Photography as Communication

Categorized as Beginner's Guide, The psychology of photography
cat and mouse

Communicate with Photography

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

Landscape Poetry

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.

In a visual way a photographer has to arrange the subjects/ objects in a scene so that they make sense, and artists will arrange object/ 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 want to say.

  • This article shows how the timing of a photo can be important for Communication LINK.
  • This article shows how composition communicates “Depth” in a photograph LINK.

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.

Neuro scientists have discovered ‘Mirror Cells’ which trigger in the brain when an object that could be ‘Played with’ are presented.  The landscape photographer will find objects in the foreground which 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.

Eyjafjalljökull Eruption

Composition and exposure: use of magic cloth to darken the sky area retains the detail, but also helps the sense of distance. Including the foreground textures gives the viewer a lot of information about the depth of those first few meters.

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 shallow DOF

My Camera Gear

Canon 5D - full frame

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l

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.  That all takes dedication that is almost obsessive.  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 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 depend 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 fast shutter can communicate emotion, but 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 Phenomenum 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.

  • Learn new photography skills online with Skillshare LINK.

By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.