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Understanding the photographic impulse

From: Foundations of Photography: Composition

Video: Understanding the photographic impulse

Earlier I mentioned that the study of photography can be divided into two domains, artistry and craft. These two skills sets mix and combine to create photographic ability. All photos though begin with a single impulse, that moment where you have an idea that there's a photo to be had in a particular location. Sometimes it's very obvious that there is a good picture to be had in a particular location, say a lion has escaped from the zoo and its charging at you down Main Street. Now of course a normal person would think they need to runaway, but you're a photographer, so at that moment you feel a strong impulse towards an image.

Understanding the photographic impulse

Earlier I mentioned that the study of photography can be divided into two domains, artistry and craft. These two skills sets mix and combine to create photographic ability. All photos though begin with a single impulse, that moment where you have an idea that there's a photo to be had in a particular location. Sometimes it's very obvious that there is a good picture to be had in a particular location, say a lion has escaped from the zoo and its charging at you down Main Street. Now of course a normal person would think they need to runaway, but you're a photographer, so at that moment you feel a strong impulse towards an image.

In that case it's pretty easy to recognize that there's a good picture to be had, but it isn't always so easy. In the last chapter we talked about seeing and about how much your brain is involved in the visual process. Now I don't have any data to support this next idea, but in my experience the subconscious part of the brain is often a decent photographer. Sometimes it will identify a particular image and send me an impulse that says hey there's a good picture over there. I get this a lot when I'm walking around in my neighborhood, something in the corner of my eye will attract my attention.

Very often if I notice that and turn my full attention in that direction, I'll look and not see anything and will think never mind, and I will keep walking. But instead, if I trust that impulse and raise my camera and look through the viewfinder, very often I will see that there is an image to be had. I may not know all the details of it. It may need some composition skill applied to it, but there is usually a picture there. Learning to listen to and trust those impulses is a critical skill and it's really a skill, you have to practice it. Sometimes the impulses are very quiet and subtle.

It can take time to learn how those parts of your brain communicate with you. To help yourself pay more attention to your impulses, I would offer the following advice: When you're practicing, practice alone. You need your full concentration. You need to not be in a social mode where you feel responsible for other people. You need to not feel like you need to talk or answer questions, you need to be very present, listening to your own head. So also don't put on your iPod, again, you need to be present not listening to music. Music creates its own impulses and can put you into a different space than the one you're walking around through, after all, that's part of its appeal.

You may find both of these to be dead wrong for you and that's fine, I would just offer the advice that you should try it and see if it makes a difference. A lot of times in class we'll go out on a field trip and I'll see students walking around, and I'll watch some of them for a while, and they will come back over and they'll say I'm just not seeing any pictures. And at no time will I have seen them actually raise the camera and look through the viewfinder. It's critical that you do that. You may think, well if there is a good picture there I should be able to see it, yeah that's true, if it's a lion charging down the street at you, but at other times you need that crop. You need to see through that rectangle and then composition will start happening.

You'll start seeing things and you will realize that there is a photo there. So if you have even just the slightest hint of an impulse, look through your camera at it. Over time you will get better at picking up on even subtle impulses and that will lead you to see more images.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Composition
Foundations of Photography: Composition

86 video lessons · 54489 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 12m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 47s
    2. Using this course
      7m 27s
    3. What you need to know
      2m 50s
  2. 2m 47s
    1. What is composition?
      2m 1s
    2. All form, all the time
      46s
  3. 12m 34s
    1. How your camera is not like your eye
      2m 52s
    2. Looking vs. seeing
      2m 25s
    3. Vision and attention
      2m 13s
    4. Dynamic range
      1m 59s
    5. Seeing exercises
      3m 5s
  4. 36m 48s
    1. What all good compositions have
      1m 8s
    2. Subject and background
      3m 5s
    3. Balance
      7m 20s
    4. Point of view
      3m 22s
    5. Simplicity
      2m 59s
    6. Finding and capturing a good photo
      2m 11s
    7. Working the shot: Why one is never enough
      6m 41s
    8. Practicing
      3m 24s
    9. Why black and white?
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Practicing the fundamentals with points
      4m 17s
  5. 41m 48s
    1. Lines
      7m 7s
    2. Analyzing lines
      6m 35s
    3. Exploring a town
      4m 7s
    4. The Franklin Hotel
      2m 7s
    5. Shapes
      10m 13s
    6. Repetition: Arranging the elements
      1m 37s
    7. Rule of threes
      1m 36s
    8. Perspective
      1m 47s
    9. Symmetry
      1m 10s
    10. Focal length, camera position, and depth
      2m 27s
    11. Intersections
      1m 41s
    12. Exercise: Practicing fundamentals with geometry
      1m 21s
  6. 10m 38s
    1. Working a shot, revisited
      3m 21s
    2. Understanding the photographic impulse
      2m 58s
    3. Warming up
      2m 16s
    4. Exercise: Get your feet moving
      2m 3s
  7. 35m 7s
    1. Thirds: How rectangular frames are weighted
      2m 20s
    2. Tonal balance
      3m 52s
    3. Content balance
      1m 20s
    4. Squares: Weighting the corners
      2m 24s
    5. Composing people
      3m 42s
    6. Composing landscapes
      3m 53s
    7. Sometimes you can't get the shot
      1m 12s
    8. Practicing thirds with points and geometry
      1m 45s
    9. Practicing squares with points and geometry
      1m 12s
    10. Image analysis: The work of Steve Simon
      13m 27s
  8. 19m 6s
    1. It's the light
      1m 50s
    2. Direction of light
      8m 30s
    3. Texture
      2m 7s
    4. Shadows and negative space
      1m 19s
    5. Exposure concerns
      2m 44s
    6. Keeping one eye on post
      58s
    7. Light as subject
      1m 38s
  9. 18m 59s
    1. Introducing the workshop location and instructors
      1m 2s
    2. Assignment: Finding light
      5m 17s
    3. Shooting the light
      3m 14s
    4. Critiquing the light assignment
      9m 26s
  10. 22m 11s
    1. The basics of color
      1m 4s
    2. When to shoot color
      3m 56s
    3. How to shoot color
      2m 47s
    4. Practicing color composition
      1m 4s
    5. Image analysis: The work of Paul Taggart
      13m 20s
  11. 16m 48s
    1. Entry and exit
      5m 41s
    2. Framing
      2m 17s
    3. Examining the composition of this set
      2m 28s
    4. Narrative
      1m 55s
    5. When the scene doesn't fit in the frame
      3m 13s
    6. Guiding the viewer's eye
      1m 14s
  12. 13m 36s
    1. Assignment: Foreground and background
      3m 4s
    2. Shooting foreground and background relationships
      2m 19s
    3. Critiquing the foreground and background assignment
      8m 13s
  13. 34m 24s
    1. Planes
      5m 13s
    2. Controlling depth
      4m 54s
    3. Juxtaposition
      2m 58s
    4. Fear
      4m 3s
    5. Layers
      55s
    6. Image analysis: The work of Connie Imboden
      16m 21s
  14. 41m 21s
    1. Recomposing an image with the Crop tool
      7m 23s
    2. Resizing an image
      8m 9s
    3. Tone
      8m 54s
    4. Altering the perspective in Photoshop
      4m 38s
    5. Changing composition through retouching
      6m 16s
    6. Vignetting to drive attention
      6m 1s
  15. 10m 22s
    1. Workshop wrap-up and exhibition
      3m 13s
    2. Workshop students' final thoughts
      7m 9s
  16. 1m 0s
    1. Final thoughts
      1m 0s

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