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Right Brain Photography

My approach to photography stems from having majored in art for three years. During those three foundation-building years, I studied composition, color theory, and design. I had a chance to take a close look at the works of masters like Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Salvadar Dalí and others. I learned about the ways form, texture, and shapes influence the unspoken language of art.

Today, my starting point with photography is not f/stops, shutter speeds, exposure meters, or any of the other left brain camera or software variables. When I look at a scene, whether it’s a panoramic landscape, botanical gardens, or flowers and butterflies, I study the scene, like a painter does, and carefully decide what I want to create. My imagination, not my eyes, takes over and I “see” what the scene before me might look like. I offer several classes, workshops, and presentations in the Boulder/Denver, Colorado area. A lot of my students and even advanced professional-level photographers wrinkle their eyebrows when they hear me say, “I don’t see with my eyes; I see with my imagination.” They get even more puzzled when I say, “I see something before I see it.” This is right brain photography.

The end result of my images can be traced back to several right brain pre-photography mental and even spiritual processes. I can look at a scene and get a feeling or sense a mood from it. Sometimes what my eyes see will stir an emotion inside that leads to an interpretation—a message, a story, a translation of what I see. Sometimes these mental, emotional, and spiritual processes can take just a few seconds. Then, I work backwards. My camera and lenses become my paint brushes. This is right brain photography.

My study of the Impressionists has given me some interesting awareness of the similarities, and differences, between the art of painting and the art of photography. For example, the Impressionists used special paint applications to create the illusion of depth in a two dimensional object we call a painting, or to create an impression of their subjects. I use f/stops to create depth of field. Sometimes I will do a double exposure to minimize detail, leaving the viewer with only an impression of what I saw. The Surrealists used the juxtaposition of unexpected subjects; the uncommon convergence of objects to twist our minds. I photograph a tulip covered by ice and snow or zoom into a stationary subject to make it “fly.”

In essence, what I do with my photography is use my right brain to come up with an idea. Then, my right brain shakes hands with my left brain and says, “I have an idea, and this is what I need from you.” I encourage photographers and photo enthusiasts to use their imaginations, not their computers, to create photo art. Imaginative thinking and creativity, before we go “click,” seems to be a lost art today.

Here are two examples of what I have created with my right brain since I first picked up a camera in the mid 1980’s. One is a neon sign, something we all see in every city and therefore don’t think much about it. The other image is of a simple subject, willows in winter in Colorado, a subject most people would shrug off as too commonplace. Both can easily be considered as not worthy of a photograph.

When I saw this neon sign, high up on a twenty foot pole, it did not immediately jump out at me. But, as I studied the giant Pegasus on a stick, thoughts started swirling in my right brain. One of those thoughts included the idea of what it might look like if I could make the horse “fly.” Then, my right brain shook hands with my left hand and said, as it had so many times before, “I’ve got an idea, and this is what I need from you.” To create this image, I slowly zoomed out with my zoom lens during a 15-20 second exposure. I call this piece “Pegasus In Flight.” This is right brain photography.

I was with a friend driving along the high country in northwestern Colorado. He was driving. All of a sudden I saw what seemed like miles and miles of willows. “Pull over,” I almost demanded, not even trying to hide my excitement. I gathered my gear and walked across the two lane highway. I stood there quietly, taking it all in. The scene, a field riddled with purple, orange, red, and yellow willows, reminded me of a watercolor. My right brain instinctively shook hands with me left brain–I think by now you know what it said. The idea was to convert the scene into a watercolor. I used one of my favorite in-camera techniques called double exposure. I photographed the first image out of focus. Then, right on top of the first image, I created the next image in complete sharpness, using a high f/stop of f/22. The final image gave me only an impression of what my eyes saw. However, if you look closely you can see the branches of several willows. The combination of the two double-exposed images gave the scene a soft focus look, a la Impressionism. I call this piece “Watercolor Willows.” This is right brain photography.

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MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.