What is a photograph?

It is said that there are 3 people in a photograph

  • The Photographer
  • The Subject
  • The Viewer

A photograph yields a trace of the real world, it is a 2-D version of the world we see and it binds a segment of it within the edge of a frame. You personally chose what stays within it and what stays out. But why do we as photographers do this? A photograph is fixed in time and ages and allows us to show the truth and no one can say it is a lie.

When looking at a photograph how can you explain what you see?

It is always best to start from the basics:

  • Is it landscape/portrait
  • The size of the photograph / what camera has likely been used
  • Is it in colour or black and white
  • What is dominating the photograph

All of this is literally what is in the photograph. This is also known as denotation.

You then start to think of the connotation in the photograph. You start to look at the minor details of clothing or emotion leading you to the deeper meaning within it, this then allows you to consider the story behind the image.

A lot of photographers when taking a photograph say when they took that exact image they had the story behind that photograph in their head. This is not true, I believe whilst they were in a certain place photographing, they saw a moment in which captured their eye, leading them to capture that moment through their camera. Then when they go back and look at their photographs they add the context to the image.

You are making a story which didn’t exist and this is what photography allows you to do. You can change the way a person see’s a photograph by using different techniques such as depth of field to add tension but also by adding context as it allows them to feel the emotion and story behind that image.


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