Why and How: Making Photographs Beautiful and Useful - Part 1
Do you think a photo should be useful? Do you believe that a photo can be created for a purpose?
If your answer is no, I encourage you to read this article because it may change your mind.
If your answer is yes, do not hesitate to follow me through the next paragraphs because it will further support your point of view.
Regardless of the photographic field, if a photo is not beautiful and useless, it has no reason to exist.
In this article I will explain why.
Table of Contents
- The Little Story of This Article
- How To Define a Photograph?
- The Two Main Fields of Photography
- The Definition of 'Beauty'
- Application to Photography
- The Definition of 'Usefulness'
- The Application to Photography
- Why Must Interesting Photographs Be Beautiful and Useful?
- 5 Tips to Make a Photo Beautiful and Useful
- Your Photos Are Not Made to Please Everyone
The Little Story of This Article
My school and university education are of a scientific background. I studied mathematics, physics, and computer science.
I will never know whether I had a predisposition for the study of these subjects or whether it was circumstances that led me to specialize in these scientific fields.
This training has trained my mind to search for a reason, a purpose, a cause. Each action must have some purpose. Nothing occurs randomly.
When I started photography, my goal was to keep a visual record of what I was experiencing. Having no talent for drawing or painting, I found that through photography, I could keep data that could be reviewed and reused 20, 30, or 40 years later. Photography is timeless.
When I became a professional photographer, my photographic “why” totally changed. I had to find a compromise between a remunerative professional activity and my burning passion for nature photography.
For months, I contemplated a purpose for my professional photographic activity. I wrote out reasons, only to crumple up the paper again and again. I struggled to find the answer. One day I opened a book about the Bauhaus school. The answer lay before me in the opened pages.
To give you a brief description of the Bauhaus, it is a school of architecture founded in 1910 in Germany by Walter Gropius. This school was responsible for sparking a new artistic movement.
The Bauhaus school is responsible for applying industrial methods to art, thus breaking the dichotomy between art and industry. Functional objects must be created in series which are accessible to the greatest number of people.
Bauhaus art is “art and technique, a new unity.”
For me, it was a real revelation, an answer to my search. The Bauhaus school presented an artistic movement that focused on production, which utilized processes, methods, a beginning, and an end for each creation. Each beautiful creation was also useful.
My existential and photographic purpose suddenly became clear.
All I had to do was practice this new perspective.
Since that day, my entire career as a professional photographer is based on these ideas that I developed after reading that book. They helped me to define the photographic journey on which I am currently experiencing. It was at this very moment that I understood that the creation of a photograph should be thought of in terms of beauty and utility.
This is what I will explain in the rest of this article.
How to Define a Photograph?
Before discussing the reason why a photograph should be beautiful and useful, I think it is important to clarify what a photograph is.
The word photography means "writing with light".
For me, a photograph is defined by:
- Its appearance, or visible part. This is the container of the deeper meaning.
- Its sense, or invisible part. This is the content, the symbolism.
Light is the link between these two components. A photograph is simply captured light reflecting off a scene that you as the photographer chose to convey a message or an idea.
A photograph should allow you to express yourself in a specific language. Are you beginning to see the first reason for a photograph to be useful?
If you cannot remember or have not heard of the two main areas of photography, do not worry. I will discuss those with you now.
The Two Main Fields of Photography
Photography can be divided into two very distinct fields:
- Illustrative photography.
- Artistic photography.
Each of these fields contains genres, like conceptual photography, which is a genre within the field of artistic photography.
Illustrative photography aims to create photos that will accompany a magazine, book, article, or website page.
The purpose of an illustrative photograph is to bear witness or reinforce a written text or advertisement.
If you practice this type of photography, your goal is not to express yourself or to show an emotion of your own. You address yourself in a factual way and an audience that wants to have in front of it a representation of reality that is as faithful as possible.
Artistic photography is a means of personal expression. If you create artistic photos, it is because you have something to say, an emotion to express, or you desire to aesthetically share your vision of the world.
For both illustrative and artistic photography, it is important to create beautiful and useful photos if you wish to produce interesting pictures that will appeal to an audience.
Let us now turn to the first important word: “beauty.”
The Definition of ' Beauty'
“Beauty” is the quality of something that conforms to an aesthetic ideal.
Beauty characterizes a perception of that which is aesthetic.
Beauty is a concept that is defined as the characteristic of a thing that provides satisfaction through a sensory or intellectual experience.
You may already realize that this notion of beauty is subjective because each human being has different perceptions of their sensory environment. I will return to this idea in another paragraph.
It is useful to keep in mind that a beautiful thing gives satisfaction from the pleasure it induces.
The Application of Beauty to Photography
If I apply the definition of beauty to photography, the sensory experience is shared through sight.
A photograph will be beautiful if it gives pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction to the viewer.
I am referring here to the author of the photograph or the viewer.
The Definition of 'Useful'
To be useful is to have a purpose.
This simple definition of the useful word unveils some remarkably interesting perspectives in the field of photography.
The Application of Usefulness to Photography
Again, the thing the definition of “useful” and photography. A photograph is useful if it is helpful.
But can we say that photography is useful? The answer is yes.
If you take examples from both areas of photography, an illustrative photograph is useful because it reinforces the written message or illustrates an advertisement.
An artistic photograph is useful because it already allows the photographer author to express himself.
Why Must Interesting Photographs Be Beautiful and Useful?
I think an interesting photograph should be beautiful and useful.
First, you must accept the fact that an interesting photo impacts two people:
- The author: you, the photographer.
- The viewer: your audience.
An interesting photograph is characterized by two distinct elements:
- The way it is built: the technique.
- The content it delivers: the meaning.
If one of the two elements is missing, a photo is useless.
A photograph must be beautiful because it must catch the eye of the viewer. This is what I call the first photographic effect.
In other words, it is the impact.
But let us first examine the viewer's side.
A photo must be beautiful because you want people to notice it and look at it. I am just like you. I like people to linger at my pictures.
I get very frustrated when at an exhibition, people pass by my art prints without stopping.
A photograph must be beautiful because it must evoke a sensory experience for the viewer. Sight is the first sense that will be alerted. Then he will feel personal emotions related to his life, his experiences.
A photograph should be useful for both the author and the viewer.
When you create a photo, whether illustrative or artistic, it is because you have a goal to achieve. The purpose of a photo is to help you achieve that goal.
Photography is a way to find your personal purpose, which I sometimes call existential purpose.
The photographic why is a way to define why you practice photography.
When you create a picture, you are enjoying it. It is a first step in a new photographic interest.
If this picture arouses the interest of an audience, you will experience joy and pride. Again, you will be happy, and you will feel that you are serving something, that you have a societal or social function.
For the viewer, a photograph should be useful. It must arouse emotions, mentally revive old memories that lead to creating new experiences.
To summarize these few lines, I would say that an interesting photograph must be beautiful and useful before it can be considered remarkable.