Are You Getting Your Message Across?

by Miserere


     There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
    –Ansel Adams

Here is an image I posted a couple of weeks ago, and it’s the reason I started ruminating about the topic of the message.

Miserere - Madrid Templo de Debod

I had the camera in my hand and was walking around the park. Suddenly, this little boy started racing his bike in front of me and I immediately knew what I wanted from the shot. I barely had a second to lift the camera to my eye, zoom, increase ISO, compose and manually focus before he disappeared behind some bushes. Sadly, I missed the focus, but I believe the message still comes across sharp and clear nonetheless: Youthful enthusiasm, determination, unadulterated joy, fun…these emotions are all there, and I captured them—that’s why this photo is important to me.

When you are out with your camera and are on a mission to take photos, do you know what you’re after? Do you have an idea of what it is you want to shoot or do you just drift aimlessly, camera in hand, until you come across something that makes you want to photograph it? Ansel (and many other classic photographers) advocated the idea of Visualization. In this rare video, Ansel Adams himself explains what he means by this term (courtesy of Marc Silber, do visit his site!). In short, you should have a clear idea of what your message is, and then use your technical knowledge to imprint that message on your image.

But herein lies the beauty of Photography: No matter how clear your message or idea was, and no matter how well you think you’ve shaped that idea into an image, there will always be someone who sees something else in your image. Sorry for quoting Ansel again, but here is the point:

     There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer.

    –Ansel Adams

Photographs are a type of Rorschach test, telling you as much about yourself as about the photographer.

“Art is nothing but the transferral of emotion through physical means.”

In light of this you might be asking yourself, then why bother with a message at all? The answer is: because you care. You have to, there is no other way around it. Photographs, though taken with a mechanical contraption, are subject to your desires and will. Even if you just take the camera out and wave it over your head while holding down the shutter release firing off a few dozen aimless shots, you still have a motive, a reason why you decided to wave the camera around. When you take a photo you might not always know or understand why you took it, but somewhere in your subconscious lies the answer, and there is some sort of emotion attached to it. For this reason someone else’s photograph can elicit an emotion out of you when you see it. This might not happen immediately, as some photography, like many other Arts, can take time to be assimilated—but it will happen eventually. Art is nothing but the transferral of emotion through physical means. A photograph made without emotion conveys no message.

Next time you go out taking photographs, think about what you’re trying to say, what your message is. I can guarantee you that your photographs will be better because of it. And when you show them to others, ask them what message they receive. Don’t be upset if it’s not the same message you intended—as long as your photography is eliciting some kind of response from the viewer then you are doing something right. The lesson here is this: Have something to say, and say it loudly, even if nobody can hear you.


4 Responses to “Are You Getting Your Message Across?”

  1. Interestingly, I take cameras to usualy photo shoots without an aim anymore. That way, unexpected images can turn out as a surprise

    • But the question is, when you lift your camera to your eye, do you know why you’re doing it and what it is you want to capture, or do you just think “that’s pretty”?

  2. a very enjoyable article with tons of truth…As far as that image goes, it is perfect. The motion blur adds to the drama of it. I think had it been sharp and frozen, it would have taken that sense of speed away.

  3. Agree… I try to “…be the kind of person chance finds easy to help…” (anon).

    More often than not, Mother Nature changes the subject. Being ready to run with it leads to a ton of fun.

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