Not every image is worth a thousand words. And, if volume of word were any indication of worth, most phone books would be held in higher regard than most novels. The truth is that, in order for any means of communication to be effective, authors must attain a high degree of proficiency in their chosen language. Beyond mere choice of words and correct grammar, many concepts are enhanced further through nuance, euphemisms, metaphors, and rhyme.
The visual language has much in common with prose and spoken dialects. Like words, shapes, colors, tones, and lines have the ability to symbolise complex messages, evoke emotions, create moods, and tell stories.
And, like any other language, mastery requires learning, practice, and time. It begins with expressing simple nouns: mountain, tree, bird, or person; then come adjectives: bold, subtle, harsh, warm, and so on. Still, such simplistic expressions will never arouse more than short-lived interest from our viewers.
Writing may take the form of simple sentences, essays, reports, poems, or novels. It may be factual or imaginary, describe simple concepts or weave epic sagas. Those who take the time to master the visual language may portray similarly a vast array of stories and also the knowledge to read them in the work of other people.
Regrettably, many photographers are content with learning to utter simple words, perhaps with a little embellishment, but little else, leaving most visual “readers” wanting more. Most know how to yell in the visual language, but few know how to whisper and insinuate. As with any other language, knowledge of the alphabet or even a limited vocabulary simply is insufficient if the aim is to impart a meaningful and lasting impression.
Some images stop at “pretty tree”, while others venture to encompass the equivalent of journalistic reports. Still, there is no reason why an image cannot be the visual equivalent of a poem, a short story, or a novel. Where a single image may not be sufficient to convey all that you want to say about a subject, consider a portfolio, a monograph, or a book.
In the visual language, there is meaning to the direction of diagonals, to the placement of objects in the frame, to the inclusion or exclusion of elements, to sharpness and blur, to the palette of colors or the range of tones, to contrast and shape and aspect ratio, etc. Where a line pointing one way may impart a sense of joy, the same line pointing in the opposite direction may inspire sadness and defeat. Where a palette of delicate pastels may inspire calmness and prompt more deliberate exploration, the same elements rendered in bold colors may appear violent and intimidating. Where an object placed in one spot may appear at rest, the same object in a different spot may appear to be in motion. Experienced artists have known this for millennia, and modern science offers numerous articulations of how our brains form meaning from visual cues.
Everything rendered within the frame influences the viewer’s impression, and the knowledge of how your audience will perceive your creations is vital in conveying your message. The more prolific you are in the visual language, the more compelling and interesting your stories will be.