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How do you read an impressionist image?
10 Sep 2017

How do you read an impressionist image?

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Just as a photographer makes decisions in creating a photograph, viewers make decisions about how to read it. So, how do you read an impressionist image?

The most important thing about impressionist photography is how you experience it. Impressionist photography allows you to decide what the image is about, on a very personal level. All you need is an open mind and a wandering imagination. The first step is to prepare yourself to look beyond the things you already know or recognise.

impressionist photo

Understanding abstract art does not come naturally to everyone. The best way to understand any piece of art is to simply look at it. What’s your first reaction? How does the image make you feel? Does it make you feel happy, or sad? Does it convey energy, or does it convey a sense of stillness and peace? Is there rhythm or movement?

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Understanding impressionist images requires imagination that invites you to discover for yourself the meaning behind the work. It is open to interpretation in a way that ‘straight’ photography is not.

Impressionist photography is all about creating the impression of a moment passing through time, the essence of the moment, capturing a scene that feels fleeting, changing, in motion.

sunset tree

Impressionist photography can also be appreciated in terms of the individual elements of art: colour, shape, line, texture, etc. An impressionist photographer’s skills lie in his or her ability to use light, lines, colours and textures and to create an interesting composition from these elements.

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Before each image is created, the photographer makes a series of decisions about where, when, and how to take the photograph. To read a photograph thoughtfully, we have to consider those decisions as well. In more technical language, these decisions include the following: What moment in time does the photograph capture? What is the focal point of the photograph? What technique was used? Is a technique bringing attention to itself or is it just quietly supporting the image? What’s the composition?  Does it work? Are you moved by the image in any way? Does it speak to you?


People often have a very visceral reaction to impressionist photography – they either like it or they don’t. Impressionist photography, even more than any other type of photography, is personal. It is fluid, and open to interpretation. There is no right or wrong way to interpret impressionist photography. It’s also not necessary that everyone in the world love impressionist images.