A great strength of the photographic image is its ability to tell a story. That’s the reason people want to grab their cameras – to tell and preserve stories. Telling stories is one of the things that makes us human.

Think about this the next time you look at your own photographs.

Take stock of your thought processes, in particular it there are people in the photographs. You’ll probably be recalling your relationship with those people. What they were doing? Where were they going? What made you take the photo? What happened before and after? Even if you took the photo 50 years ago you’ll probably remember how you were feeling and the weather at the time.

If you’re looking at photographs taken by strangers of people you’ve never met, that won’t stop you; you’ll still ask questions, but will tend to make up your own stories about them. You won’t be able to help yourself.

These stories can expand in many directions, even backwards from the images to the photographers known or unknown. What inspired them to take that photo? What story were they trying to tell me? The stories you make up about a photograph can go on indefinitely.

Talking point – making sense of megapixels

A pixel (short for picture element) is an individual light-sensitive element in the solid state image sensors at the core of a digital camera. A megapixel represents one million light-sensitive pixels that make up the camera’s image sensor. For example, a 12 megapixel camera has twelve million light sensitive pixels.

It’s a common misconception that a camera with a higher megapixel count has better image quality. In fact a camera with a lower pixel count but a larger light sensor (and larger light-collecting pixels) will generally produce higher quality images.

To understand this idea, consider the illustration (bottom right) which shows the relative sensor sizes of different camera types. Assuming that each camera type has a rating of 12 megapixels, the pixels of sensor A (which has the largest sensor area) are larger than the pixels of sensor E.

Larger pixels collect more light for a given exposure than smaller pixels. The camera with a larger sensor therefore needs to apply less gain (electronic ‘amplification’ of the image) than cameras with smaller sensors.

This gives several advantages, such as the ability to shoot at higher ISO (image speed) with have less ‘noise’, resulting in a smoother, higher quality image, even at lower light levels.

The drawback of course is that the larger the sensor, the more expensive the camera.

What works best for you?