Friday, July 6, 2012

Artist Versus Analyst

Following the Rule of Thirds
Let me preface the following statement with: this is not a post about how great a photographer I am. My ego is in healthy check. Now that I have said that I can say: I am generally a pretty good photographer. 

As a photographer and teacher of photography I preach the rules of photography. I preach about composition; the rule of thirds and filling the frame. I preach about exposure and the histogram. I preach about subjects needing to be interesting. I preach about light and shadow and how to make them work.

I also practice these things, some times to a point of my Analyst squashing my Artist. My artist asks what-if questions and my Analyst doesn't like what-if scenarios. My Analyst knows that 1 + 1 = 2 and that is not to be challenged, ever.

The image above was an attempt by the Analyst to make a technically good photograph. I followed the rule of thirds. The horizon is not in the center plane of the photograph. I properly exposed the subject. I did everything right. Yet the image lacks pop and impact. This image would not be able to move a turd with bulldozer, let alone move someone emotionally. I might as well have photographed a black cat in a black room with the lens cap on. If I were to post this by itself, it would have likely received a few obligatory comments, if that, but it definitely would not have moved anyone.

Following my Artist
Then there is this photograph to the right. The photograph breaks several of the rules mentioned above. Lets start with the composition. The horizon is on the center plane of the photograph. The subject, the sun, is dead center in the image. Rule of Third/Fill the Frame rule is thrown out the window.

Now let's talk about exposure. In relation to the rest of the image, the lower right corner is under exposed. This leaves a dead spot in the image technically speaking.

Technically speaking, this image is a train wreck. But from an artistic standpoint, this image moves people in spite of the rules. This photograph evokes an emotional response that the first photograph could not. Why? Because I allowed the scene to move me before I tried to capture it. My Artist saw what was beautiful about the scene and captured it shutting down my Analyst

So when I posted my Artist's photograph on social media sites it received more comments and "likes" than most of my images usually get. As a matter of fact, I had five "favorites" from complete strangers, people I don't follow or don't follow me, within fifteen seconds of posting it.

What makes one photograph work and the other not? The first photograph was a true attempt at capturing the scene of a setting sun. It was shot with a Nikon D200 using the 200mm lens with careful consideration on exposure and composition. It was edited using Adobe's Lightroom with some dodge and burn and noise reduction. A professional photograph from professional equipment.

The second image was made using my cell phone and an HDR app that anyone can buy for $3.49 from the Android App Store of your choice. The photo was edited on my phone using Instagram. Both photos were taken by the same photographer; me. So why the huge disparity between the two? Is a camera phone that much better than a Nikon DSLR? I have said it many times, it's not the camera that makes an image it's the photographer. The failure of the first was a result of my Analyst being in control and the success of the second was the difference between my Analyst and my Artist.
Trusting my artist
Sand Patterns
I think I know what happened; how my Analyst got in control at the start. When I first got to the scene I was thinking, location, shot lists, exposures and composition. I set up, pointed the lens, fired a frame or two recomposed, refocused, fire again. Rinse and repeat. I didn't let the scene talk to me and let me know what it was showing me. My Analyst doesn't see such things. I was focused on getting the specific shots I wanted or thought I should get given the rules of photography. I was hell bent to get "The Shot" even if the scene wasn't really showing me "The Shot". My Artist was buried in the world of technicalities.

I finally put my camera aside, unhappy with the results. Took in the breath-taking scene for several minutes. I saw what was happening; I wasn't seeing the sunset through the sun. I shut down my Analyst and my Artist came rising to the surface. I grabbed my phone, opened the HDR app and fired off three frames. I stuck my phone back in my pocket as the HDR app was processing the three image series. I grabbed my camera and walked back to the campfire we had on the beach to warm up. 

I put my camera away and sat on a log by the fire. I grabbed my phone, saved the resulting photograph and shared it via Instagram. I didn't dink around with lots of post processing and cropping and tweaking. The photograph didn't need much of anything to make it pop. The photograph captured exactly what my Artist saw in the scene. The photograph captured exactly what the scene made me feel when I finally stopped, shut down my Analyst and took the scene in while my Artist came to the forefront.

I walked away from this experience re-finding the value of not getting lost in the technical aspect of the process. I know the technical aspects of photography, so I need to let go of the Analyst in me more often. I need to allow my Artist to do the job an artist does best. In the end, I know how to use the tools and I know the rules, so my Artist knows how to use the tools and knows the rules. More importantly my Artist knows when to break the rules. I need to trust that more moving forward because when I do, my Artist truly shines.

How about you? When do you struggle between your Analyst and your Artist. Who usually wins? How do you overcome your Analyst? Share in the comment below.

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