Subject And Meaning in Photography

A ornately carved statue of a lion on the tomb of Charles the Bold in the Church Of Our Lady, Brugge, Belgium.

How much value do you place on the primary subject in your photography? Here's how to include a deeper level of meaning in your pictures?

The Importance Of Subject in Photography

On one hand this photo is little more than a competent snapshot. I made it, in a moment of relative calm, as a tour group invaded the lovely Church Of Our Lady in the old town of Bruges in northwest Belgium.

The subject matter, a golden lion and helmet resting on a large coffin, is certainly interesting.

Likewise, the warm color palette is uplifting and the light does a great job of revealing wonderful shapes and textures in the objects on display.

Picture Meaning - Is It Important?

But for a photo to be art it needs to do more than describe the subject or scene depicted.

Three quite specific questions come to mind.

  • What’s the photo about?

  • What story does it tell?

  • What meaning are we to derive from this photo?

A statue on top of the tomb of Charles the Bold in the Church Of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium.

Storytelling Photography

The relationship between church and state has been important in many countries around the world for centuries. Photography is a great way to explore such a story.

The statue of the lion lies atop the mausoleum of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

The fact that the statue is of a lion suggests strength. The fact that the lion is golden suggests wealth and prestige.

Ultimately, this photo speaks to me of power and wealth. It also speaks to the continued cultivation of status through the reverence awarded to the duke and his position by situating his coffin in such a beautiful church.

Do you use storytelling in your own photography?

It’s a mistake to think that has to mean making a series of pictures in a linear fashion.

It’s long been said that a photo is worth a thousand words. That saying speaks to the power and depth of a great photo.

Be assured that it’s possible to explore a story through a single photo. It may not tell the entire story, but sometimes it’s good to leave some of the story untold.

That leaves space for the imagination and a deeper level of engagement from your audience.

Conditioning Is A Barrier We Must Overcome

We are all conditioned throughout our life.

That conditioning can come through members of our family, the education system, religion, the media and the politics of the state.

We are conditioned to love and also to hate.

At a subtle level we are also conditioned to judge the people, lifestyles and cultural practices that are different from our own.

Church Organ, Brugge, Belgium

About To Travel?

How Travel Brings Meaning To Your Photos

One of the great things about travel is that it immerses us in landscapes and cultures beyond our normal, everyday experience.

In doing so travel can free us of such constraints and open our mind to new meanings and possibilities.

We grow through change and the best way to embrace change is to explore all manner of things that fall outside of our so-called normal life.

Freedom from the known is the way forward for the creative, meaning seeking soul. And travel and photography are ideal partners on that most important journey.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru