What You Want to Say

Photographers love to tell stories about where, how and why their photographs were made. And that begs the question, shouldn’t our images speak for themselves?

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There’s this thing that a lot of photographers do. I’m sure I’m guilty of it myself. When we’re showing our images to someone, the tendency is to ramble on about various details concerning the photograph. Sometimes, it’s just something simple, like the city or region you were in when you took the photograph.

But other times, the stories we tell are quite in depth. It almost puts me in mind of a fisherman’s tales, how the fish keeps growing bigger with each iteration of the telling. Our own photographic stories tend to get longer as we add more details and as the memories of the day those images were taken grow fonder.

And because of this, we end up talking all about the location, and how it was such a beautiful day. We might speak of how birds were singing, and the air was so fresh. Sometimes, a big part of the tale is in the journey to get there, and thus, we end up telling stories about how rugged the terrain was, and how we struggled to haul camera bags through it. The things we talk about are different depending on the photograph, and even depending on the audience. But in so many cases, no matter who we’re showing our images to, we’ll have something to say.

When you stop to think about it, isn’t that interesting? Shouldn’t our photos speak for themselves? If there are things about the photograph that get us so excited that we must talk about them, then perhaps these are the things that should be in the photograph proper. That’s what art is truly about—communication. If these details are important, we should communicate them as best we can through visuals.

So this means that if the location is necessary to the image, something that you feel you must inform onlookers about, perhaps it should be present somehow. Within the title, or a label somewhere just so that people can have that added context. What about that fresh breeze? If this sticks out to you as something you want to mention, is there a way you could have suggested it in the photograph? What about ways to suggest birdsong? In fact, I would go so far to say that this could be a useful exercise when you’re out in the field. Perhaps it’s worthwhile to spend a moment just imagining the future. When you’re showing off the prints from this outing, what things will you be excitedly talking about? Ponder these things while you compose. The things that stick out to you–the fresh air, how the hike to get there made you tired, the various memories you collected–are the things that make memories. And if it’s worthy of a memory, then it’s worthy of a photograph that’ll tell the tale of how those memories were made.