Friday, August 26, 2011

Capturing or Interpreting?

A lot of people who have a camera in their hands attempt to capture what is around them: the pretty scene, the silly child, the playful dog, etc. They want to show their friends and family what they saw as a way of sharing their experience.

Almost all of those pictures fail to relay the experience successfully. One often hears, "You really had to be there."

Photography is a form of non-verbal communication. The images themselves speak to the viewer.

Understanding photography means understanding communication. What are you trying to say? Is the viewer getting that message?

With verbal communication, if the person you are talking to didn't understand what you said or didn't understand what you said in the way you intended, then the communication failed. You either walk away with misunderstandings, confusion, and perhaps frustrations, or you state whatever you are trying to say in another way so that the person might better understand.

With photography, if the viewer doesn't understand what you are non-verbally stating through your image or doesn't understands it in the way you intend (perhaps they think they understand, but it could actually be much different than what you are really trying to say), then your image failed. The viewer is left confused, bored, maybe frustrated--certainly not moved, inspired or awed.

With a photograph, the non-verbal communication you make is permanent. Unlike verbal communication, you cannot restate whatever you are trying to convey without making an entirely new image. Whatever your photograph says cannot be changed. So it is important to non-verbally make as clear of a statement as possible.

If you are simply capturing the scene or moment that is in front of you, then you are a snapshooter, and your images will look like snapshots. Snapshots rarely communicate anything meaningful, because little or no thought is put into them. A thoughtful image will at least communicate something.

If you don't place thought and care into the photograph, then it will show. And if you do place thought and care into the photograph, then it will show.

The way to successfully non-verbally communicate through photography is to interpret what you see. Yes, you must first interpret the scene or moment in your mind before you can do so on film or digital capture. You have to ask, "What about this or that?" You have to dive a little deeper and understand what made you want to photograph it in the first place. What about the pretty scene? What about the silly child? What about the playful dog?

If you don't even know what you are trying to say or are unsure of what you want to say, how is the viewer supposed to understand it? If you speak nonsense or gibberish, you will never successfully communicate to the listener, and if your photograph is nonsense or gibberish, the viewer will only see nonsense and gibberish.

It is only after you know exactly what you want to photograph and why that you can go about composing an image that best speaks whatever it is you want to say.

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