit' was the subject of a precise analysis before the shooting.

Definition and Purpose of The Semiology of Photography

The semiology of photography is the study of signs and the analysis of visual messages. To be simple, to develop semiotic qualities makes it possible to verify that a photographer gives a real direction to his photographic approach. The goal of semiology is to see how a photographer can create a photograph by considering his analysis from artistic and technical choices.

On the Field

On the field, a shot always is often made in an essentially intuitive way. We always rely on our experience and our experience. But that's not enough to create interesting photographs. We think that it is always necessary to have a very strong analytical mind to analyze the scene and understand what we want to highlight.

For us photography is freezing a fragment of space in a moment of time.

Photographing a scene is always a very fleeting moment that goes from a few thousandths of a second to a few seconds. When a beginner starts photography, this time can seem very short and he always has the impression that he has enough time to repeat the shots to achieve a good one. Yet experience has taught us that this time, even if it seems short, is indeed very long because the variations of light provoke irremediable changes.

To be convinced it is enough to make a very easy test. Choose a scene of nature and set your camera to the time lapse function. Take 100 pictures. Then view these snapshots on a computer by scrolling them quickly. You will notice that all the photos are different. Variations as small as they are causing essential upheavals in the photographic reading. This test is very revealing when shooting at dawn or dusk.

Knowing the photographic techniques, knowing yourself, knowing the others, understanding the environment and the light are some of the key points to make interesting photos.

Regularly performing photographic analysis whether for his own images or for the images of other photographers, allows to develop reflexes to capture the right moment.

We Photograph as We Look

Today, in our society where image and communication have become very important, we are invaded by images that tout advertising products. Many viewers have become accustomed to hovering over the images. They are no longer interested in the way an image is constructed or in the profound message it conveys. These viewers are only interested in the product that is highlighted.

Most photographers are simply more interested by the form without worrying about the deep content. They do not develop analytical methods to understand photos. They become mere consumers of products.

When these viewers who are numerous in our society use a camera, they use the same reflexes. They take a photograph as they learned to watch. They do not worry about the framing, the composition and especially they do not care about the message. For them, just showing something is enough to give a sense to a photograph. It is a monumental mistake. They do not realize that photography is a true means of expression that deserves our full consideration.

We meet more and more photographers who have this simplistic attitude. For us it is a true heresy. This kind of attitude hurts us a lot. It's so difficult to create an interesting photograph.

Making Informed Choices

We are used to saying that to look at a photograph of nature is to ask ourselves questions. It is also appealing to our imagination. Of course, it is not necessary to go too far in the interrogation. Watching or creating a photograph especially if it is an artistic one must remain a moment of privileged pleasure. But we think it is important to always analyze why we love a photograph and why we want to immortalize a scene of nature.

To analyze is to understand why we made choices. It is also to understand our deep motivations. It is a proof of interest in other people but also in ourselves. To analyze with precise criteria of judgment is to rise above the mass of passive spectators who just digest the porridge that others give them.

Making informed choices when you look at a photograph or when you create one, is to assume a real status of being thinking that you have chosen your life without suffering it.

These personal choices have consequences for our visibility. Some photos will please some people and will displease others.

We Can Not Please Everyone

Since we have chosen the career of artistic photographers of nature, we have understood one essential thing. We cannot please everyone. We have aficionados and we have our detractors. We respect each other. But we certainly give the most importance to the first category.

We have developed a loyal clientele of collectors who follow us with great pleasure and joy. We meet some people regularly because contacts have become fraternal over time. But we do not neglect the second category. It is important to listen to remarks, criticisms. Often, we do not consider words that are not argued because for us they are without any value. But negative reviews bring us a lot because they allow us to question ourselves and explore new creative ways. This is how we can refine signs and visual messages.

However, we keep in mind that the most important is our clientele of collectors with whom we are in phase because they are the ones who reinforce our creativity and our confidence.

For us, artistic photography is also about creating a relationship between the photographer's interpretation and the viewer's perception.

Trying to please everyone means making permanent compromises. It's also staying on the surface of things. It is also not respecting each other because we do not deliver messages that are deep within ourselves.

Trying to please everyone is the best way not to create interesting photographs.

The regular practice of semiology helps to improve one's own judgment on one's photographic approach. It is not trying to always have positive comments from others that we can progress in building interesting photos. We must personally develop an analysis grid that will see if we give a real meaning to his own photos.

Give Meaning to a Photograph

A photographer who wants to create interesting photographs must make informed choices and understands that he has a small audience.

To establish a communication with this audience and to transmit messages to it, the photographer must gather in his photographic creations the following elements:

  • inguistic signs. This is called photographic vocabulary. It is symbolic and depends on cultures. We can already see that the public is reduced considerably.
    It is the interaction of these various signs that gives meaning to a photograph. When a viewer analyzes a photo, it will make sense.
  • Iconic objects. These are the visible elements of a photograph: trees, animals, mountains, fish, wrecks ... Each type of nature photo has its own iconic objects.

An Analysis Grid of a Photograph

When we analyze a photograph before and after a shot, we always ask ourselves these questions.

  • What are the photographic elements that we select in our photography? This is the technical approach.
  • What are the reasons that lead us to create this photograph? This is the artistic approach.
  • How will we transmit our message through the photograph? It's the photographic language. We will use a photographic language.
  • What is the message we are going to convey to the viewer? This is the subjective background of photography. This is the interpretation we make of nature.

We always use this grid of photographic analysis for our artistic photographs. It is a simple and very effective method. The difficulty is to remember the whole photographic language. This is a complex area that is difficult to grasp.

But the advantage of this grid of analysis is that it works in our areas of predilection whether for landscape photography, animal or underwater. A photographer must learn how to make his photographic scales as he learns to use words to construct sentences.


The semiology of photography is essential to understand and to master to make interesting photos. By taking the time to analyze photos, a photographer develops abilities to better capture a scene. He can easily make sense for his shots.

Before creating a nature photograph, a photographer must always ask himself why he is going to do this act of creation. Moreover, he must ask himself what tools and what elements he will implement. He must learn to develop and enrich his photographic vocabulary.

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