What is Symbolism and How to Use It in Photography

We use symbols all the time, but we rarely think about them. A symbol is a representation of something else. It can be an object, an idea, or even a person. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of America. A wedding ring represents marriage. A heart symbolizes love.

In photography, symbolism can be used to tell stories or evoke emotions in an image. Some photographers use symbolism as a way to enhance their images while others use it as a way to make an artistic statement about their subjects.

What is Symbolism in photography?

A photograph is not just a picture of a subject, but rather a record of how light and colour interacts with our perception. Photographs are complex compositions made up of light and colour, shape, texture, tone and balance. When creating a portrait, the photographer works with all of these elements to create a unique image.

Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas, objects or actions. It is a key element in photography, which has the ability to convey emotions and ideas on a much deeper level than words or images can.

Symbolism is also used in fine art photography as a way to create visual metaphors. This can mean using symbols that have a clear meaning, such as a heart or bird, or abstracting them so they represent something else entirely.

Symbolism is a key element of photography. There is a special way of looking at the world that comes through the camera lens. It is a language, or perhaps even a religion that helps us to understand ourselves.

When photographing human subjects, the symbols are often obvious. A portrait of a friend shows the personality of the subject. In a fashion shoot, the symbols are usually less obvious. The dress may symbolize the model’s personality, the jewellery may be a reference to a significant event, the background may show her cultural identity.

The symbols are often hidden, but if we look carefully they can reveal themselves. For instance, the lines in the background may represent a path or a river, while the pattern on the dress may be a butterfly. Sometimes the background can even reveal a secret message.

Types of symbolism in photography

The most common types of symbolism in photography are:

Light – Light has many meanings in photography and it’s important to know what they are if you want to use light effectively in your images. Light can represent happiness, joy, clarity, enlightenment and more depending on the situation and how you use it in your compositions. Think about how you can use light to tell stories through your photos.

Colors – Colors also have meanings that can be used in photography but only if you understand them first! For example red represents fire or passion but it also represents danger or anger depending on the context of your image and how you choose to interpret it!

Symbols – A symbol is an object that has meaning beyond its literal meaning in the context of your photo. For example, if you’re photographing a woman holding a white dove, the dove represents peace.

Emotional response – This kind of symbolism evokes an emotional reaction from viewers based on their personal experiences or beliefs related to the subject matter in your photo. For example, if you’re taking pictures of children playing with toy guns, some people will see this as harmless fun while others may find it disturbing because they have had bad experiences with guns themselves or know someone who has been shot by one. People with different backgrounds will interpret the same image differently based on their own experiences and beliefs about guns and violence in general.

Color Symbolism – Color symbolism can be used to convey deeper meanings or concepts through the color choices you make. For example, red is often associated with passion, love and anger while blue can symbolize sadness or happiness depending on context.

Symbolic Objects – Objects can also be used as symbols in photography to represent something else entirely. A common example is using an apple as a symbol for knowledge because of it’s biblical connection with Adam & Eve. Other examples include using an hourglass to represent time passing quickly or using leaves to represent death or decay.

Conceptual Metaphors – Conceptual metaphors are commonly used in photography as well as other art forms like literature and music. They are essentially ideas that share similarities though they may not necessarily be related directly (such as light vs darkness).

Anthropomorphism – This type of symbolism uses human qualities and characteristics to describe non-human subjects such as animals or objects. For example, if you were photographing an animal and wanted to convey its personality or mood, you might try using anthropomorphism by giving it human facial expressions or gestures.

Here are some examples of how symbolism is used in photography:

The Bird of Paradise flower represents freedom and beauty. The photographer has taken this idea and created an image that evokes feelings of freedom by placing the flower against a background of sky blue (which symbolizes happiness).

A woman’s face framed by flowers symbolizes love, beauty and femininity. In this photo, the woman’s face takes on this meaning because she is looking directly at the camera lens with her lips slightly parted as if she is about to speak. This creates an intimate feeling for viewers that makes them want to know what she would say if she could speak aloud.

Symbolism is a major element of art. It is the use of symbols to convey a meaning that is beyond the literal representation. For example, a dove might represent peace and love, while a skull could represent death, decay and destruction. Symbolism in photography can be used to express ideas and emotions, strengthen your message or tell a story.

Ways you can use symbolism in your photography:

1.    Use objects that have meaning to you and subjects for your photos. This can be anything from flowers and trees to architecture or sculptures. You can also use symbols for their meaning, such as hearts or crosses for love or religion.

Symbols can add meaning to your photo and make it more interesting to look at. You can use symbols in many different ways, such as objects, colors, shapes, textures and more. For example, if the photo is about a baby’s first birthday party, maybe you could use balloons as a symbol because they’re associated with birthdays. Or maybe you could take a picture of an old teddy bear holding a balloon — this would show that the teddy bear has been around for awhile and is still close to the child even though he’s getting older now.

Choose something that represents the story behind your photo, rather than just choosing something pretty or random because it looks nice on screen. This will make your photos more meaningful for viewers who want to understand what you’re trying to say through them.

2.    Create an abstract image by isolating one particular element from its surroundings and using only that part of the image in your composition. This will leave viewers wondering what it is they’re looking at and allow them to interpret it themselves based on their own experiences with that particular object or symbol (e.g., doves).

3. “Use symbolism with people too!” If you want to show someone who’s happy with their life, don’t just show them smiling — photograph them next to something that symbolizes happiness (like flowers).

4. Use symbols to represent something larger than themselves.

For example, if you’re doing a portrait of someone holding up an object, consider whether there’s a deeper meaning or association with the object. Perhaps it’s a musical instrument or an animal that represents something about their personality or interests. You could even use the object as a metaphor for something else in the person’s life — perhaps they’re using it to express their creativity or passion for something else.

5. Create an intentional connection between objects.

In some cases, you don’t have to find meaning in every single object in your photo — just make sure that there’s enough symbolism so that each one contributes to the overall message of your image. In other words, don’t just throw random objects into your photos; instead, think carefully about what each item represents and how they relate to one another (or don’t).


Symbolism is a literary or artistic device that conveys a meaning beyond the literal interpretation of an idea. It’s a way to communicate something indirectly, either because it isn’t permissible or doesn’t make sense to explain it directly.

In photography, symbolism is often used to convey emotion or ideas that can’t be articulated with words. It can be used to represent abstract concepts such as love, hate and death, or it can be more literal in nature, such as representing the subject matter of a photo through objects like flowers or animals.