How 'right brain' visualization strategies can improve your photography

Analysing perceptive skills Angelika Stehle still remembers the ah-ha! effect when she first learned to see. In art the secret to creating and enjoying lies in looking at things in a different way.

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We can learn how to look, make the effort to really look, train the eye to see and study an image, - and familiar ordinary objects can become fascinating. By using an innovative, lateral approach, our perception changes and we gain insight into what seemed much less obvious previously.

Kimon Nicolaides wrote in The Natural Way to Draw : "Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see to see correctly and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye." Author Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (ISBN 0-00-638114-6) links creativity and seeing with a very interesting scientific concept. She identifies the cognitive difference between the left and the right side of the brain and applies it to art.

By allowing the usually subordinate right side of the brain to take over, we can change to a mode that can imagine realities, "we understand metaphors, we dream, we create new combinations of ideas" (page 35). The right hemisphere is the part of the brain responsible for imagination, visualisation, perceptual or spatial skills, creativity, intuition, inventiveness.

The R-mode is "curvy, flexible, more playful in its unexpected twists and turns, more complex, diagonal, fanciful", "making leaps of insight, often based on incomplete patterns, hunches, feelings, or visual images. Seeing whole things all at once; perceiving the overall patterns and structures, often leading to divergent conclusions". Photography as an art form can benefit from this knowledge.

The best pictures focus on simple and uncomplicated ideas. The key to successful photography is making the effort to really look. Select an object and concentrate on a specific aspect of it. Isolate a part of the object or a detail, select your viewpoint carefully and make it unusual, fill the frame and decide how to frame the picture most effectively, and allow yourself to be subjective and confident of your own personal and distinctive style. You can train your vision by looking through the viewfinder often or even through a little frame like the artists do. Pre-design the picture in your mind, make a composition.

Be realistic though: while the eye will adjust and will make it appear as if it can focus on everything at once, it will concentrate on the object of interest within its view, it also seems to equal out contrasts in lighting, - yet the camera will depend on an adjustment of depth-of-field and lighting and will freeze movement too.

While rules run contrary to the above idea, it is generally recommendable to use a slow film, to make use of effective lighting natural or assisted by for example the use of white card to reflect light back on smallish objects -, and to exclude anything that would only clutter the picture. Either move in close, or adjust your format between horizontal or vertical (it could even be in between, the camera tilted at 45 degrees for special effect), and exclude an unnecessary background.

Concentrate on either detail or pattern or colour, select an unusual but attractive section from an interesting fresh viewpoint, and you are set to make a striking impact. With time and forethought details that otherwise might have escaped notice can be arranged to express a lot of atmosphere.
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