Jot down everything you can about a photograph in five minutes.
Direct your critical thinking toward the photograph—not toward your critical thinking—or yourself.
Write down anything.
Most people see only the subject in the photograph.
Some see more, the gist of the photograph.
A few see and feel a lot more—the entire gestalt produced by the photograph.
By doing the exercise below, you can be a level-3 photographer.
Make two passes through the exercise.
Define the categories as you see fit.
The categories may overlap with each other.
When a single term is listed, consider any opposite terms, as well.
For example, depth includes lack of depth.
There may be shades of gray between the opposites, too.
There are also boxes for adding additional categories.
Jot down comments in the boxes for the pertinent categories.
The checkboxes that you click, and the text you enter below, go no further than your own computer.
If you move to another page, or close this page, what you've entered is NOT saved.
Page breaks have been inserted in the text.
Use portrait orientation with the scale set to Shrink to Fit, not 100%.
Here's a PDF version of this first section.
Solar System Metaphor
You'll surprise yourself.
The notebook and time limit are like a telescope.
You'll see a solar system.
We'll use our solar system as a metaphor for a photograph.
Here's a summary of the metaphor.
What Type of Solar System?
What's the genre of the photograph?
Sun ~ Purpose
Using our solar-system metaphor, the sun is the purpose of the photograph.
Purpose includes many overlapping ideas.
Light from the Sun ~ Reward
Above, the sun in our metaphor is the purpose of the photograph.
The light from the sun is the something that lights up the reward areas of the viewer's brain.
What's the reward for the viewer?
If you're using one of your photographs, this reward may be different for you the photographer, than it is for other viewers.
The photograph creates one or more of the following.
Thought, such as insight
It's a Solar System
The planets, discussed below, are the many ingredients that went into the photograph.
These ingredients, like the planets, are part of a system.
Everything within the frame, and a few things outside the frame, are working together in a good photograph.
What's the gravity that holds the photographic ingredients together?
Tension is the photograph's gravity.
A good photograph has visual tension.
Paradoxically, when the tension is done well, like gravity, the tension:
• Is often invisible.
The photograph is transmitted without interference.
• Transmits a strong effect.
Causality & Narrative
Causality and narrative may also be the photograph's gravity.
Our brains seek relationships and stories as we go about our days.
We're looking for cause and effect, which often is only a correlation, not causality.
We're attracted to stories and we're story makers.
When we look at a photograph, we're sensitive to the photographer's intentional, and our imagined, causalities and narrative.
As mentioned, the planets are the many ingredients that went into the photograph.
There can be just a few, or many.
The Pluto-sized planets of the photograph's solar system are minor players.
The Jupiter-sized ingredients play bigger roles, such as light.
There's a section below about light, the Jupiter of our photographic solar system.
Technical (See Camera Buttons below)
Is the photographer absent, explicitly present, or implicitly just off stage?
We leave the solar-system metaphor here.
As mentioned, light is the most important planet in your photograph's solar system.
There are fours ways to describe light.
Texture & Volume
2) Size, which changes the contrast of the lighting
3) Color and tone
Time of day
4) Distance from the subject
There's a discussion of light in Beecher's Handouts.
Go to Light / 5.1 - Introduction.
What's on or near the edges and corners of the frame.
What's outside the frame, if anything?
Sketch the photograph, crudely or with panache.
Drawing can improve observation.
Gesture is the obvious, human gesture.
It is also an added 5% sprinkle of something that takes a photograph up to 100%.
Gesture is like a comet.
Perseverance, such as Cartier-Bresson's Decisive Moment
Risk taking, such as Robert Capa's "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
The next section has a more philosophical approach to the topic of what is a good picture.