Why and How: Defining Your Photographic Statement to Improve Your Photos

Your photographic statement is one of the most essential concepts to understand and define if you want to create meaningful photos that captivate the attention of your audience.

Your photographic statement will help you stand out from other photographers. It will help you to assert your difference and your personality.

In this article, I will share with you my method to help you to define your photographic statement.

An example of photographic signature. A grey heron snorting on a branch in a pond of La Dombes. Photo in black and white by Amar Guillen.
An example of photographic signature. A grey heron snorting on a branch in a pond of Dombes.

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.

The Story Behind This Article

I started my career as a professional photographer in June 2003.

I had been living in the United States for two years. I was not allowed to work because I had an L2 visa. However, I could reside in the country. My wife, Isabelle, who had an L1 visa, had a work contract with an American company. I was teaching scuba diving and photography in different commercial structures in exchange for trips and equipment.

In June 2003, I decided to create a company in the state of Texas. This would allow me to have a special status so that I could sell photographs. This was a time when many large stock photography companies were flourishing. I started working with several of them. I also published articles in several magazines around the world. Being bilingual gives me many opportunities.

I am among one of the happiest photographers on earth. I make a very good living off of a substantial income, which is more than what I was earning in France.

In 2010, I began selling my photos via stocks. 7 years later, I continue to travel in circles, making photos according to the demand and market trends. I strive to personally meet the expectations and needs of my customers. When I deviate from the desired needs, I don't sell any photos. For example, my first attempts to sell black and white photos were a real failure. I had tried to express myself photographically, but in vain.

During a trip to Las Vegas for a trade show, I met Sue. I had known her virtually for years, as she is the manager of the Seapics photo agency. She specializes in underwater photography. She understood my problem and offered to help me to find a solution. She advised me to change my way, and she offered me a book about selling art photography. Sue connected me with a coach for professional photographers. My new destiny was sealed. I could not return to my previous practice, as I had begun a new path.

The first task my coach gave me was to define my photographic statement. I discovered an unknown and exciting universe. This task required 2 months of work to complete. I changed my routine completely. I began to create in a new way and to introduce innovative concepts. I had never considered photography from this angle. It was a revelation.

I would like to share this experience with you to help you define your own photographic statement.

I will explain the reasons for working on this and how to accomplish it.

Defining “Artistry”

Before going any further, as always it is important to know what we are talking about.

"An artistry is a way of conducting a reasoning, of progressing towards a goal by the path of thought. It is a method, a way of acting to express yourself."

Application to Photography

If I apply this definition to the activity of photography, I can say that a photographic statement is an intellectual means to achieve the goal you have set with your photographic why.

You will create a method, a way of acting when you build and create your pictures. It is above all an intellectual process because it is a way of thinking.

Your photographic statement is not your photographic why. When participating in personal discussions or when reading articles on photography, I have noticed that most people are very confused about both.

Your photographic why sets the reasons for why you chose photography. It is your driving force, your reason for practicing photography.

Your photographic statement defines the way you implement your photographic why.

Your photographic statement is like an intellectual toolbox that you will use to reach your goal.

Why: Defining Your Photographic Statement

Defining your photographic statement is as important as your photographic why.

It's a process that you will apply regularly to build and create photos consistently. It is like a way of acting. The definition of a photographic statement will serve as a guide throughout your photographic creations.

It will also allow you to reach a goal you have set for yourself.

The definition of your photographic statement will allow you to progress, to discover new creative horizons.

It's a real beacon for making interesting, meaningful photos that capture the attention of your audience.

I think that every photographer should have a definition of his photographic statement. He should also know it by heart in order to be guided throughout his photographic activity.

Personally, as a professional, my photographic statement is clear. You can believe me when I tell you that this is far from being the case for many professional photographers.

Without it, I would not exist.

I also define myself as a photographic artist. As such, I have a very strong artistic approach. But that's another subject that I will certainly address in another column.

The Two Elements of Your Photographic Statement

It is now time to dive into the concrete content. Your photographic statement is made up of the following two elements:

  • Your photographic vision.
  • Your photographic signature.

Your photographic vision is the way you see the world around you.

Your photographic signature is the way you show it.

Defining Your Photographic Vision

Your photographic vision defines how you see the world around you.

As an example, my photographic vision is defined by the fact that I use nature as a means of expression.

I see nature as an invitation to dream and introspection.

That is why I chose the symbolic photo.

To define your photographic vision and whatever photographic theme you have chosen, you must have a clear understanding of why you have chosen photography as your medium.

Take a sheet of paper and a pen.

