Why and How Mastering the Semiology in Photography

A nature scene can be photographed in a multitude of ways. The change in composition, framing, or point of view generates hundreds of possibilities. The photographer must be vigilant because time is often another factor when dealing with variations of natural light. A good knowledge of the semiology of photography can help the artist to quickly create "the right photograph" without hesitation.

This photograph of the fine art collection 'The paths of the spirit' was the subject of a precise analysis before the shooting.
This photograph of the fine art collection 'The paths of the spirit' was the subject of a precise analysis before the shooting.

Definition and Purpose of the Semiology of Photography

The semiology of photography pertains to the study of the analysis of signs and visual messages. Simply speaking, the development of semiotic qualities allows a photographer to verify the true direction of his photographic approach.

The goal of photographic semiology is to understand how a photographer can create a photograph with an analysis of his artistic and technical choices.

On the Field

On the field, a shot can be constructed from a creative perspective based on our experience, but that's not enough to create interesting photographs. We think that it is always necessary to possess a strong analytical mind for analyzing a scene to understand what we want to highlight.

For us, photography consists of freezing a fragment of space in a moment of time.

Photographing a scene involves a fleeting moment that lasts from a few thousandths of a second to a few seconds. When a beginner practices photography, this time can seem very short. At first, he will have the impression that he has enough time to repeat shots to achieve the best one. However, experience has taught us that this time of shooting, even if it seems short, is indeed very long because the variations of light provoke irremediable changes.

To be convinced it is enough, one must conduct a very easy test. Choose a scene of nature and set your camera to the time lapse function. Take 100 pictures. Then view these snapshots on a computer by scrolling through them quickly. You will notice that all the photos are different. Small variations can cause essential upheavals in the photographic reading. This test is very revealing when shooting at dawn or dusk.

Understanding photographic techniques, yourself, others, the environment, and the light, are some of the key points to consider when creating interesting photos.

Regularly performing photographic analysis, whether for a photographer’s own images, or for the images of another, allows him or her to develop reflexes for capturing the right moment.

We Photograph What We See

Today, in our society where images and communication are crucial, we are invaded by pictures that tout advertising products. Many viewers have become accustomed to hovering over such images. They are no longer interested in the way an image is constructed or in the profound message it conveys. These viewers are only interested in the product that is highlighted.

Most photographers are interested in the form rather than content depth. They do not develop analytical methods to understand photos, instead, they become mere consumers of products.

When these viewers, who are numerous in our society, utilize a camera, they involve the same reflexes. They shoot a photograph that reflects what they have seen. They do not worry about the framing or the composition. They especially do not care about the message. For them, just displaying something is enough to give a sense of depth to a photograph. This mentality is a monumental mistake. These individuals do not realize that photography is a true means of expression that deserves our full consideration.

We meet more and more photographers who have this simplistic attitude. For us, it is a true heresy against the art of photography. This kind of attitude pains us greatly. It is already so difficult to create an interesting photograph, and when someone casts the fruits of a photographer’s labor aside, it is an injustice against the artist.

Making Informed Choices

We are used to saying that to look at a nature photograph is to ask many questions. It appeals to our imagination. Of course, it is not necessary to overlengthen the interrogation. Whether you are creating a photograph or viewing one, you must appreciate the moment of privileged pleasure, especially if the image is artistic. We even believe that it is important to analyze what it is that makes us value the photograph, and why we want to immortalize a nature scene.

To analyze is to understand the purpose for making choices. It enables us to interpret our internal motivations. It is a testimony to other people as well as us. To analyze a situation according to precise criteria of judgment is to rise above the mass of passive spectators who only digest content made by others.

Making informed choices when viewing or creating a photograph is to assume a higher status of being. You have chosen to contemplate life, a more fruitful choice than that of suffering aimlessly in your field without a creative purpose.

These personal choices have consequences on our personal perceptions. Some photos will please a certain audience while others may disapprove.

We Can Not Please Everyone

Since we have chosen the career of artistic photographers of nature, we have understood one essential thing. We cannot please everyone. We have aficionados and critics. Nevertheless, we each respect each other, even if we appreciate our supporters more.

We have developed a loyal clientele of collectors who follow us with great pleasure and joy. We meet some people regularly because time causes contacts to become family. We do not neglect those who are skeptical, though, as it is important to listen to negative remarks and criticisms. However, we rarely consider those words accompanied with disrespect. Made in distasteful and rude arguments, such words have no value to us. In strong contrast, negative reviews that construct and encourage growth are greatly appreciated, as they allow us to question ourselves and explore new creative ways. This is how we can refine signs and visual messages.

We remember that the most important of these followers is our clientele of collectors. Together, we experience a developmental phase where they are the ones who reinforce and refine our creativity and confidence.

For us, artistic photography involves the spark of establishing long-lasting relationships between the photographer's perception and the viewer's interpretation.

Trying to please everyone means making permanent compromises. It also requires the artist to float on the surface of the artistic field. This does not respect the photographer’s inner talent when delivering messages that only he can replicate. Each artist has his or her own voice in the creative field that is entirely unique and priceless.

Trying to please everyone is the best way to fail in creating interesting photographs.

The regular practice of semiology helps an artist to improve a personal judgment on a photographic approach. Progressing in the construction of interesting photos does not require a large quantity of positive comments from others. We must personally develop an analysis grid that will provide substantial and unique purpose to our own photos.

Providing a Photograph with Purpose

A photographer who wants to create interesting photographs must make informed choices and understands that he has a small audience.

To establish communication and transmit messages with this audience, the photographer must emphasize the following elements in his photographic creations:

  • Linguistic signs. This is called photographic vocabulary, and its symbolism varies according to culture. We can already see that the public critics diminish with the enactment of such signs. It is the interaction of these various signs that give meaning to a photograph. When a viewer analyzes a photo, it will make sense to him and others who can interpret such signs.
  • Iconic objects. These are the visible elements of a photograph: trees, animals, mountains, fish, wrecks ... Each type of nature photo has its own iconic objects.

A Photographic Analysis Checklist

When we analyze a photograph before and after a shot, we always ask ourselves these questions.

  • What are the photographic elements that we select in our photography? This is the technical approach..
  • What are the reasons that lead us to create this photograph? This is the artistic approach..
  • How will we transmit our message through the photograph? This is the photographic language.
  • What is the message we are going to convey to the viewer? This is the subjective background of photography. This is the interpretation we make of nature.

We always use this photographic analysis checklist for our artistic photographs. It is a simple and very effective method. The difficulty is to remember the entire photographic language. This is a complex area that is difficult to grasp.

But the advantage of this grid of analysis is that it works in our areas of partiality whether for landscape, animal, or underwater photography.

A photographer must learn how to make his own photographic checklist just as he learns a vocabulary to use for the construction of sentences.


The semiology of photography is essential to understand and to master interesting photos. By taking the time to analyze images, a photographer develops abilities for capture a scene adeptly. He can easily provide purpose to his shots.

Before creating a nature photograph, a photographer must always ask himself what is motivating the act of creation. Moreover, he must ask himself what tools and what elements he will implement. He must learn to develop and enrich his photographic vocabulary.

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Article published on Friday, November 30, 2018 . Written by
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