Taking Your Photos Beyond Snapshots :: Digital Photo Secrets

Taking Your Photos Beyond Snapshots

by David Peterson 16 comments

What's the difference between a snapshot and a photograph? It's all in the meaning you add to your photos.

Here's a great example. This image is of a sad woman. That's obvious from her facial expression and body posture.

But this photograph is powerful because it conveys 'sadness' in many ways other than the main subject:

  1. There is an empty ocean in the background, which conveys loneliness or sadness.
  2. The sea is choppy indicating turbulence, or unsafe. Both are emotions we feel when we're sad.
  3. It's a cloudy day - no sunshine (sunshine usually indicates happiness).

Each of these elements has been specifically chosen by the photographer to help convey the metaphor of sadness. Think of how the meaning of the image would have changed if the water had been full of happy beachgoers instead. Or if it was a sunny day.
What's 'unsaid' in your photos conveys just as much (if not more) to your viewer than your subject. Knowing how to harness this ability will very quickly improve your photography.

Applying meaning and metaphor to your photos is just one way to transform your photos from simple snapshots - to true works of art. I teach this, plus another 7 methods during November's "Beyond Snapshots" Photography Dash. Note: this Dash is now closed

P.S. I can see at least another four elements of this photo that show 'sadness'. Can you see them too? Let me know what you see in the comments below.

Update: If you can't see the four I saw, here they are: Dull muted colors for her clothing; The rock she's sitting on is slanted (ie unbalanced... not even); Her hair is disheveled; She is only on one side of the frame (again indicating unbalance). Read the comments for more elements creating this sad photo.

Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. Timmy Jo Given says:

    Her clothing is in cool colors; her appearance is that of someone who may have just gotten up from a nap or who did not get dressed for the day. Her expression almost looks like a half-smile, though. She does have youth and beauty in her favor. So there is at least something redeeming about the photo. I am rambling. So, tell us what the other factors are. :-)

  2. Shane Stevens says:

    The inverted curve on the down slope of the rock is subconsciously striking as the facial equivalent of a sad mouth.

  3. BrianC says:

    The woman's dishevelled hair, the dull (sullen?) colouring of her clothes, the barrenness of the scene - hard unyielding rock, the sea etc, - and maybe her bare feet, implying a yearning for some degree of freedom.

  4. Brian says:

    She is having interpersonal problems with her partner and she is despairing of resolving them. She can see no future for them as a pair. Maybe they are on holiday and it's turned out badly.

    Typically of real situations and also of contrived movies and book plots, she has looked for a solitary period by the sea to grieve and rethink the situation.

    Do we really want to have photographs taken at a time like this? However, as an example of photography for the situation it has all the appropriate ingredients.

  5. Robert Benoit says:

    She's in a semi fetal position. The rock indicate unyielding problems, She's in corner of the frame and small compared to other elements, Her hair mimics her downward glance. There's no vegetation. The rough surface of the rock depicts the grinding pain of repetitive worry and angst.

  6. Helen says:

    The girl's head extends outside the frame. To me this implies that her problems are bigger than the ocean.

    Also her hair is disheveled and she has not made any effort with her overall appearance. This seems to indicate she is also feeling a degree of depression.

  7. Verany says:

    She is all alone, no place to go except the ocean.

  8. Diana says:

    Sadness is conveyed by the austere un-giving surface of the rock. By the subjects 'aloneness, with nothing in the photo for her to focus on or engage her and pull he rout of herself. By bland clothing and unkempt appearance. However, I agree with Steve in that I am not overly concerned for her. She could just be meditating which was my first impression.

  9. Vanessa says:

    Powerful shot and love your articles.
    First thing that struck me was the horizon running through the top of her head
    Her feet are stuck in rock
    She is only in half of the frame, the other half looks bleak
    Looking down keeps her in her half of the frame

  10. Sebastian says:

    I'm waiting to see the 4 elements, the photo it's very good and really I can see in it a real sadness!

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