  • List all the subjects you like or would like to photograph.
  • List the scenes or places you like to photograph or would like to do.
  • List all the reasons why you want to photograph these scenes or subjects. You must be precise, simple, and concrete.
  • It is helpful to also list everything you do not like to photograph. This is an essential step.

Then you can return to each of these lists. You can prioritize your ideas. For each list, you will want to identify 3 strong ideas. For each of these ideas, you should write a sentence with a subject, a verb and a predicate. You then combine these sentences together in a single paragraph.

You will end up with a small text that is readable. Read it out loud. This will allow you to see the strong points. Simplify this paragraph into 3 or 4 sentences. Reread this text. You have just defined your photographic vision.

This is the method I used when I defined my own photographic vision. It works perfectly. It is simple and practical to implement.

The definition of your photographic vision will allow you to reveal the blind spots in your photographic gaze.

It allows you to better understand the way you look at the world in an unconscious way. Defining your photographic vision allows you to put into words what you were already doing instinctively, before you were paying much attention to the purpose and motivation behind your actions.

A good definition of your photographic vision will allow you to better define your state of mind.

At this point in the column, you should consider that your photographic vision is unique. You can't swallow two. Why not? The reason is simple.

If you go out there and take pictures, and if you have more than one way of seeing the world around you, you're going to get scattered. You're going to get lost.

You will confuse the photographic message to your audience. You won't be audible. You won't be identifiable and recognizable.

This does not mean that you cannot choose different photographic themes. For example, you can choose to photograph nature landscapes or cityscapes. On the face of it, nothing connects them. But if your photographic vision is to see the world around you as one that has been shaped by man, you have a good reason. Don't confuse photographic vision with photographic themes.

Defining Your Photographic Signature

Your photographic signature is the way you show the world around you. Having defined how you see it; all you need to do is figure out how to show it.

For example, my photographic signature is to photograph the wonders of nature in an artistic and contemplative way. I do not show nature in a documentary way. My photos are not illustrations. I choose to interpret the scenes I see. I have chosen an artistic approach.

In order to show your photographic signature, you must have at least one photographic style. I want to emphasize “at least one”, because you can have several styles, while keeping your photographic vision unique.

Before continuing, I think it is important to define the meaning of photographic style.

The photographic style is a set of characteristics specific to a body of images. These characteristics are the result of technical and aesthetic decisions.

A photographic style is a set of common and salient traits that qualify a photographer's imagery. Defining a photographic style or styles will help you find a creative direction.

To search for a photographic style is to try to understand what links the photos together.

Defining a photographic style is a very strong intellectual act that requires no photographic material.

You need to take a step back from your photographic activity.

You must be able to put into words that which is your photographic practice. You must describe it, formalize it and then formulate it. Words are irreplaceable. There is no better way to be precise about a fact. Use words.

You will often feel lonely and a little lost. This is normal. As is often the case and as I will advise you later in this article, don't hesitate to share your ideas to other people you trust. Working together will give you great satisfaction. There are always more opportunities when two heads are thinking versus just one.

For example, I use different styles for my photographic signature: a pure style, an ethereal style, and a dreamlike style.

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Each one is adapted to the different scenes I like to photograph.

In these different photographic styles, I use different techniques such as low-key, high-key, grayscale, color, etc. These are only techniques that allow me to express myself better photographically.

When I study the photographic statement of other photographers whose creations I appreciate, I notice that they often have only one style.

Certainly, when style is also the signature, you become immediately identifiable. It's very powerful. For a long time, I thought it was a great approach. Until one day I realized that in the end it could be detrimental to the photographer.

As I often do, I was browsing in a bookstore looking for a new book to read about photography. I was browsing the shelves and displays at Barnes & Noble (a chain of bookstores in the United States). Suddenly, my attention was drawn to a photographic artist I love. He uses only black and white and long exposure. I start flipping through the book with envy. I decide to buy it. My wife, who was watching me, tells me that I already have three of them at home. She pointed out that the pictures looked like the ones I had already analyzed and admired. At the time, I was a little disappointed and very upset.

After a minute of reflection, I realized that she was right. Finally, I had to make up my mind. This photographer I liked so much was always doing the same thing. He didn't surprise me anymore. His pictures were beautiful, but he wasn't reinventing himself. He stayed in his comfort zone. He was becoming boring. It was on that day that I realized that when the signature becomes confused with the style, a photographer or an artist in general becomes boring and not very interesting. He is no longer creative because he stays in his comfort zone.

Don't hesitate to develop several photographic styles. You will have fun because you will create exciting and innovative content.

Defining Your Photographic Statement Is Not a Question of Gear

I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos