Photography: What Are You Trying To Say Here?

Really, when you’re taking a picture what are you trying to communicate?

Sometimes you’re just trying to record events. “This is me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.” “Here we are at Niagara Falls.” Other times it’s the beauty of nature or a person that you’re attempting to show.

That said, there’s a great deal of difference between a wedding picture of a bride standing straight as a board facing the camera with direct light and her feet cropped off by the camera and a photo of a bride standing on stone steps with a pillar to her side, her train trailing off in the same direction that she’s looking. And low sunlight casting its warm glow over everything.

Both are pictures of the bride. One says “Yeah, I got married, so what?!” The other speaks of love and eternity. Here’s the kicker, though. Maybe what you want to communicate is the “So, what?” idea. If you’re going to do that, you can shoot funny or serious, angry or sad. Have her in a kitchen chair with a bottle (or can) of cheap beer.

Do you want to take a picture of your subject—in this case a person—standing rigidly in front of the place visited? Or could you make it a little more interesting by somehow getting the person involved? Use a wide angle lens to show the kids looking out over Niagara Falls or your mom gazing up at the Eiffel Tower.

Or when you’re at the ball game use that same wide angle lens to show your seven year old hanging on the fence worrying at the final hour (OK—“final minute”). In this way, with the youngster, you can communicate the sadness of a loss or the exhilaration of a win. Timing and planning can be everything with pictures like this. It may take trying at ten ball games to get the shot you want. But if you know what you want to communicate you’ll be thinking how to position yourself at that little league game so that you get that perfect picture that really says it.

Back to the travelogue. Remember that you very likely are going to show these pictures of France or Bali or Niagara Falls to at least one or two friends. Really. If you’re taking pictures, then please show them even if it is on Facebook. If you like where you went it may inspire someone else to go there or at least dream of going there. And even that is worth a good picture. If you liked where you were then make the pictures show it. If it was hot and dreary, well, how can you show this? If you’re not sure then Google “make a photo look hot and dreary”. Then if I decide to go there I will make sure to bring a hat or go in the cooler season. Or both. Let the picture communicate what the experience was. Don’t just put a head in the picture and then have to tell the story. It’s OK to tell the story if the picture is also doing the same. It’s like in a movie, where the set, music, and dialogue all each on their own convey a mood.

Taking a minute before you start taking the picture or even planning it a bit may feel silly. You may think, “I’m not a professional and they’re not that important.” But honestly what you have to say is important. You can take a picture on the beach with the sun at its zenith, faces in shadow with hats, sunglasses and eyes squinting or you can go have dinner and a drink, relax for a few hours, and come back and take some really beautiful pictures in the evening. Take a picture of your wife or husband looking at the sunset. Not at the camera. If it’s a low warm light, it will flatter the person. Your friends who see the picture when you get back will know that it was taken at sunset even if they don’t see the sun—I promise.

If you’re shooting sports or some activity with lots of motion, do you want to show the motion and speed or do you want to stop it dead? You will have to know the settings on your camera to create these different effects. Do you want blur or no blur? You’re going to have to figure out some settings on your camera as they will be different for each. You can take the shots of the football game or soccer match using program mode and some may come out OK, but if you really want to freeze the motion or show a blur of speed then you’ll have to use shutter priority and aperture priority settings. Most cameras have these. Again figure out what you want to ‘say’. Try them. Experiment.

The first time you use aperture priority you may find that the shutter speed is too slow and everything is so blurry that all the shots are trash. Adjust accordingly for next time. Edison made hundreds of light bulbs before he got it right. But if that’s what you’re trying to communicate then work at it until you get it right. I’ll listen.

photography tips for trying to portray something in a photo

Photo by Philippe Put

This is another reason I suggest you take pictures of children from low down; go to their eye level or body level. This communicates an entirely different ‘feel’ than taking a shot from three feet up and them with their necks craned looking up at you. Get down to their level and take a picture of the child involved in something. Playing with his or her toys or making something. Hands dirty, face a mess. You will often like these more than the pictures that you get in the studio with everyone sitting all proper like. But again it’s what you desire to communicate or say with your picture.

It is your communication. The more you practice the better I will understand it.

Good luck and have fun with it!

About the Author:
Martin writes for and is based in Calgary, Alberta.

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3 responses to “Photography: What Are You Trying To Say Here?”

  1. TJ says:

    I have become the unofficial photographer for all events, trips, and random photo ops for 2 reasons. 1 is I love it. And the other 1 is I came to love it because I took the time to frame it. The outcome of just an off center shot can mean the difference between toss it and art. Great practical tips. Thanks for reminding me of why taking a moment to capture the moment makes the moment live forever.

  2. Eugene Lim says:

    I am a newbie to photography and was truly impressed with and inspired by this article. Thanks for telling us to give a purpose to a picture, instead of shooting randomly and aimlessly.

  3. Jerry says:

    When I see a photo such as this one, I can only think, “shouldn’t someone mow the grass?”
    The concept was nice, just the grass got in my way of seeing.

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