Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 86, Learning 86: Forgetting

In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we’re looking at.” - Claude Monet.

Painters, I think, excel at this.  Our mind furiously interprets everything we see, which means it can difficult to discern objects in a two dimensional space, flattened on an image.  When we observe leading lines, for example, we have “forgotten” what the object are, and for a moment see only lines.  Geometry divorced of meaning.  The same can be said for color.  It’s surprising what we see when we forget that we’re photographing “Nancy,” and only see light, shape, and color.  There are some tricks for making this happen.

Shoot RAW plus BW JPEG.  Photographers like Gregory Heisler advocate for shooting in dual mode, but where your LCD will show you the image in black and white.  I doubt he does it himself (he shoots primarily with film), but it can be helpful in seeing the essence of the subject, especially people.

Turn your images upside down to dodge and burn.  This technique I use frequently when working on important images.  Our eyes naturally gravitate to certain areas-- faces, eyes, smiles, center, or thirds.  These are areas that help the mind interpret the subject and meaning.  This natural tendency, though, undermines the non-interpretative part of our minds. We may not see, for example, that the subject isn’t the brightest area.  Flipping the image upside down removes meaning from the image and leaves just light and geometry.  I will dodge and burn the non-people parts of the image upside down; I’ll rotate upright for individuals.

If the light is perfect, turn around.  This is a great adage.  It isn’t helpful most of the time, but it’s a good practice because when it is helpful you get something completely outside the box of your thinking.  We tend to narrow our choices when we pick our angles and decide what is the “right” light.  It’s necessary, but it destroys the possibilities that come from working against our instincts and exploring what benefits can be found in photographing the “problem” rather than the solution.

“Forgetting the name” of the thing you’re photographing isn’t just about keeping your options open.  It’s about removing the constraints of meaning.

No comments:

Post a Comment