Why and How Speaking in the Language of Photography

As I said in this article, photography is a means of artistic expression. It has a language. Like with any language, the author must be able to precisely wield the grammar rules.

Underwater photography requires great mastery to use the photographic language (goby on a hard coral).
Underwater photography requires great mastery to use the photographic language (goby on a hard coral).

Photographic Writing Has Its Own Language

Mastering the photographic language allows photographers to write easily but especially to be well understood by those who will look at the photos.

By definition, a language is the function of the expression of thought and communication. Language is a system of signs that allows communication to occur. One method of communication is writing.

Previously, we saw that photography presented a number of signs through photographic writing. For a photographer to express himself through his personal photographic style, he or she must perfect the photographic language.

The language of photography involves aligning signs, which, when assembled together through photographic writing, allows the author to express his desires and purpose of the photograph. This process opens the door for the viewer to understand the photograph’s meaning. The photographic language allows both entities –the author and viewer – to understand each other.

However, everything is not as it seems. The main reason for this is that photography has a very important psychoanalytical dimension.

From my experience, I have come to believe that the photographic language can be broken down into four very distinct points.

First of all, this language considers the aesthetics of photography: the harmony of colors or shades of gray, the different balances between masses, exposures, shapes, and etc.

Next, this language must consider the technique of the exposure, sharpness, depth of field, noise, etc.

This photographic language must also consider the elements used to compose a scene. For example, in a nature photograph, it is unwise to include a city, or houses, or any sign of human presence. If this were to be done, it would not make sense.

Finally, this language must contain certain tools for translating messages, especially for the emotions that the author wishes to convey to the viewer. For example, we would not use the same tools to translate tormented, restless emotions as we would for a peaceful, tranquil spirit. This would be what is called a counter sense. For example, a photo that reflects a tormented state will most likely be created in black and white with strong contrasts. An image translating a happy state will most likely include soft and cheerful colors.

If one of these points is not utilized properly by the artistic photographer, the sentence will not be complete, and the viewer of the photograph will not understand it.

For example, a photo could be technically perfect. It may be sharp, well contrasted, well exposed, and manages colors and shades creatively. However, that same photo’s elements might fail in defining the state of mind, causing the photographer’s intentions to be overlooked by the viewer.

Another example is that of a technically perfect photo which only contains good aesthetic qualities, but whose photographic items have no connection with the main subject of the image. This would not be an interesting picture, as it would fail to convey messages, except that of confusion, to the viewer.

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Adeptly Wielding Semantics of the Photographic Language

The knowledge of the photographic language is not enough.

Indeed, let's take the example of learning a foreign language. We learn vocabulary, grammar, and the rules of conjugation. We will then visit the country associated with this language.

We may decide to talk to someone. If we repeat the words we have learned while respecting the grammatical rules, but these words have no semantic meaning in the context of the discussion, certainly our native friend will not understand us. The same applies to the photographic language. If you wish to address an audience with your photographs, you must define the subject of your message or the emotions you want to translate. Then you must use the right semantic elements, or you will not be understood correctly.

I met many photographers who made photos, but only considered the technical aspect. Their photos were excellent from a technical perspective, but no semantics emerged.

Knowing the photographic language is an essential first step for a photographer wishing to create beautiful nature photos of landscapes, underwater scenes, or animals. Knowing how to speak the language correctly is certainly the most difficult step to master.

Wanting to show a personal perspective of the world is quite commendable, however, this cannot be improvised. It takes time and patience. Nevertheless, a strong focus for learning will result in the improvement of personal qualities and a good dose of general culture, both of which will encourage the individual to continue to learn, thus creating a cycle.

Artistic Photography Has Two Dimensions


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