How to Understand Visual Metaphor in Photography

Visual metaphor is a powerful tool to use in photography. When we see something in our visual environment, we have the ability to mentally translate that image into an internal representation. This process, known as mental imagery, helps us to make sense of the external world and understand how objects relate to each other. For example, if we look at a bowl of fruit, we might think of that image as an analogy of a body, since all parts of the body are visible and can be grouped together to form the whole. The whole, in this case, is called a body image.

When we see a tree, we also might make an analogy between it and a human body. We might think of the leaves as arms, the roots as legs and the trunk as the body. The whole is the body image.

Metaphors are powerful, because they allow us to see things in terms of other things, and then to connect these two ideas.

For example, in photography, when we use a shallow depth of field to blur the background, we create an image where the foreground stands out against the background. We use that to create an image where one subject is emphasized and another can be blurred. By creating images like this, we can make a statement about the relationship between the two subjects, and this is called a metaphor. In the example below, the red car is dominant in the foreground and the black tree is a background, which is in balance with the car. If we took a picture of this, the tree would have a greater depth of field than the car, so the tree would not be as clear in the image as the car.

We can also use a metaphor to emphasize a specific quality of the subject, for example by making an object in the image larger than usual. In the example below, the large yellow flower is very bright, whereas the smaller yellow flowers are not as bright.

This idea of using a metaphor to make a specific quality of an object more important than the object itself, is called a compositional metaphor.

To take a good photograph, we need to use a variety of metaphors and compositional metaphors, in order to create a good image.

Photographers who work in natural light often use a technique called chiaroscuro, which involves the use of shadows to create an artistic image.

Photographs of natural landscapes can often be more creative if the photographer uses a camera to place the scene in front of them. Instead of using the landscape to frame the image, we make a composition out of the natural features of the landscape, to emphasize the scene. This is a technique known as abstract photography.

Visual metaphor can be used in a number of ways in photography. Here are some examples:

Shooting the sunset. We can create a picture that is evocative of the sun setting.

A dark and stormy day. A stormy day can lend itself to the mood of drama and mystery, which can be explored through the use of lighting and/or the use of black and white photography.

Sunset over a city skyline. The image can be viewed as a metaphor of a city against a clear blue sky.

Frosty mornings. An early morning frost can make an impression.

An autumnal scene. An autumnal scene can be created through the use of colors such as yellows, oranges, reds, and purples.

A lighthearted moment. A lighthearted moment can be created through the use of bright colors.

A night scene. A night scene can be created through the use of deep shadows, and a moody atmosphere.

A beautiful landscape. A beautiful landscape can be created through the use of soft colors and light tones.

A tranquil moment. A tranquil moment can be created through the use of softer tones.

The ability to express and communicate visually is a major part of a successful photographer’s career. It helps develop the visual part of the brain and is essential to the creative process. To further enhance this, it is recommended that photographers practice using visual metaphor in their work.