Why and How: Analyzing a Photograph in 4 Steps - Part 1
Every day, you will certainly search for photographic inspiration by browsing websites or by turning the pages of photography books.
You analyze and judge each photograph you see, trying to determine why you like certain pictures and not others.
Do you have a methodology with systematic evaluation criteria that allow you to perform the same analysis every time? I propose a tried-and-true method of photographic analysis that I have used for years.
Table of Contents
- The Meaning of the Expression of “Photographic Analysis”
- Analyzing a Photograph Does Not Mean Judging It
- Why You Should Know How to Properly Analyze Photographs
- The 4 Main Steps of the Analysis of a Photograph
- Step #1: Visually Describe What You See
- Step #3: The Contextualization of Photographs
- Step #3: The Contextualization of Photographs
- Step #4: The Interpretation
- An Example of the Analysis of a Photograph
The Meaning of the Expression of “Photographic Analysis”
The word “analysis” has several definitions. The one I will use in this blog post is:
An analysis is an intellectual operation of breaking down each miniscule element and its relationship among others in the image.
Analyzing an artistic photograph will consist of studying the various elements which compose it to detect the emotional sense, the message transmitted or to identify 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 among others or after an individual 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 my careful analysis, I provide my judgment.
To propose a judgment of a photograph without having provided a coherent, systematic analysis never amounts to much.
It is neither constructive for you, nor for the photographer who created the photo. It is completely counterproductive. On the other hand, a relevant judgment of a photographer is fed by objective elements of a correct analysis. This can be very beneficial.
In this article, I listed some criteria for judging an artistic photograph of nature.
Correctly analyzing a photograph is an essential act for a nature photographer who wants to create artistic photos.
Why You Should Know How to Properly Analyze Photographs
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 future photographic endeavors.
Being able to correctly analyze a nature photograph will help you to:
- Better identify your own artistic style.
- Define, improve, or enrich your artistic approach.
- Outline precise criteria to better identify and limit your creativity. You will not become lost while meandering through your creative mind.
- 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 countless hours 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 so that I do not repeat images. My applied methodology allows me to write a scenario with clear and precise ideas, thus sparking the creation of interesting photos that will stand out among others.
My method of analyzing a photograph is based on four successive steps.
The 4 Main Steps of the Analysis of a Photograph
When you find yourself facing a photograph or a series, here is what I advise you to do:
- Visually describe the different elements you see. This is an objective step.
- Perform a technical analysis of each element you see.
- Contextualize the photograph or series in a narrative way with all the elements of which you are aware. This is also 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. This step arises from your personal feelings.
Step #1: Visually Describe What You See
This first step should allow you to answer the simple question "What do I see?”.
You must be able to distinguish if the photo is a landscape, terrestrial, or underwater photograph, or 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, broaden your perspective by physically stepping back a few feet. I recommend placing yourself at three times the length of the diagonal. This very empirical method works well. You will better distinguish all the elements that make up the photograph.
The first vision of a photo must always be comprehensive. During this first phase, try not 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.
Step #2: 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 must name specific points of the photo. Without this technical knowledge, you will lose yourself in useless details. The foundations of photography have been 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 described as the “shock” you feel immediately after the first look, caused by the visual effects of the photo. 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.
- Etc. There are more aspects that could be explained for quite some time, but for now, this is a brief list.
All these components are part of a list that is my own. You must add your own criteria. But do not forget to stay simple and concise.
A technical analysis is always completed mentally. It is objective.
If you apply a complex system, you will forget some components that may be very important.