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Photography as Communication

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I believe that a photo can say what words might struggle to, and vice versa.

Communicate with Photography

Communicating a scene or an object in photography is similar to communicating in writing. It makes more sense if there is an order. Sentence take if we a word up jumble… Sorry, if we take a sentence and jumble the words up, it has the same contents, but the meaning is lost. At the other extreme, a poet can arrange the words to provoke feelings and thoughts outside of the sentence.


Landscape Poetry

In a visual way, a photographer has to arrange the subjects or objects in a scene so that they make sense, and artists will arrange objects or subjects in a scene to provoke emotions. Because a photograph captures a moment in time, the timing of your photography is an important part of how a photograph communicates what the photographer wants to say.

Compositions Talk

Landscape photographers aim to communicate a spatial perspective (where things are in relation to the viewer). They will communicate depth through composition, focus, focal length, and light. They usually want everything to be in focus so that it feels like you are there in the scene, but to invite you into the scene, the skilled landscape photographer will use objects carefully to invite you in.

Imagine two parts of a wide river, one is just water from bank to bank, the other has stepping stones. You will be more likely to pay more attention to the part with stepping stones because even if you don’t want to cross, the invite is there and this provokes thought.

Neuroscientists have discovered ‘Mirror Cells’ that trigger in the brain when an object that could be ‘Played with’ is presented.  The landscape photographer will find objects in the foreground that invite you to wander into the picture.  The product photographer will want you to handle the teapot and pour out the tea.

When I set up my camera for a landscape photo, I like to be close enough to actually touch the foreground.  If I can touch it when I am looking through my lens, then the viewer will have their Mirror Cells tickled.

East Iceland landscape photo
Bulandstindur mountain, east Iceland.

Composition and exposure: In the nature photo above I used the magic cloth technique to darken the sky area to retain the detail. This also helps the sense of the far distance. Including the foreground textures gives the viewer a lot of information about the closeness or depth of those first few meters. Do you feel like you could step into the scene?


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Communicate with Focus

A skilled photographer can use sharpness to communicate. “Sharpness’ is achieved with focus, aperture and post-processing. A large aperture such as f/2.8 will allow the portrait photographer to focus on a very narrow plain, i.e. the face or eyes, and everything else will fall out of focus.

This works as communication because it is holding your attention on a very specific part of the image. A shallow DOF is unavoidable in macro or close-up photography and the images have a 3D feel. Focus is one way of isolating the subject from the background.

cat and mouse
Focus on the mouse with a shallow DOF.

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Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

Communicating Emotion

In photographic art, the most important communication is that of emotion. You want the viewer to share your feeling of when you were there. This basically comes down to being able to compose, expose and focus while being in the right place at the right time.

Easy right? No! You have to practice, composing photos all the time you are awake to really master and understand scenic composition.  Study your lenses to master focus.  Push the limits of your cameras exposure potential and be at many different places at different times until you get the combination. 

Mastering all these skills takes dedication that is almost obsessive, maybe ‘passion’ is a better word..  Even the last part of that list is challenging. But if you manage to communicate emotion through your photography, it will be well worth it.

Misty blue glacier ice
Minimalist can say more about Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.

To achieve emotion in the viewer, the photograph has to show the nature of the subject at it’s best (or worst), but at the same time, in it’s purest form. For example a close up photo of fresh snow on a iceberg or Swans flying across the moon. A nature photograph that is powerful yet simple. 

The composition arrangement and focus is forcing a human perspective of  Natural Reality.  Visual beauty depends heavily on proportions, so photographing minimalist landscapes would only work with good proportions.

Practicing photography doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can use a cheap camera if you have a good eye and you are not concerned about large prints. Nature photography gets closer to Photo Art when the photographer communicates emotions visually.

Communicate Movement

Like some other visual arts, photography has a “movement” element. A shutter speed can communicate emotion, by either freezing an incredible moment, or showing the silky water effect on a long exposure waterfall scene. The sense of movement or freezing of the subject adds to the communication of the photographic subject.

Dynjandi vertical mono
Intimate foreground at Dynjandi waterfall.

Selling Online

Have any of you tried to sell things on the internet? Is there a better way to communicate what you have for sale than with a photograph?  Imagine what sort of Tourism Industry there would be in Iceland without any Nature Photos.

A really good example of photography driving tourism is the plane wreck in South Iceland.  The B3 fuselage get thousands of visitors per week, yet has no marketing department.  This Icelandic Phenomenon is purely due to travel photographers sharing their Icelandic photos online.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Think about how much more difficult it would be to sell a product or location without effective communication in a photograph. Imagine you wanted to sell an item, but you need to lie to make it appear better than it is. What would you do? How would you manipulate the image in Photoshop? How would you use your camera to lie?


In conclusion, photography is an art that is used to communicate ideas, emotions, and perspectives. The photographer must think carefully about what they are trying to communicate and how they will do it. A skilled photographer can use composition, timing, light, and focus to emphasize the message they are trying to express. By taking the time to understand how the individual elements of a photograph can add to or detract from the overall communication, photographers can create compelling images that effectively convey a message.


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