How to take meaningful photographs

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by blackyman, Apr 14, 2020.

  1. An artist photographer named Alain Briot used to write on the Luminous Landscape site and his work is still there. Alain Briot, Author at Luminous Landscape . I found his explanations of why he did what he did were helpful to me.
  2. [edit]..
    1).."defining....." is a link
    2) identify why you want to take the photo, and then what will enhance that why
  3. I started about 50 years ago, when I was 9, including darkroom work.

    For me, the mechanics (and chemistry and such) was always more interesting than the art.

    So, yes, I don't know if mine have soul, but after 50 years I haven't worried about it.

    But if you are more artist, and less scientist, then you probably have to do that.
    I think that means talking to more artists, though.
  4. OP, get a project to work on. Projects help with direction.

    We can all improve our photos, but no assurance anyone will be the best.
  5. I have little to add to the excellent advice already given. But perhaps a couple of quick points:
    1. The fact that you're asking this question (I feel something's missing in my photos - any tips?) is IHMO a great sign of your increasing maturity and development! Dissatisfaction is powerful driver to learn and improve. Inspiration is another :).
    2. IMHO, photos don't in themselves have 'soul'. They can only express your 'soul' and sometimes of the people in your photos too.
    3. For me, everything starts with your interests and your intention as a photographer. Good compositional and technical skills help you express your intention in the best (and creative) ways. It takes time - often years - to work out what subjects really, truly motivate you ... and which ones don't. Finding this out is a gradual process. On the one hand (essential!) of being aware of what emotionally/visually excites you in the world around you. Though this may change over time, what are you passionate about now? What kind of stories do you want to tell through your photos?Something about Nature? Wildlife? People? Architecture? Street life? Sport? and so on. Focus on one or two 'genres' to take the best photo's you can and keep improving on the 'storytelling' The other side of the coin is 'inspiration' through the works of other photographers in the same genres. What photos move or excite you in some way? Which don't. Then ask yourself 'what is it about this photo that moves/excites me?' and what is it about others that just don't. In other words which photos appeal to your soul (and don't) and why do some and not others?
    I'm one did a one-year photography course at a local photography school which covered the basics of camerawork, lighting, post-processing, etc. But we also reviewed photo's and discussed them. Later, I learned a whole lot from two of Michael Freeman's books: 'The Photographer's Vision' and 'The Photographer's Eye'. The (free) course 'Seeing through photographs' at the MoMA was also helpful.

    After a couple years of photographing anything and everything, I gradually discovered that it was photographing 'people' that really interested me. More specifically capturing expressions of feelings and emotion. Mostly through (fleeting) facial expressions but also through (fleeting) movement and body language. So this is my personal 'niche'. It doesn't matter much to me if a series of photos show office workers, volunteers, musicians or participants/spectators in a sport. Of course, I take other types of photo too. But these rarely give me the same level of energy when I'm shooting or the same level satisfaction when a photo turns out to be (for me) a good one.

    I'm don't have any pretensions to being or becoming an artist!

  6. Thinking about this more, there are some cases where one wants an accurate representation,
    which might mean without soul. For photojournalism, one (usually) wants to accurately represent
    a newsworthy event. Also, scientific photography also often needs to not add to the scientific
    meaning of that being photographed. (There are stories of scientific fraud based on changing
    photographs to what they 'should' have looked like, instead of what they actually did look like.)

    Otherwise, you can add artistic touches to photographs, for artistic reasons.

    This all gets more interesting in the digital age, where the number of changes you can
    make increases, up to completely faked images.

    I think for me, for most scenic and portrait images, I also want the more accurate
    representation, but that is just me. I completely understand that other people have
    different ideas on their photographs.

    Which reminds me of when I was first getting interested in photography, mostly
    scenic/travel photography, there was a mom at a popular tourist site that reminded
    her kids not to take any picture without a family member in it. Realizing that I mostly
    wanted my scenic photography without people in them. Maybe people add to
    the soul of a photograph?
    mikemorrell likes this.
  7. Visit as many art galleries or museums as you can. Or just buy some books on your favorite painters. A good idea is to buy books that critique the paintings. There are some good books that critique photographs also, but I would start with paintings. The reason why I say "paintings" it's because usually there is more motivation behind a painting, than a snap-shot or even a photograph... The painter has to sit there for hours, days, weeks, even months to complete the painting, so there must have been some strong motivation driving them to do that.

    The more you study paintings, the more your "artistic view" develops and the more likely you are going to apply this to your photographs. Always think before you hit the shutter, don't just fire away. In the days of film, it was imperative that you you had some type of mental picture in your mind prior to hitting the shutter, because you didn't want to waste film. Say to yourself, If I was trying to send a message without words how would I do it ? Prior to hitting that shutter, look at your subject from as many different angles as you can, then choose the one that is the most appropriate. Of course not all pictures are going to tell a thousands words, few actually do, but at least try.
    Last edited: May 14, 2020
  8. Yes, I never liked the "shoot first, ask questions later" method of photography.

    Digital is much cheaper than film for the actual shot, but then you have to store,
    and some time later sort through the images, and otherwise keep track of them.

    When I was pretty young, about 7th grade, I would buy 100 foot rolls from
    Freestyle, so film prices were low enough that I didn't have to ration the shots,
    but still try to think about what the shot means.

    I do like the idea of studying museum paintings. I suspect, though, that a museum
    exhibit of a well-known photographer could also be useful.
  9. Just keeps practicing, read some online tutorials, and improve your skills. You will get that "soul" feeling after some time.
  10. the term "meaningful" has always been irrelevant to anything other then the person viewing it. The person holding the camera may take a picture of something, for this instance we shall say " a kitten in a hubcap at a scrap yard." The person with the camera may give it the "meaning" of it "being the greatest example of social/psychological construct with the horrid nature of human childlike behavior with techonology:.

    While anyone else who sees it, just sees a cat in a hubcap.

    And with modern technology, the "meaningfulness" is reduced even more as that image of a kitten in a hubcap, can easily be a picture of a kitten taken on someones couch in january 2004, a photo of a hubcap in a scrap yard taken in 1998, and photo shopped into a final image in 2020.

    What one should really think about, is the image complete?
  11. If you want "atta boys" and thank yous, give a framed photo to a relative or friend for their dresser or to hang. It will be appreciated; you will be appreciated. Plus every time you visit, you'll see your photo displayed in their homes. (Well, maybe.) If it's a shot of them or their kids or dog, you'll be appreciated even more.

    It's a dead end trying to satisfy your ego. It will never be enough. You'll always have indigestion from GAS.

    Making other people happy adds to the joy of photography.
  12. I lost track of this thread and didn't see your response to me until now.

    Thanks for bringing up the process of meaningfulness as a companion to that of meaning.

    Where meaningfulness seems to be about purpose and significance to my life or endeavors, meaning is less a judgment and more a quality or state. Meaning is about what is conveyed, whereas meaningfulness is about how something strikes me.

    Opening myself up to seeing the things and the way I photograph and then the photographs I've taken without judgment and with more flexibility in the meanings I assign to things allows for a kind of unexpected and ever-evolving meaningfulness.

    Discovering new meanings to certain objects, scenes, lighting situations, perspectives and the ways they appear in photos, what they can communicate that I might not have previously considered, has allowed for evolution in terms of what's significant to me. It's a visual counterpart to understanding ... seeing, not only in terms of sensation but perception and awareness as well.

    Neither meaning nor meaningful is fixed. Neither is tied to what the dictionary says (though a good dictionary is invaluable), because the dictionary will often be playing catch-up to humans, who allow the meanings of words and things to change and to reflect new nuances of language and culture.

    The way I try to make photos is to see and think and feel and always be on the lookout for new and sometimes even twisted meanings that will move me forward as much as if not more than comforting me. I generally find meaningfulness follows rather than leads.
  13. Point your camera at a meaningful subject and use a meaningful technique.
  14. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... to me it means photos
    of bananas and of termites...
  15. To the original poster:-.
    Keep taking photographs , I am sure that they are just fine.
    Remember that we are often our own harshest critic , and that Artists are seldom COMPLETELY satisfied with their own work.
    luis triguez likes this.
  16. You can't force it. If you go out and take a picture of a fire hydrant, then what the viewer sees is a fire hydrant. The whole process should start in your head, not your camera. First you have to determine what "message" you are trying to send out. Then you have to find a subject that best describes that message. A good way to start, is by trying Documentary Photography. I use Documentary Photography, because usually the message is already determined, before you even pick up the camera.

    Once you know what the message is, then you can find a subject(s) that will send out that particular message. Suppose you get an assignment to photograph the Annual Pie Baking competition at a local park. What 1 or 2 pictures would best describe that entire competition ? This is where you need to be creative, but not too creative where things become Abstract.

    Once you get the hang on how to take Documentary photos, you can apply those skills to other types of photography. After a while you can send out different messages by just walking down the street with you camera. This is called Street, or Candid photography.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2021
  17. Some of my early Documentary Photography was yearbook photography in 7th and 8th grade. I had a 100 foot roll from Freestyle (50 years ago), and could afford to take pretty many shots. Pretty often, I would shoot, knowing that the "messsage" would come later.

    Often enough in "No Words", a message comes up that I have a photograph for. I didn't know it at the time, though.

    Not that I take huge numbers of shots without knowing what I might use them for. I might take more with digital than I did with film, but not a lot more.

    Even for street photography, I can think of the "message" I might want later, and decide to go for it.

    Since you can't always go back later, even for documentary photography, sometimes you have to decide without knowing the message.
  18. I responded to this thread a year and a half ago. Now I would respond differently:

    - photography (like painting, sculpture, literature, performing arts, video,VR, ...) is just one medium of artistic expression
    - forget photography for the moment and think about the story you want to tell (from your perspective and/or that of others)
    - when 'the story' becomes clearer, think how you might best express this in different media; photography might be one of these


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