The Language of Photography.

Photography is more than a technical art, it is a visual language. The fallacy of the popular notion that the camera automatically captures not only the appearance but also the significance of what happens in front of the lens is evident to anyone who has had to look at someone else’s vacation pictures. Their makers may have had a wonderful time, but their cameras did not automatically capture the depth and range of their experiences. Let’s take a look at some elements that make up the language of photography.

We will look at the different elements of the language of photography in detail and explore how photographers can use this powerful visual tool to communicate their ideas and feelings about the world.

The photographs selected in this slides are used in particular sections to illustrate specific points about light, time, composition, etc. However, they also can be considered and appreciated as examples of the other elements in the language of photography as well.

  • Light
  • Time
  • Composition
  • Subject and Object
  • Colour
Lekki Link Bridge, 2013: Tech Info: Exposure 1/320 sec at f/4.0 : Focal Length: 31mm: Iso 200: Time 7pm (Lukman Olaonipekun)
Seal, Geerce, 2011 (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

One of the factors that can make or break a photo is the lighting. When we take a photo, the lens of our camera records light. In communicating, we often rely on our five senses and we can say the same for photography. We rely on the photo, our vision, in order to relay the message of that captured moment. With lighting, we can depict the mood and evoke feeling from the one viewing the photo.

Third Mainland, 2008 (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)
Obalende, 2007 Tech Info: Exposure 1/125 sec at f/5.6: Focal Length: 56mm Iso 100; Time 8.52am (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

Timing is another element that makes a good photograph. Some of the most iconic photographs from famous photographers that we have come to love were taken at the right time. Photographic opportunities happen in a split second and capturing that perfect moment can effectively portray the message of a memory captured in time. Time plays a significant roll in the creation of any image. The moment may be critical as in a photojournalistic image that communicates a sense of immediate action, or it can suggest an unchanging timelessness, an “eternal moment” as if the photograph could have been made anytime. But in either case remember: the task of the photographer is to find a lighting situation at a particular moment that when photographed will communicate the very qualities of experience that were the reason for wanting to make the photograph in the first place.

India, 2014 (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

Proportion was something that photographers took into consideration when composing shots. Just like renaissance artists, the ratio and proportion had a lot to do with the final look of the artwork. The aesthetic quality of a photograph is somehow dependent on proportion since you can control where you want your subjects to be placed on a frame.

Makoko, 2012 Tech: Exposure 1/800 sec at f/5.6 focal ; Focal Length : 300mm Iso 200: Time: 1.33pm (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

Subject and Object

All photographs require an Object to photograph. All photographers have a unique point of view that gives the photograph a Subject

The expectation that the camera doesn’t lie was present in photography from the outset. The lens’ ability to record optical detail with mathematical consistency formed the basis of this belief, and throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries the scientific camera was seen as standing in for the absent observer, recording events in a way that was believed to reflect “reality”. To this end, the camera was considered to be a “faithful witness”. The first national park in Yellowstone, for example, was created only after Congress saw the photographs made by William Henry Jackson and realized that descriptions of a spectacular landscape that had been reported by travelers were indeed true and not just tall tales as many believed them to be. Similarly, NASA sent cameras to the moon with the Apollo flights to create reliable visual records what had been seen. This faith in the lens remained unchallenged through the end of the twentieth century. However, with the development of the possibility for virtually seamless digital manipulations available to anyone with a personal computer, this faith began to be eroded. Nonetheless, the belief that the camera’s image can be a truthful and accurate description of what was “seen” endures and continues to form a crucial element of the camera’s image-making power. Whether you use the camera as an artist or a scientist, in order to make a photograph you need an Object in the real world to put in front of the lens.
By emphasizing your subject when framing, you can capture the attention of the viewers and make them see the focus of your photo and the story that you want to tell. Watch and observe your subject before taking the photo as each second can tell a different story.

Ikoyi, 2014 (Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

The colors in a photography adds another element to your photo that can tell a story. Use colors to your advantage and you’ll eventually learn how to tell a story with them. Warm and bold colors grab our attention and can make a photo more interesting. Play with colors to get amazing results.

So what are the elements of the language of color photography?

Tonal range is expected to be “realistic”

  • Skies are blue
  • Grass is green
  • Pumpkins are orange

But in Black and White: There is no “correct” tonal value, it depends on what the photographer wishes to express. The sky, for example, can be any tone from white to black depending on *lighting *printing technique and *if a filter was used to make the negative.

Marina, 2012 Tech info: Exposure: 1/400 sec at f/2.8 Focal Length: 100mm iso : 100, Time 2. 25pm(Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

Contrast in color photography is based on relationship between opposite colors: red/green, yellow/purple and orange/blue. Creating a palette of two opposite colors or placing them in relationship to each other within the frame creates the most dramatic effects. The intensity of the colors does not have to be great in order to achieve the effect.

Cathedral CMS, 2007( Photography by: Lukman Olaonipekun)

“Color” doesn’t necessarily have to mean all colors or even many colors. Chose a palette to work with — a range of colors or a color scheme appropriate for the subject or the feelings you are trying to communicate. The colors can be bold and brash or subtle and muted. They can be just a few colors, or a rainbow of colors. The important thing is that they help the image communicate what you are feeling or thinking.

Color can be soft and subtle as well as bold and brash. Even small areas of color can be dramatic against black or against white. Similarly, black and white can be used dramatically within a field of colour. These are some of the elements that make up the language of photography. Each element contributes in telling a story.

Oshodi, 2007 Tech Info: Exposure 1/500 sec at f/8.0 : Focal Length: 220mm : Iso 200 : time 12.23pm ( Photography by : Lukman Olaonipekun)

Thank you.

Lukman Olaonipekun

Special Assistant Project documentation to the Honourable Minister of Power, Works & Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN