The meaning behind your image

Authentic Adventures tour leader Hamish Scott-Brown believes in the story behind an image – here he gives some tips on how to deliver emotion and significance in your pictures.

As a photographer you are the creator of a visual image that will tell a story. Stories are narratives, some complex and some less so, that have a beginning, middle and end. A “photograph” is a slice of time. It is not just a meaningless image of something, it should also be an image about something and it’s a key skill to think about this before, during and after the shutter has clicked.


Before: Try to look beyond the “instantly appealing”, the banal or the imitation pastiche of subjects and seek a subject matter that will off er your viewer an opportunity to ask questions. The examples here show buildings and abandonment. What lies beyond what we see on the outside is the beauty within and what may have taken place there previously – the photo off ers a retrospective view and a gaze into the past. What lurks in the shadows and what do they tell us about an event now past? Try not to overlook the shadows in any picture situation as “shadow” area conceals, in many cases, evidence that can be easily overlooked through dark exposures.

During: As a rule, you may want to explore the use of underexposure to create a darker and more moody feel. Use wideangle or super-wide lenses to create a voyeuristic feel with maximum depth of fi eld to reinforce the context of the location. Accentuate details such as the dusty, open pages of an unread book or furniture as it may appear after someone has made a hurried departure. Don’t be afraid to leave unanswered questions as powerful elements of the image that will hold the viewer’s attention.

After: With multiple layering and layer blending in Photoshop you can use curves to draw out and exaggerate the highlights and shadows. The digital era has given photographers the opportunity to explore previously unseen light through the introduction of HDR and high ISO. Here’s something to try. Create different versions of the same image and then, using the snapshot and history tools in your editing software, blend and fuse different stages of your processing history into a single visual file.

Top tips for the meaning behind your image

Look beyond that which you can see in front of you.

Research suitable locations that will give you opportunities to explore traces of the past.

Use wideangle lenses to define context and telephoto lenses to isolate details.

Shoot in Raw to maximise dynamic range and detail.

Experiment with different exposures to emphasise highlight or shadow areas and later blend in post-processing.

Think about latent emotions within the image that you are trying to convey to the viewer; sadness, anger, fear, happiness, belonging and love are just a few and can all be depicted by careful handling of light and shadow.

Consider the best time of day for the right quality of light; will the scene benefit from directional light or non-directional light?

Be sure to seek permission before entering a location and leave the location as you found it.