How to create meaningful images in the age of Instagram
Tim Parker, Director at Flamingo London shares some of the tips of what he's learnt over the years of taking photos across the globe.
What makes for a good picture doesn’t always make for an interesting one. Photography relates to a wider set of themes playing out in contemporary culture and, at heart, it’s about how we view and value experiences. Do you prize intensity or subtlety? Something bite-sized or substantial? Are you focused on superficial impact or engaging interest?
We live in the age of instant grafitifcation, fast everything and unlimited choice, but there is an increasing yearning for something more profound, built on anticipation and reflection.
In photographic terms, Instagram and the like promote images that instantly appeal on a small screen. We are led to valuing styles that are all about impact – bright, oversaturated, pin sharp, generically pleasing filters. Such photography is a very modern phenomenon, built to stand out from the colourful clutter, be consumed in seconds, gain a cheaply given like and be discarded for the next shiny shot that catches our attention.
While such images provide a small hit of pleasure, the satisfaction we feel is short lived. They become the equivalent of the Pringles front loaded flavour hit: intense but quickly unsatisfying, urging us to consume another. And we move on to the next because we have no reason to savour what we have.
As we become accustomed to instant visual gratification, the worry is that we lose the ability to appreciate and derive satisfaction from experiences that require a bit more commitment, that are subtle and multi-layered, rewarding effort by offering something deeper, more nuanced and ultimately more meaningful. Here are six ways to create more meaningful images.
1. Look at light not objects
Taking interesting pictures is about seeing beyond the obvious. It’s about ignoring objects in favour of seeing light: textures, shadows, tones, colours.
2. Hunt for the lines
Be guided by compositional lines, create them by moving around, forging connections and new thoughts where before there were none. The photo to the left could be seen as making a point about the new harmoniously co-existing with the old.
3. Change your perspective
Capturing what we see from our regular position – standing up and looking ahead – can make for boring photos. Try looking at the world differently. Look down, up, get on your knees, get closer; you’ll be amazed at how different the world looks. The photo to the left is Leicester Square in the rain, reflected by the puddles on the ground.
4. Tell a story
More than pretty, Interesting pictures tell a story. They have depth, meaning and a point that makes you think. They are rewarding – the more you look at them the more you get out of them. So be guided by curiosity, and have your own point of view. This picture could be a commentary on urban living: people packed together but isolated, everyone in their own little island of individuality.
5. Do something uncomfortable
The familiar and comfortable rarely make for thrilling pictures. It helps to be in a situation where you feel something – absorbed, awed, on edge. So force variation in what you shoot, how, when and where. Wander off the beaten track, get lost and follow serendipity. Ultimately, get out of your comfort zone. If you’re uncomfortable taking pictures of strangers, force yourself to do so.
6. Break the rules (sometimes)
Compositional rules make for technically correct pictures. But often images that conform to rules have an element of non-conformity. For interesting pictures, try breaking those rules. The picture to the left is part out of focus, cut by the frame and breaks the rule of thirds – and it’s all the more interesting for it.
Go out, shoot, have fun. Enjoy the simplicity and ease of a good picture, but don’t lose the ability to appreciate the deeper satisfaction in capturing an interesting shot.
- Article by Tim Parker