Why and How: Reading and Appreciating a Nature Photograph

You certainly look at hundreds of photographs daily. Whether for your personal projects, professional career or in articles you reference, your attention is constantly captured by images.

But do you really read a photograph? Do you know how to appreciate certain photographic creations?

In this article, I propose a method of photographic reading to better decrypt the content of photos.

This method will help you to develop your creativity and improve your artistic process.

Black and white landscape photograph of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, United States.
Black and white landscape photograph of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, United States.

Three Essential Articles to Explore Before Continuing to Read

To fully understand the reading grid of a nature photograph, I recommend you reread the article explaining why and how: analyzing a photograph and the article about the method to judge a photograph.

These two articles are essential because they give you all the keys to dissecting the contents of an image. The idea before addressing the rest of this article would be to re-read the article on "why and how story telling makes an interesting image".

The Story behind this Series of Articles

The four articles including the one you are reading is a progression.

You may be wondering why I wrote them, in fact, I am revealing personal techniques that I use in my professional photographic activities.

The idea to share this information came to me after I organized my most recent workshops on nature photographs. Many trainees regularly participate in the courses. The number of participants and their enthusiasm has increased each time. Their dedication and the popularity of the subject itself sparked the ide to devote a new progression of articles to the photographic consciousness.

I realized that very few of them had developed a true creative photographic consciousness. They had all become excellent technicians. They were able to create photos for international competitions, exhibitions, and publications for prestigious magazines and organizations.

But most of them encountered “writers’ block” in a sense, when I asked them to analyze other photos or to interpret a photographic approach.

The blockage was even more obvious when they were required to read a picture.

I thought it would be interesting to share my point of view with a larger number of people, their feedback on my methods would be beneficial, and I would be supporting and enhancing their work. This exchange seemed fruitful for both of us.

These are all the reasons that led me to write this series of four articles.

Defining the Words "Read" and "Appreciate"

Before revealing the method of how read and appreciate a photograph, I think it is interesting to define the words " read" and "appreciate" to better place them in photographic context.

To “read” is to allow your eyes to drift across graphic signs identified by writing, usually in a single language.

One of the definitions “appreciate” is:

to judge the intellectual, moral, and artistic value of something. While you may be admiring the subject, you are also estimating it. Why else would you like something if you did not first deem it worthy of your time and attention?

Application to Photography

If I refer to the definition of reading, I mean that a photograph can be read. Artistic photography has its own photographic language. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to talk about reading a photograph.

Likewise, the verb to appreciate can be perfectly used in a photographic context because you can judge a photograph and give an appreciation.

Again, the word “read” is crucial. Surely if you do not understand a language you can somewhat “appreciate” a work, but you will be doing so with blind eyes. You can not possibly appreciate a photo until you can judge it, and to judge a photo you must be able to read it and understand the photographic language that the creator was speaking.

Why: Reading a Photograph is Important to You

If you learn to read and appreciate the photographs of other photographers, you will gradually develop a true photographic consciousness.

It will allow you to build and improve your artistic approach.

I remind you that the definition of a true personal artistic approach is the defining act of your photographic creativity. It is the foundation of your photographic activity in leisure and in profession.

Knowing how to read a photograph in an objective, systematic, and consistent way will help you to create unique and interesting photographs.

This is certainly what you want to do by choosing artistic photography as a means of expression.

The consequence of a good photographic reading is the development of an extraordinary quality for you, the photographer: to appreciate the creations of other photographers. In addition, you will be able to more easily locate your own works when they are compared to the others. You will define your place in the photographic world.

How to Read a Photograph

My method for reading a nature photograph occurs in three distinct steps:

  • Define the field of photography to which it belongs.
  • Analyze the specific content.
  • Judge and evaluate the work overall.

Step 1: Defining the Photographic Domain

For this first step, you must be able to clearly say whether it is an illustrative, artistic, or conceptual photograph.

Is it intended to promote a product or brand? Is the photo a translation of an emotion felt by the photographer who took it? Does it convey a message, an idea? Is this photo intended to shock, to question, or to create a questioning of the viewer? Is it an aesthetic picture? Was it created to testify, to show a scene of life? Is it just a detail of a scene?

This first step must allow you to define the purpose of the photograph.

Step 2: The Analysis of the Photo

During this second step, you must analyze all the photographic elements.

You must simply make an inventory. I advise you to analyze the composition, the framing, the positive space and the negative space. Take note of each detail.

Try to study the construction desired by the photographer. Look for the elements of reading reinforcement. Try to understand why and how all the elements have been put in each specific place.

During this step, you should try to understand the technical reasons for creating the image. Remaining objective, you must look at how the depth of field was managed, if the bokeh technique was used, what speed was chosen, etc.

If it is an animal, what is it doing? What is its attitude? Where is it looking?

If the scene represents a landscape, do you recognize the place? What do you see in the foreground? What are the details that you notice the second time you glance at it?

Step 3: Judging and Evaluating

During this third step, you must try to clear the general atmosphere of the photo you are watching.

It is at this precise moment that I recommend you read the title and the legend or caption accompanying the photograph. You will be able to discover its context. The proposed text will guide your understanding of the image.

Do you understand what the photograph wants to show? How do you react? What emotions and feelings do you feel?

The idea behind this third step is that you carry a value judgment. You have to make sense of the picture.

This step is subjective. It appeals to your ethical and moral values and your experience.

You must understand that judging and evaluating a photograph does not involve criticism. You are merely formalizing what you feel and what inspires you when you study the picture.

It is you who speaks. Be honest, straightforward and direct. Your voice is important, and only you can share what is in your mind.

Some Photos are Unreadable

If you apply this method of photographic reading in a systematic way, you will quickly realize that many photographs are unreadable.

Do not imagine that your method is ineffective or inadequate. Do not believe that you do not have all the tools required to read well.

It is simply that the photographers who proposed them have taken photos but have not created them. They merely took snapshots. There was no construction or careful thought given on the field or in post processing.

As I wrote in this article, there are many reasons why people take pictures. We write books and then share them with our friends, family, and audience, all of which can participate in reading our work if they can read the written language. The same goes for photographs. When we take photographs and share them, our audience can read our image if they speak the photographic language.

If you cannot read photos, it is because they were not taken in an order which makes them interesting. Do not waste time looking at these photos, they are not worth your time.

Spend your energy reading and enjoying photos that are worth your time. Life is too short to waste time. It is this principle that I adopt in all my endeavors.

Finally

By reading and enjoying photos, you can progress in photography by further developing your photographic awareness.

In this article, I proposed to you a reading guide in three simple steps. It is easy to remember and very effective.

If it does not satisfy you, do not hesitate to define your own method. I recommend you always apply a systematic and consistent method to reach the best results possible.

Knowing how to read and appreciate photos is a real lever for creating even more unique and interesting photos.


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Article published on Friday, September 06, 2019 . Written by
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