Look for the Signs When Taking Photos
All great photographers are observers. They decompose the world into geometric features, colors, textures, details, and background. Then they recompose it using just the elements they need to convey a message. Signs may be an important element in your compositions. Using only a small symbol, you can change an entire frame. Signs are powerful because they carry meaning. Sometimes written, sometimes drawn, signs act quickly. People think in patterns and their visual memory is much more active than the rest. Moreover, signs can be language independent.
The Nature of Signs
While it’s easy to notice written signs, there are many other types of signs you can use:
- Arrows – Arrows give a direction without needing a single word. As a rule, try to leave space in front of an arrow. This means that usually an arrow points inside the frame. You can find them on the street, in airports and train stations, but also in elevators and other public spaces.
- Gestures – People use gestures a lot to make themselves understand. They even use facial expressions (like winking). Using the right context, gestures may be a good example of signs. From street directions to riots, gestures are part of our life.
- Symbols – Many symbols are part of our everyday life. They are meaningful and easy to remember. Pedestrian crossings are a good example. The list of well known symbols include hospitals or first aid, metro stations, hotels, toilets, smoking areas, and so on. But you can also find more specific items, like peace symbol or religious symbols.
- Decorations – Signs are often used as decorations in public spaces (bars, cafes etc.). They give a sense of belonging to a community. You can find them in thematic shops, car service, workshops, pubs, and even theaters. All you have to do is notice them.
The Power of the Message
Signs don’t work by themselves. They need a context and a message. You need to think carefully what message you want to convey. Then you need to consider the environment and what parts of it you need to frame. Choosing the right angle and perspective is very important. Change your position and move the camera around until you are satisfied with your compositions. Many signs are stationary, so you can take several pictures before deciding which angle is the best. Message is influenced by the sign’s dimensions, color, and place in the frame. It may be a very small sign, with a powerful message, and placed in the background. But if it has a good position and the image is well balanced, the message with go through. Symbols and text are very strong items in a composition.
A strong message needs a sharp image. If you only want to insinuate something, you can leave the sign in the background or even blur it. There are endless ways of conveying a message. Photography is a subtle art. It gives you many tools to work with.
You can see signs in street photography, landscape photography, and also in news photography and documentaries. Sometimes, photographers stage their images. They intentionally move the subject near a sign to convey an explicit message. This happens especially in press photography where the image needs to say as much as possible. But signs are also preferred in portraits and candid photography because they add a new dimension to the picture. Be careful not to include a sign you don’t want. They will mess up the entire composition.