One of the main outputs of my PhD is the Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram which identifies the key aspects of my photography that in combination possibilise the realisation of Being or allure in my images.

The Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram

My insights have been practice-led and are a result of extensive fieldwork and focus in the field.  This practical research is recorded in my Critical Research Journal ( and the images are included in my continuing blog series Notes and Images from a Small Island.

As I begin to think about my viva voce examination and the questions that might be asked of me and consider potential projects such as writing a book on Object-Oriented Photography post PhD, my mind wanders into how I make the idea of the Onion Diagram practical, accessible, and marketable.  While the writing in my thesis is practice-led, it is also essentially academic in nature and this style will not suit a market of photographers that generally see their pursuit as a hobby.  I am also conscious that many of these people do not have a great deal of time to commit to their photography and their time might be restricted to that available as annual leave, perhaps four weeks or so per year.  Although others have more time on their hands and wish to develop their photography by taking a different direction or to another level.

To begin this series of reflections, I thought it would be helpful if I provide some development tips as to how one might engage practically with the Ten-Signifiers and how these suggestions have helped me to realign my approach from subject-oriented to Object-Oriented Photography.

Camera Skill

 While it might be obvious that we all need to continue to develop our camera skills, it is often something to which we pay little or no attention, apart from when we attend a course or go on a photographic workshop.  In Object-Oriented Photography, camera skill is a fundamental pillar on which everything else rests, because the end game is to be able to use the camera intuitively such that the process of changing settings is a non-conscious activity.  This is not something that comes easily, and academic insights suggest that 10,000 hours of practice is a good rule of thumb.

Practice Development:

Continue to improve your command of the camera such that you are able to use it without thinking, making changes to the settings effortlessly and non-consciously.  You can improve your skills by going on a course, joining a camera club or photographic society, and asking others for help.  It is also to play with the camera.

Subject Commitment

 Another foundation on which Object-Oriented Photography is based is to commit to certain subjects (or objects) in your photographic practice – spend time with them, in different weathers, seasons and times of day.

Practice Development:   

Choose a location, place, space, or object that is local, and you are able to get to easily.  Accessibility is key to encouraging you to spend time in your favourite place or with a particular subject.  Choose a subject that is of genuine interest and spend time learning about it.

 Analogous Awareness

 Many of us are aware of the use of metaphor in literature but it is equally effective in photography and can be a subtle or a more exaggerated contrast between or allusion to something else.

Practice Development:

Consider metaphor as another tool and as a means of enhancing the narrative of your image through analogous awareness.  If you spend time in the same place, you have ample opportunity to think about the signifiers of your message.  For example, in my own work, I use a lone silver birch tree as a metaphor for fragility and strength, weakness and resilience which also point to dimensions of the Isle of Skye as a whole. 


Being aware of and paying attention to the world around us is essential to producing a compelling photographic image.  And it is important to take note of the messages from all our senses not just the visual cues.

Practice Development:

Find ways of taking note of what you hear, touch, smell and taste while taking photographs.  I use a journal where I write down the cues from my senses.  When I do not wish to interrupt the flow of my photography, I type words into my phone.  I also focus on one sense at a time to build the habit of paying attention.

Spatial Persistence

Visiting the same location time after time builds a body of knowledge and photographic expertise not garnered through a solitary visit or a quick shot from the car.  That knowledge informs your photographic choices on a given day, in certain weather conditions or in different seasons.

Practice Development:

Get to know a place to maximise the chance of taking good shots by finding good vantage points, and understanding the angle of light, or the likely direction of the wind.  Spend time and build a sense of dwelling in that place.


Interoception is about developing awareness of internal stimuli from the body whether they are hearing the beating of your heart or perhaps the tension in your muscles, extending to understanding your mood on a particular day.  Many of us go through everyday life paying little attention to these cues preferring to respond to those from the external world around us.

Practice Development:

The principles of mindfulness include paying attention to purpose in the present moment and without judgement.  I have found that focusing on the present and the task in mind has allowed me to think more deeply about what my body and mind are feeling.  There are many books and other media available if you wish to pursue this approach.


Exteroception on the other hand refers to any stimuli emanating from outside the body and is mediated via the five senses referred to above.

Practice Development:

I find that paying attention to our five senses often provides me with the focus to drift into a non-conscious state and using my intuitive skills with the camera allows me to become aware of Being.  I found the use of attention to the senses (a focused and conscious exercise) acts as a gateway to a deeper connection with the natural world. 

Perceptive and Dynamic Awareness 

Time does not stand still and when we point the camera at the world around us, we are literally shooting at a moving target.  The world has already moved on and the moment we captured has been lost.  When I am out with my camera, I tend to view the world as a movie rather than through the viewfinder of a still camera.  I find this develops my skills in pressing the shutter and pre-empting the moment I wish to capture.

Practice Development:

Try to develop a mindset that supports the aim to capture that “decisive moment” whatever that might be.  Become aware of the ongoing march of time and that perception does not stand still.  Learn to pre-empt the lag of the shutter and in so doing increase the potential for the revelation of Being.

Zonal Flow 

Many are aware of the concept of getting in the zone, a phrase often used in the context of elite sports performance.  It is equally applicable to the creative arts and many artists speak of being aware of drifting into a non-conscious space where time stands still and the creative process and mind takes over.

Practice Development:

I have talked above about becoming familiar with a place, space or subject and feeling at home and at ease – a concept I call “dwelling”.  This deep sense of dwelling in a space is borne out of spending time, learning, working in and knowing about what it is you are seeking to capture.  This signifier is the means by which everything else falls into place.  It is like feeling comfortable in that old leather chair that should have been consigned to the tip many years ago! 

I hope this practical articulation of the ten signifiers  will enable you to try out Object-Oriented Photography.  More ideas to follow . . .

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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