Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols as a part of communication.

When I see a red traffic light I STOP. When I see a green one, I GO.

The semiotician, Roland Barthes, ‘made distinctions between the different parts of a photograph which help us to see how meaning is created’ (Boothroyd, 2014, p101).


In the examples below, the physical form of the red flag and the red light are signifiers. They are images that represent something real in the physical world.

Images courtesy of Pixabay

The signified is ‘danger’ and ‘stop’.

Signs can only be signs when they are invested in a meaning. In this image below, the signifier is the representation of the woman and the signified is the concept of  toilet facilities for females.

Another example of a signifier is the four leaf clover. What is signified by this is the mental concept of  ‘good luck’



Signifier + signified = SIGN

The overall effect of the photograph. A sign has 1) a material form and 2) a mental concept.


Boothroyd S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.


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