Reading Photographs

Reading photographs is describing it and listing facts.  It is identifying the obvious and not so obvious and pointing them out because there might be things that one viewer see but others don’t.

When creating a photograph; the photographer looks for forms in which he/she addresses his/her feelings and ideas.  Therefore when reading a photograph or describing it; we should look for information that includes statements about the photograph’s subject matter, the environment, form, medium, information about the photographer himself, time and the social context from which it emerged.

When describing form in a photograph; we look st the shape of the content and how the subject is presented.  Looking at a photographs’ so form is similar to painting and drawing.  We basically look for the formal elements which are:  dot, line, shape, light and value, color, space, texture, mass and volume.  We also look at other photography elements which are:  black and white tonal range, film contrast, negative contrasts, film format, point of view (distance from photograph and lens used), angle, frame, lens, depth of field, grain, focus and edge.  The ways these formal elements are used is called (principles of design) and it includes scale, proportion, unity within variety, repetition and rhythm, balance, emphasis, directional forces and subordination.

It is easier to interpret paintings than photographs.  However, all photographs need to be interpreted to be fully understood.  They might be straightforward and natural but if we consider how they were made; we may accept them and be able to read them better.  We should know that these photographs whether deep or very simple ones all are influenced by people’s beliefs, values, attitudes and knowledge.

Guidelines for reading a photograph is first keeping in mind that all images require interpretation.  There is no one single meaning to one image as photographs should be seen as opinions.  The photograph’s language and feelings it conveys is the guide to reading and interpreting it.  Photographs reflect people, places and objects in the world thus have connections to what they show.

Bibliography / References:

Barrett, T.  (2011). Criticizing Photographs.  An Introduction to Understanding Images. 5th ed. New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Jeffrey, I.  (1981).  Photography A  concise History.  London:  Thames & Hudson.



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