Does a photograph have to tell a story or convey a feeling?

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No longer a newbie, moving up!
Sep 19, 2012
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Have you ever thought whether it's a photographer's mission to tell a story or convey a certain feeling with their work? Every now and then, I read on different photography forums where people ask for C&C, and someone will invariably ask them what they wanted to express with the photo in question. Is this perhaps an indirect way of saying it's not a good shot? Or do these people honestly believe each photo that is taken has to tell a story? Can't the photographer simply take a picture because they liked seeing the scene and wanted to capture it without actually giving it a deeper thought? Does this kind of thinking necessarily suggest not much thought and effort was put into making the said photograph?

I myself often finf myself giving likes or complimentary comments to phoyos because of the simple fact that I believe they were beautifully captured, exposed, and composed. I don't seek a meaning or "story" behind a photo? In fact, whatever meaning the viewer assigns to the photo is nothing but a reflection of one's self and there is no way we can infer the intended story behind it.

Any thoughts on this?
In my personal opinion as a superficial person a photograph should evoke a "Feeling" but not necessarily tell a story. That "Feeling" can be as simple as an appreciation for the exposure and composition or the emotion of the moment or simply the beauty of the scene. If I have to stare at a photograph to try and find a hidden meaning or story in it then I'll just move on to the next one.
Does a photograph have to tell a story or convey a feeling?

If it does tell a story, often the photographer is the only person that knows the story.
However, a story told by some photographs is pretty obvious to most people.

By the same token, any feelings an image invokes in a viewer is usually more about the viewer than the photographer.
For me as one who wants to take photos, I want to take photos of my favorite things to look at in high quality!
That's my personal reason for photography, I have little intention of telling stories!

What you want as is photographer, like all forms of art, is Up To YOU!
If you are taking pictures for people, especially if you are being paid for it, like any Business you should find out what your customer wants, if its a story they want you to tell, then take pics that tell stories, or what ever others may want!
If you want to win a Pullitzer with it, then probably.

If you just want a good image, then not necessarily.

I think what people mean when they say "what were you going for here" is less so about "story" and more so about "What did you find photographically worthy in this scene? What made you stop and want to take a picture of this" etc. You SHOULD always know why you're taking a picture, or what is cool about the scene that you want to emphasize (because knowing that will allow you to consciously maximize the impact of that feature of the scene), but that could be something as simple as an arrangement of shapes or a specific color, etc. Not necessarily a story.
Can't the photographer simply take a picture because they liked seeing the scene and wanted to capture it without actually giving it a deeper thought?

They "liked" the scene they saw that's a feeling. If they were indifferent about the scene then why bother to take the photo. So you see it was a feeling that made them want to take the image to remember the scene, so why should the photo not try and convey that same feeling.

I think what you are trying to say is that you don't think a photo should be over analyzed.
For me the best photos allways evoke a feeling or tell a bit of a story or ask a question. Quite often when that question is asked the subject of the photo is not obvious and the person asking the question is asking why the photo was taken. So a pretty landscape can evoke the feeling of wanting to be there, the majesty of nature, the ones that you see and it puts you in the picture and makes you go "wow, I can smell the grass". Sometimes what is trying to be achived is a more abstract concept that is not obvious and it could be that either the exicution does not work or the person asking the question doesn't get it or that the photo is a bit confused. Most often its about trying to get the person who took the photo to think about why they took it and why we should view it.
In general, I find photographs that I really like are also the photographs that convey more than just an image to me. Maybe it is the cooler and lighter color saturation that conveys the temperature of a cold morning on a mountain or the warmth and deeper saturation of the last good rays of sunset. I don't find many photographs with a true "story", unless I'm looking at some sort of photo journal or slideshow. With single photos however, it is more of a feeling that I get as opposed to a true story.
There's lots of things a picture can do, and there's no requirement that it do any of them.

The very best pictures tend to show you some things, and leave other things open the imagination. Sometimes the picture will tell part of a story, and leave some things unclear, unstated. Sometimes a picture might invoke a feeling, but leave some aspects of that feeling open to interpretation. Sometimes it simply shows you a thing or a person, revealing some things but leaving you with questions and curiosity.

"Mona Lisa" shows us a woman, and gives us lots of information about her. Her dress and manner show us a lot of position and social class. Her expression leaves us wondering what she is thinking.

"The Steerage" shows us a lot of stuff about a ship, and about groups of people in social classes, but leaves us perhaps wondering what the man in the white hat sees, or is thinking.

"Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon" packs a LOT of very specific story into a single frame, but leaves us with a ton of questions.

The key with a really great picture is to balance what is shown, what is clear and obvious in the picture, with what is left unstated and ambiguous. If the picture simply tells us the whole story, it's informative but not very interesting. We won't come back to it. If the picture opens a can of questions, but tells us very little, it's frustrating and equally dull. The right balance of things which are shown, told, made clear, and things which are unknown, questions raised, ambiguities, that makes a nice meaty picture we'll come back to over and over.

Lots of pictures, though, are simply pretty. Or informative. Or mysterious. Some of them are even pretty good.
I once heard of a photograph that got kicked out of an art gallery for telling dirty jokes.
For me, photojournalism should tell a story while everything else should evoke a feeling.
The short answer is "no".

People who think a photo needs to "say" something irritate me. Most often, being a good image is enough.

Besides, if I want a photo to "say" something, and another person thinks it says something else, who's right?
I think sometimes it is hard to tell a story from a macro shot of an insect. Well except .... a smashed spider.
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