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Between Brain and Camera

staygoL (Leica D-Lux 5)

The question left half unanswered from the first post of the discussion is what we are actually learning in photography.  Previously, we discussed that the ultimate goal is to learn to not believe what we see or see what we believe. For the learning process, I suggested focusing on three aspects. First, the psychological aspect is to cultivate one's empathic thinking so that eventually it will preponderate over dualistic thinking in judging the reality. This will enable a photographer to see new connections in a scene or happening and be better positioned to reflect new insights in the final, unique images. This is where we stopped last time.

In this post, we will discuss the other two aspects.

The second, aesthetic aspect requires the photographer to practise holistic seeing.  A photo should first be thought as a medium more than two dimensional or an aesthetic interplay of with and without light only.  Observation should no longer be made just on the visual level but with all of one's senses geared to interpreting the new connections found, so the wind, the smell and the sounds all become contributory factors to how and what the photographer produces in the final image. That is to say, the physical and psychological factors at play which are keenly felt on the scene should all be given a bearing on the technical bits in constructing the final images. Therefore, why and where an area should be in the light or the shadows are decided not only for want of visual joys.  Likewise, a certain angle and a particular camera movement are employed not simply for reason of composition.  They are invariably choreographed moves to reproduce the conclusive messages arising from the-whole-body-and-mind seeing to cue the aesthetic faculties of the viewers to receive such.

Lastly, for the practical aspect, it is to learn to see beyond the naked eye. How a camera records a scene differs from how our brain receives it in terms of the amount and quality of lights. Simply put, with different settings of white balance, exposure duration or camera movements, a camera can see the same scene in a variety of ways. A case in point is when the other day I let a young lad see through the viewfinder of my camera with the shutter speed dragged, he took a shot and exclaimed, "Why the window looking onto the street with the trees is like a framed painting on the wall in the image I took? It looks much better than what I now see with my bare eyes" Surely, readers know that it was because the longer exposure time allowed plenty of lights to fall on the tree leaves which on the image became much brighter and smoother in light quality than it was the case in reality. The camera looks at a scene very unlike our brain.

The discussion in this series is not to exclude doing photography just for fun, pure aesthetics or commercial purpose and so on. As I wrote in the first post, the answer is given in the context that I need to think up one ultimate reply to the question: What actually are we learning in photography? Curiously, moving further up this learning curve, I become less easy going in fully pressing the shutter release, and stay longer at the same spot to do an image. I will not necessarily end up with better images. But now I am more aware of what I am doing and why I am so doing in constructing an image for the desired effect and message.

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