Watch the Signs – Five Ways to Corespond With Signs in Your Photography

Signs are great resource of photography inspiration. Why? Signs usually carry a clear message. Clear message is a good thing: you can echo, contradict or correspond with a clear message. If your message is clear too, you hit the jackpot.

In the following article I will discuss five ways one can interact with signs on pictures. At the end I will share a personal story showing the difficulties of shooting images with signs.

1. Relating Signs – The simplest way of using a sign in a photograph is to find a sign or a combination of signs that can convey a different message than originally indented. This is usually also very funny.

Pick Your Poison by Scott Ableman

There are several ways to do this: One way is to show two related signs in the same picture. This is what Scott did in his “Pick Your Poison” image. The road guys post up a “Dead End” sign to warn the drivers off a road condition. The fast food guys want the drivers to know that they will serve food on location. Combining the clear dead end message with a bunch of well known fast food chains create a new message: “fast food is a dead end“.

To be able to pull this trick, Scott used a deep depth of field and was very careful with composition and positioning.

Here is another example for this technique. This shot was taken in Prague, very close to the Museum of Communism. Luckily for me, wit the correct selection of angle, the arrow points right at a local McDonald’s. Again, A simple message “Museum is that way” was changed due to careful composition and angle selection.

“M” for “Museum of Communism” by Udi Tirosh

2. Matching a Sign to an Image
– The second way of interacting with a sign is very simple – take a picture that shows exactly what the sign says.

Image by Gilad Ben Ari

The secret to taking a picture like this is patience. Once you find a sign that can describe an action, a feeling or a strong emotion, hold. Take your time. If you wait long enough, something is bound to come up that will give you what you want. You can also mark the spot and come back to it. More about this and about how I missed a great shot at the end of this article.

3. Contradiction
– A similar yet opposite way to reflecting the emotion on a sign is to contradict it. It the sign is textual, you can show an image that is literally contradicting it. In the picture below, Rui did even better, he contradicted a visual sign by another visual.

“Paris capital of fashion” by Rui

Rui is showing us the Irony of Life by including two contradicting images in the picture – a glam fashion lady tip-topped to the eye-lash and a beggar.

4. Echo – Echo is one of the coolest ways to relate to a sign. Again the trick here is simple – find a sign and try to have a formal (formal as in form) dialog with it.

You can echo a number, a composition, a shape or a color. Actually, you can echo anything from a picture. The secret is trying to homage the sign with in the picture.

The Drill by Udi Tirosh

In this picture I saw an echo between the two working guys drilling in the shopping window and the couple going on vacation poster in the same shop.

I also had contradiction playing for me in this shot – the cool water and the smiles versus the strained pose of the working dudes.

5. Be The Sign – Last and not least is making an interaction with the sign yourself (or with a friend).


This way by photosapience

Watch it! This one easily becomes a cliche. IF you are going this way, think! Have you seen anything like this before? If you have, take another minute to think, how can I make this different?

In this image photosapienc interacted with the sign as well as making an echo of the point shown by the arrow.

To conclude, I want to share a story of a great image missed. On the same trip where the two above photos were taken, I saw a great Nike store front. The store was under construction and the entire front window was covered with a red sign saying coming soon.

Immediately, I saw an image of a pregnant woman passing by the sign and decided to wait for a photographic opportunity.

After twenty minutes of zero pregnant ladies passing by, both my wife and I gave up on the shot. (She more readily then I). Why am I sharing this story? Because I think it has two valuable lessons:

– As a photographer, one need to be patient, wait for the right moment. Otherwise, you will miss the shot.
– As a family man, it is sometimes more important to un-obsess with ones photography and keep everyone happy.

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