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Reading Photographs

excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

by Gloria Hopkins

For those with an understanding of visual design there can be nothing more satisfying than reading a thoughtfully designed nature photograph. You read the image in a language that isn’t obvious to the casual observer and look for things that others are not likely to see. You take your viewing experience to a higher level than most and attempt to communicate with the photographer. You delve deep into the image looking for its meaning, strength, and structure, and appreciate its aesthetic qualities and photographic attributes.

As you learn to identify the various aspects of a photograph, you begin to probe more deeply and critically with your evaluations. Reading a photograph typically goes from the basics, seeing the shapes and judging exposure, to more advanced scrutiny, including carefully dissecting the composition, evaluating the quality of light, and forming personal interpretations.

When evaluating any kind of art, your observational skills are called upon. For example, when viewing the Mona Lisa, would you see a plain-looking young woman with a pleasant smile or would you inspect her surroundings and try to let her eyes tell you why she’s smiling? Would you see an average, three-quarter frame portrait, or would you notice the single perspective point behind her head, the vanishing lines, and the triangular composition? Would you see the pretty skin and delicate hands, or would you recognize the ground-breaking technique of transparent layering of paint used to build up her skin without lines?

You can marvel at an image for as long as you like, but it is your ability to read and understand it that can reveal a deeper meaning. The heightened viewing experience that results can yield a deeper appreciation of the image and the techniques used to create it.

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excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins