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Why and How: Giving Meaning to Your Photos in 3 Steps – Part 1

You have most likely heard the expression "giving meaning to your photos" in magazines, exhibitions, or photo blogs.

But what exactly does this expression mean? More and more, I feel that it takes the form of a restriction or requirement.

In this article, I will explain my opinion about the importance of instilling meaning into your photos, and how to accomplish this.

Snowy landscape of Yellowstone during winter.
Snowy landscape of Yellowstone during winter.

Definition of the Expression ‘Giving Meaning’

I have found many definitions of the expression ‘giving meaning’. It is used in many contexts.

For this article, I have chosen the following definition:

Giving meaning is a direction, a certainty that what we are experiencing has a purpose.

For me, this definition explains that making sense of something is enough to find the way to starting. This is exactly what I am going to show you.

The Application to Photography

If I apply this definition of “giving meaning to photography” I have found that it reveals the direction for choosing to shoot.

Your photo projects must have meaning. You should not create your images out of envy, but out of passion, which I have described in a previous article discussing the photographic state of mind.

You may ask me, “Why should I give meaning to my photos? What is the point?” Your questions are legitimate. I also asked myself these crucial questions many years ago. I found that the answer can be approached along two different axes.

Giving Meaning to Your Photos Is Important for You as a Photographer

The first tip for finding a purpose for your photos is to be yourself. As a photographer, you have a unique role to play.

By giving meaning to your images, you will improve their quality.

By seeking for that meaning, you will develop your own photographic language. You will express yourself better. You will also learn to better master the semiology of your photographs.

In short, you will learn how to build your photographs in a more interesting way. You will develop an authentic methodology. With this method, you will no longer waste time in the field during your sessions. You will return to the basics: create interesting photos.

Personally, this is part of an adventure that I lived several years ago when I created my ACANP method.

I wanted to give meaning to my photographs. I wanted them to become timeless artistic works. So, I created an experience-based research framework to situate myself. I wanted to organize my creative approach and have time to better create and express myself.

Ultimately, my research led to the creation of ACANP, which I now use in all my professional activity. It is also what I teach during my nature photo workshops.

Giving meaning to my photographs has allowed me to progress in my field and to become more creative.

Giving meaning to your photographs will allow you, as a photographer, to develop empathetic qualities towards your audience and the world around you. By trying to make sense of what you create, you will better understand the expectations of others and thus better respond to them as best you can. You will become empathetic. This is what happened to me!

Giving Meaning to Your Photos is Important for Your Audience

One reason to always search for meaning in your photographs, concerns the audience, or viewers, of your achieved images.

Giving meaning creates a unique emotional connection with the people who view your images.

You create an invisible connection with the mind of the viewers. They will listen to you. They will understand you.

Giving meaning to your images stimulates the imagination and provokes emotion in viewers.

Several scenarios are then possible:

Several scenarios are then possible:

  • The viewer may ask questions about the nature of your photos..
  • The photo may be clear, allowing the viewer to find through the evoked symbolism a way to translate his own questions that he cannot express.
  • The photo may hold a long-lost answer to a question that the viewer has been asking.

In all cases, your photographs either ask questions or give answers, allowing your audience to escape.

The 3 Ways to Create Photographs that Make Sense

There are three ways you can take with meaningful photos. I did not rank them in order of difficulty. They are all difficult to implement because they each have advantages and disadvantages.

  • The first mean is through single photography. You create a single photograph which is sufficient in itself. It tells a story. It is strong, powerful, and suggestive. The scene photographed speaks for itself. You do not need to add a subtitle nor give explanations. To succeed in this type of image, you must photograph a strong event. You must be tenacious, opportunistic, and above all, incredibly lucky.
  • The second mean is the collection. You create a few photos that put together a simple and easy-to-read story. All images must be consistent in artistic style and photographic construction. I generally recommend a maximum of 6, 9, or 12 photos. Remember that the assembled formats must be the same. The viewer must have a coherent overview. Do not create dissonance in your presentation.
  • The third mean is the series. In this scenario, you group different collections within the same theme. The story you tell has several chapters. You may have multiple entries in one series. There is no need to be consistent in framing. The style must tell a story. There should be no confusion, for example, perhaps refrain from mixing black and white with color within a series. The aim of the series is to tell a long story though the photos that the viewer can interrupt or read it in its entirety.

The 2 Ways at Your Disposal to Give Meaning to Your Photos

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I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos