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How to add "meaning" to a photograph


ade_mcfade e2
10 15.1k 216 England
8 Sep 2013 10:00AM
oooh - just £35 for a piece of "meaning" - bargain

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joolsb e2
10 27.1k 38 Switzerland
8 Sep 2013 10:31AM
Ho hum. Sunday-morning flippancy aside, I see what Lemmy is getting at. You can't show up at a well-known location, take the same photo as countless others and then say it is in some way 'meaningful'. So I agree it's not something that can be 'bolted on' after the fact.

But that's not to say you can't take a photograph in which people can find 'meaning' - even in the landscape genre. You do it by using ambiguity, providing an incomplete/abstract depiction of something, presenting unusual relationships of subject to background, telling a story, tricks of scale, creative use of shadow - anything to give people a starting point for their own thoughts.

So you can show a picture of a lone tree on part of a limestone pavement, call it something like 'That tree at Malham' and the meaning is clear for all to see - it's a nice picture of a tree set in an attractive rock formation. So what?

Or, photograph the texture of the limestone grykes and clints with, perhaps the shadow of 'that tree' falling across them, showing neither tree nor sky, and you have something that's a lot more open-ended and which gives people room to invent their own meanings.

It's not very difficult.
brian1208 e2
11 10.6k 12 United Kingdom
8 Sep 2013 6:48PM
My problem is that "human beans" are hard wired to find meaning in everything and anything (just watch people reading clouds, tea leaves, finding images of some Holy person in a piece of toast etc)

A picture may have meaning to me (to do with the why, where and feelings at the time of taking) but that may not be the meaning that others infer from or ascribe to the same image

So, a simple yet serious response to this old chestnut may be:

"How do you add meaning to a photograph" = show it to one or more people and let them find the meaning?
lemmy e2
7 2.1k United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 7:48PM

Quote: show it to one or more people and let them find the meaning


I don't know about find. That implies that there is a meaning in there waiting to be found. More aptly, show it to one or more people and let them add the meaning.

But we still get back to the same point. Meaning is a noun. To say something has meaning is to say it is meaningful. That is like saying it is significant or any other of the b******t words that you can find in any Pseuds Corner.

It is intellectually lazy or cowardly to say a photograph is 'meaningful'. If you think it means something, say what it means, put your head over the parapet. The same old picture of a tree at Malham is nice for the individual but what meaning can we assign to it? If it has meaning, it says something. What does it say? Meaning in this context otherwise is just a weasel word.
keithh e2
11 23.4k 33 Wallis And Futuna
9 Sep 2013 8:34PM
Some photos have no meaning, they simply have a purpose.


When I first posted a photo of 'that' tree, it had no meaning and for me it had served its purpose and I've never been back to it.
lobsterboy e2
11 14.3k 13 United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 8:41PM

Quote:When I first posted a photo of 'that' tree, it had no meaning and for me it had served its purpose and I've never been back to it.


But it will always remember you.....
ade_mcfade e2
10 15.1k 216 England
9 Sep 2013 8:51PM
And here it is... took some finding... it'll always be your tree to everyone on here Keith Wink

http://www.ephotozine.com/user/keithh-14570/gallery/photo/two-trees-5210034/large

no escape Wink
keithh e2
11 23.4k 33 Wallis And Futuna
9 Sep 2013 9:15PM
Bloody tree. It achieved fame outside of EPZ as well.

However, the photo you linked to has no meaning. It's just a shot of a tree.
brian1208 e2
11 10.6k 12 United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 9:23PM

Quote:That implies that there is a meaning in there waiting to be found. More aptly, show it to one or more people and let them add the meaning.



Thanks for rephrasing my thought in a more meaningful way lemmy Wink

You did put it more clearly for me as that is what I was trying to get at. Nothing has intrinsic "meaning" it is always ascribed by the viewer (to my way of thinking anyway )
ade_mcfade e2
10 15.1k 216 England
9 Sep 2013 9:35PM
I shot it in winter covered in snow, lighting the rocks with a green gelled mega-torch....

the meaning there was that I'd got a cool new torch and found a green gel in my bag. I think I did a red too... I have green and red gels in my bag!



so looks like not many people are into the use of "meaning" in regard to photos...

what would you use instead ?
peterjones e2
12 4.0k 1 United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 9:36PM
I wondered whether the word "meaning" was just another word bastardised by photographers towards more photographers' jargon so I checked the definition of which there are a few coalescing to something that is conveyed or signified or indeed just a message.

Therein lies the problem: one viewer may surmise an image to no more than a photographer's exercise another will receive a very strong message from the image depending on the individual's life experiences; many images clearly convey a very strong emotion such as the burning Phan Thị Kim Phúc running away from a US napalm attack in the Vietnam war caused such an outrage that this and other images managed to cease the Vietnam War; so successful that no war has been filmed in the same way since, clearly this image had meaning!

Some images may jump out of their frames to the onlookiing photographer with the result that he/she dearly wishes that that they had taken it; again the picture has meaning in a different way.

Does a lone tree in admittedly striking landscape enjoying great light elicit meaning? Not for me I categorise it as a photographer's highly effective exercise but the picture has garnered over 170 votes so it has great meaning for many; it has produced an emotional response that some have been moved to vote for it.

So called meaning is a very subjective and personal response, perhaps the word is just too generic, you can debate the issue at great length but a conclusion as happens so often on epz will not and does not exist.

Peter.
redhed17 e2
9 680 England
9 Sep 2013 9:37PM

Quote:My problem is that "human beans" are hard wired to find meaning in everything and anything (just watch people reading clouds, tea leaves, finding images of some Holy person in a piece of toast etc)


I think you're confusing patterns with meanings. People generally see patterns in most random things, not meaning, that's something else. But no one seems quite sure what, and does it come from the photographer or the viewer, or both. Wink

If you can discern a meaning a photographer meant to be in a pic, well done. Smile

If you can get a meaning when there was none intended, then well done for having a furtive imagination. Wink

If someone has to tell you the meaning in a pic, and it is what the photographer meant, then the photographer has failed.

If the photographer has to tell you the meaning, then they are probably justifying a failed pic, and most likely in the 'art' business.

Whilst some yearn for 'meaning' in pics to somehow enhance them, I don't think there is anything wrong with 'that's a nice pic, taken well'. If you get Wow! at the beginning of that sentence, you can't ask for much more than that imho. You can even leave off 'taken well' if you get a Wow!. lol
brian1208 e2
11 10.6k 12 United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 10:27PM

Quote:
I think you're confusing patterns with meanings. People generally see patterns in most random things,



Nope, I was quite precise in what I said. I spent a few years study into the way in which human beings attempt to make sense of the world they inhabit and one of the key factors that discriminates them from other animals is the almost instinctive need to find meanings in all aspects of their life.

Pattern recognition is another characteristic of the human brain but that seems to have different evolutionary purpose and most of the "higher" animals have the need and ability to recognise patterns as well

Here's an example paper on this need to seek meaning where none exists (and there are very many more, as I found when I started out on this study Smile here

from which
Quote:no event has an inherent meaning because any event could have a multitude of meanings and you can’t ever draw any conclusions, for sure, from any event. Meaning exists only in the mind, not in the world.
gives a nice concise introduction to the argument
comma e2
6 101 6 United Kingdom
9 Sep 2013 10:58PM
In order to answer the OP's original question, I went to amazon.

I have found several different filters that can be purchased and used to add meaning.

First off there is the Lee Big Whopper- it is a 10 stop filter that delivers an image with an accompanying 5000 word dissertation, disecting each quandrant of the image - embuing it intellectual interpretation and an abstract construction that leaves the viewer with an empty feeling in the pit of their stomach. Be warned though, it requires photoshop to crop the image as it only applies meaning in a square format.

There is also a range of graduated filters. When they are applied to the camera they invite the viewer to look at the final image - and depending the strength of the filter used, the meaning - originally hidden - will eventually dawn on you. The stronger the filter, the longer it takes to establish the meaning. The very popular soft grad provides a gentle realisation of what the meaning is, the hard grad delivers a guaranteed strong eureka moment. The soft grad is widely used in the fine art photography movement, while the hard grad is the preference of street and documentary photographers.

Some of the more creative photographers around apply vaseline to the filter to obscure all but a residual meaning. This often referred to as "deep and meaningful" photography.

available at jessops as well as amazon...
ade_mcfade e2
10 15.1k 216 England
10 Sep 2013 8:21AM
so the problem lies with the use of "meaning"

I've always used "interest"

I liked Keith's "purpose" too actually.

Meaning seemed a bit abstract when I read Jools' comment in the other thread.

so using "purpose and interest".....

when shooting cities, I started including road markings a lot - the "purpose" of this was to avoid converging verticals by putting the pavement level on the centre spot - but that left me with 1/2 the scene below the building. So my job then was to attempt (and generally fail) to find something in that space to add "interest". This ended up with drains, cigarettes, cans, sets and yellow lines....

no real "meaning" - just something to fill a huge, gaping hole Wink

did that become a "style"? just to throw in another controversial word......

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