Communicating With Images

December 5th, 2016 by Zack Schnepf

by Zack Schnepf

Back when I was taking my first photography classes in college, instructors would ask me what I was trying to say with my images.  At the time, I thought this was just something art instructors said.  I came to understand that effective art is often able to communicate something to the viewer.  Sometimes it’s an emotion, a mood, a sense of wonder, or an overall feeling you get when you sit and appreciate a work of art.  I’ve felt disturbed by documentary photos in war torn countries, pure joy viewing a photo of  lion cubs wrestling his brother, I’ve felt the cold in images of mountain climbers summiting massive snowy peaks and I’ve felt awe and wonder viewing photos of majestic moments captured in nature.  I’ve had many profound moments out in the field photographing.  I became a photographer so I could share these profound moments with other people as well as remind myself of some of my favorite moments.  If i’m able to communicate some of what I’m experiencing through my image I consider it a successful image.  In this article I’ll talk about trying to communicate through my images and how it effects how I capture an image in the field and how I process and image in post production.

Red Dragon

In the field:  There are already so many things to think about in the field; changing light, composing multiple elements together, difficult environmental conditions, not to mention all of the technical settings you have to balance as well.  It can be chaotic.  It can be difficult to also think about trying to communicate through your image.  It doesn’t have to always be something profound you are communicating, sometimes it’s simple things.  In this example, I loved the lines of erosion here in White Pocket in Arizona.  I noticed if I composed with my camera about 8 inches off the ground It really accentuated the pattern of erosion and helped tell the story of these petrified sand dunes eroding away over time in the wind and rain.  I also tried to compose to accentuate the natural curve and texture in the rock. To me, this helped communicate the incredible history of erosion that has taken place to create this natural work of art.

Road To Enlightenment

In this example, I was scouting for a workshop when I saw this lone tree out in the middle of these overlapping green hills in the Palouse.  I put on my telephoto lens and shot at about 300mm to focus in on the this one solitary tree surrounded by these hills.  To me, framing this way helped convey a feeling I was having looking at the scene.  This shot was actually captured during the workshop in much more interesting conditions.  A rain storm was clearing as the sun was rising creating this atmosphere that helped convey the emotions I was feeling even more.  Even in the field I was struck with emotion as I looked at this scene.  It seemed to communicate an independent strength and integrity.  The backlight through the falling rain just reinforced this feeling.  I knew when I worked on this in photoshop, I wanted to process this in a way that helped communicate those same feelings.

In post production:  There is a lot you can do in post production to enhance your images, you can also accentuate elements that help the image communicate.  With the lone tree image, I accentuated the backlight on the tree and hills to help the tree feel luminous and help it stand out even more in the scene.  To me this is a very successful image, every time I look at it I still feel some of what I felt in the field.

Glacier Slot Canyon

This was my first time visiting Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park.  I was with my good friend David Cobb at the time.  I was so enamored with this scene, I really wanted to capture it in a way that helped convey what a unique and special place it is.  This is a very common theme in my photography, I love to share my own awe and wonder when visiting these special places and I try to capture them in a way that expresses that.  It was also very peaceful and I felt a great wave of tranquility as I sat and took in this scene.  I set up in a pretty unusual spot, I had to be very careful not to slip and fall in, but I loved the compositional flow that was created here.  Again, this is a successful image to me, because every time I look at it I feel some of the tranquility, awe and wonder I felt when I was there.  This is also a popular image at art shows, and people tell me they feel peaceful when they look at it.

Force of Creation

This last example was just taken a few weeks ago while I was vacationing and photographing on the Big Island of Hawaii.  My family moved to Hawaii for a few years when I was a kid and I was lucky enough to witness Kilauea erupt in spectacular fashion when I was five years old.  It is an experience that is burned into my memory.  This recent trip was my first opportunity to capture some of that experience in my own photography.  Cj Kale guided me out to the flow on this particular morning and it was quite a show.  It’s so dynamic watching a lava flow, it’s constantly changing, moving and doing unpredictable things.  There was so much going on, the flow was changing, the waves were crashing and wind was blowing the steam all around.  It was such a privilege to watch the creation of a new part of the island right before my eyes.  I really wanted to capture a moment like this with the lava visibly flowing, the waves crashing and the steam catching the light of the lava.  Its was extremely challenging, but rewarding.  Again, to me the is a successful image.  It captures just how dynamic and dramatic it was to watch the lava flowing into the ocean creating new land.  It was a transcendent moment for me, one where I was reminded how small and insignificant we are, it was powerful to witness something that has been shaping our planet for much of it’s four billion year history.

I love being able to share moments like this through my photography.  It’s why I became a photographer.  Images like these are some of my favorites, because I feel something when I look at them and other people do as well.  Trying to communicate through my own images has helped me become a better photographer and continues to make photography more rewarding.  You can learn more about me, my images and the workshops and tutorials I offer on my website:  http://www.zschnepf.com

  • Fabio Rage

    A great article illustrated with fantastic images! Thanks for sharing, Zack!

    • Zack Schnepf

      Thank you!

  • Tom Herriman

    Zack, great article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
    The ideas you present here will certainly be present in my mind every time I shoot.

    • Zack Schnepf

      Thanks.

  • Jacob Bolsh

    I know the complexity of creating a successful blog post. The writing and the photos here are second to none. The message is true so I know it’ll generate traffic.