Why and How: Defining a Photograph

Have you ever had the curiosity to search for the definition of a photograph? If you have already researched, then you will have noticed that it does not really exist. The definition always refers to the process but does not apply to the finished result.

In this article, I suggest a way to clearly define what a photograph is. This will help you build photos that are more interesting and creative.

This article will help you understand how to implement a new tool in your photography toolbox. By implementing it, you will make your photos even more interesting and instill in them true meaning.

This photograph of a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains is constructed with different elements. It evokes the time passing.
This photograph of a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains is constructed with different elements. It evokes the time passing.

The Little Story Behind This Blog Post

For several months, I have been interested in the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. I discovered his work through his collections "In Praise Shadows" and "Seascapes".

I have always been passionate about photography on the surface of water. Once, while looking for inspiration to define an axis of research for a new collection, I discovered Hiroshi Sugimoto. His photographic creations captivated and challenged me.

Sugimoto’s works are timeless, enigmatic, and calm. They evoke serenity. When analyzing his artistic approach, I wondered why his photographs had such an evocative force while remaining so minimalist.

It was during this introspective reflection that I asked myself this question: “What is a photograph?”.

Immediately, I took up my notebook and pen and began to jot down some ideas. For four days each morning I studied this topic, eventually forming the ideas that have become this article I share with you today.


Why Is It Important to Define a Photograph?

When I ask someone to explain the definition of a photograph, rarely can they answer me completely, regardless of whether they are a photographer or not. One may say that a photograph is a representation of reality, while another may state that the act of photographing is like “writing with light”. In short, the general public’s definition of a photograph can be blurred and confusing.

However, I believe that to take interesting photos, it is important to define what a photograph is.

If you want to create interesting photos focused on a specific audience, you must be able to define what you are planning to create. I am not referring to technique or method here, but what a photograph represents, its essence.

To denote “photograph” many people use the word “image”.

An image is a visual reproduction of a real object.

An image can be natural, for example, a shadow or a reflection, but it can also be artificial, such as a sculpture, a painting, or a photograph.

This definition is very broad and does not necessarily apply to photography.

Photography is an artistic discipline that has its own language. It is for this reason that I believe that defining a photograph is so important.


How to Define a Photograph?

I think that a photograph can be summed up in two components:

  • Its appearance: this is the visible component, which I refer to as the “container”.
  • Its meaning: this is the invisible and immaterial component which I refer to as the “content”.

These two components are necessary to properly define a photograph.

If the meaning is missing, you will simply have a picture, a representation of reality.

After you answer the question of “why and how” you are photographing, you should define your photo. I suggest that you detail each of your components.


The Appearance of a Photograph

The appearance of a photograph is what the viewer sees first. This is what immediately catches the viewer’s eye. It is the first contact or connection between your photo and your viewer. This moment will condition the rest of the interaction.

If this first contact is interesting, the viewer will take his time in progressing to the analysis stage.

If the viewer is not initially attracted, his focus will fade. He will not reach the analysis stage.

It is for this reason that a photograph must be correctly composed and framed with a well-chosen point of view.

Creating an interesting, impactful visual aspect is a matter of technique and photographic know-how.

To create a visual aspect that increases the impact of your photographs, you should have the following components available at your disposal:

  • Forms.
  • Lines.
  • Textures.
  • Colors.
  • Tones.

When composing, you need to harmonize your elements. I will develop this notion of harmony in a future article


Using Light to Bind Your Photographic Elements Together

When baking bread, you use a liquid to combine your dry ingredients together. The use of light in photography is like the liquid in a recipe, it binds the different elements together, creating a finished product.

I often refer to photographic recipes. The binding element of light remains the same. Light allows you to connect the chosen photographic elements.

Light is the link of all the visual elements of your photography.

You use it to highlight your composition and your framing.

The main points that you should take away from reading this article is that:

  • Light defines shapes.
  • Light defines lines.
  • Light creates textures.
  • Light determines colors.

Without light, your compositions and your framing will lack photographic flavor.

Now that I have described the first component in defining a photograph, I will give you some elements to understand the second component: the photographic meaning.


The Meaning of a Photograph

An interesting photograph is constructed from visual elements organized in a harmonious way and bound together by light.

To create a strong impact, you must add meaning to your light by illuminating significant content.

With light, you can provide meaning by revealing an emotion, expressing a message or increasing focus on an aesthetic quality.

In my opinion, the ability to expertly insert meaning into a photo is a difficult accomplishment. You must be able to think aloud, expressing your message without words. Never forget that photography is an art form. It is a medium for expressing yourself.

I have already had the opportunity to express myself to you through other articles. I do not know how to draw. I do not know how to paint. I can write. I have searched for a means of visual expression and found that photography is an authentic way for me to express myself and to share my deepest thoughts.

I developed a photographic language which uses visual elements to communicate with the greatest number of people possible.

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If you want to create interesting photos, always consider the meaning you are instilling in each image. It is a necessary condition for finding your unique audience.

To allow easy reading of your photos, never forget that the eyes of a viewer are attracted towards:

  • Strong lines.
  • Textures.
  • Forms.
  • Light colors.
  • Sharp areas.
  • Clear areas.
  • High contrast areas.

With photographic language, I strive to organize my photographic elements in such a way that I can clearly articulate my thoughts. During my photo workshops, I share my ACANP method, which is the technique I use to speak in photographic language.



I hope this article will allow you to better define a photograph.

The most important thing to remember is that an image is a meaningless photograph. It is just a representation of reality.

To create a photograph, you must construct a container made of visual elements bound together by light. The photographic language and grammar will allow you to share your thoughts, which is the content of your photo.

After many years of research, I have learned from Hiroshi Sugimoto how to conceptualize the essence of a photograph. We should construct our photos upon this concept: The definition of a photograph is its foundation.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


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