No Words: Right Brain / Left Brain Photography

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by albert_smith, Apr 28, 2003.

  1. I was looking through some old books on my shelf, and rediscovered one called “Right Brain / Left Brain Photography…the art and technique of 70 modern masters” (1994 AMPHOTO ISBN 0-8174-5717-8). The basic premise is that there are two kinds of shooters… Left brained: extreme precision, following “ the rules” for things like composition (rule of thirds, leading lines, etc…) and Right brained: shooting from instinct, suspending thought and just “doing it” when things “look” right. The book has many famous photos and photographers and divides them into one of the two categories. Post a photo (or two) and decide which part of your brain the choice to hit the shutter release came from.
  2. whats that? (R8 + 1,4/50 (E60) + Delta 400) Peter
  3. Very interesting dichotomy, I never thought of it in those terms. When I first started with photography, and started shooting seriously, I was a BIG left-brainer. Where I took two formal classes at my university, I had major clashes with the Prof., as he (Costa) was a “no rules” street shooter but left-brained when it came to the darkroom, and more specifically printing. I’ve never been fond of darkroom work but love gadgets, and super technical theory. Costa on the other hand was a minimalist street photographer, one camera, one lens, that being a M6 and a 35mm summicron. Compared to my big SLR and set of lenses, desire to use a tripod, and incorporate all the crap I read about in sophisticated photo books, Costa and I butted heads a lot over the year or so we spent “together”. I would constantly try to pick his brain about technical stuff and he only wanted to talk about pre-focused FAST shooting and strong composition. It wasn’t until the end of the second semester where on a little field trip downtown with another well known street photographer and friend of Costa’s did I finally see the light. Since than, I have traded in my big F3HP and my bag of lenses for a rangefinder and 35mm lens. One camera, one 35mm “normal” lens, as Costa would say, pre-focused as much as possible and strong composition. While it is my nature to be left brained about things, (I still am when it comes to the darkroom )-: ), I have shifted my photographic style to right side only! Below is a link of some of my work, but just a little since I don’t have as much time as I would like to spend in the darkroom. I still frame critically when I bring the camera to my eye (I know shooting from the hip is a Winogrand no-no), but it is second nature, not at all a product of conscious thought.
  4. This is a fascinating topic and one that interests me very much in its application to my hobby (photography) and my profession (violinist). A book which is exactly on this topic is: "Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. (available in paperback at most book stores.) The author has simple exercises you can do to train yourself to turn on the right brain processing. One of these is to make a drawing of what you see when looking at a photo of someone's face, but with the photo held upside down! I was amazed at the result. I, who can't draw to save my life, copied an upside down photo of President Kennedy. I started with the eyes. When I was done I had drawn them well enough so that most people, when shown my drawing of just JFK's eyes, and asked: "Whose eyes are these?", answered JFK!! This was absolutely amazing to me who, until then, was pretty much restricted to drawing stick figures. A basic premise of this book is: when most people (who can't draw well) look at the eyes, in a photo of a face, they don't really draw what they see, they draw a kind of stored-in-their-memory cartoon of eyes. However, when they look at the *inverted* photo, although they can tell that they are seeing eyes upside down, they do a different (and more correct) mental process: they see what is really there, and kind of "trace" what they actually see on the paper. The results, in my case, were quite dramatic. I think that "Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain", by Betty Edwards is a Must Have book for photographers, and anyone interested in the mental processes of producing Art. I imagine that HCB himself was employing this process in a most deliberate way when he said that he liked to use a certain view finder which inverted the image. I believe it helped him to see the scene before him as an abstract design, in exactly the same way that inverting the photo helps readers of the Edwards book to make a better drawing of JFK than they ever thought they could. Edwards makes a very convicing case that left brain processing (or "verbal thinking") is the thing that, for the most part, blocks peoples' brains from doing the right brain process which (by and large) produces the art. I see this happening in music too.
  5. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    Mark, I'd advise you to stop thinking of it in those terms immediately before you develop a nasty habit. Seriously, refering to these different approaches as "left brained" and "right brained" is about as accurate and sensible as refering to them as "hooha" and "joojoo." There are some differences between the ways the two hemisphere process information, but calling the "right/left brain" labels for the different approaches described a gross oversimplification is a gross understatement. Using such labels doesn't provide any further understanding of the difference between the approaches, it simply muddles an understanding of brain function.

    (Personally, I'm more a joojoo shooter.)
  6. Mike,
    Of course the "Right" and "Left" labels are oversimplifications, as you say. But I think that the discussion of mental processes (as done in the book I described above) is a very good thing, and of practical help as well. I would be interested in knowing what you think of this book. I imagine you would like it.

    Your photos took a jillion hours to load on my dial-up connection, but it was worth it. They're great. I especially liked the cowboy hat photo and the American flag baloon photo.
  7. I can second the recommendation for Betty Edwards book.
  8. I like to use hooha during the planning stages, and joojoo during the shoot.
  9. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    An understanding of some of the basics of brain function relevant to picture-taking would certainly be helpful in providing a context for sensible discussions about the subject. (Most of the times I've seen cognitive function brought up in online discussions about photography, it's been the case that the person was simply inventing "facts" that supported his view--stuff that anyone who had studied beyond Psych 101 would know was nonsense). The reason for my objection to "left/right brain" terminology is that it confuses rather than clarifies. Terms like "analytical" vs. "holistic" might not be perfect, but at least they would serve as sensible labels. The only reason "left brained" and "right brained" aren't entirely arbitrary (like hooha and joojoo) is their relationship to an inaccurate and misleading concept of brain function.
  10. "There are two types of people- the ones who think there are two kinds of people and the ones who don't."
    Non the less, I've found a dialectic modality to be a compelling way of looking at the world since my introduction to it as an undergraduate.
    Nietzche's variation on this was the Apollonian vs the Dionysian in examining ancient Greece.
    His thesis was that it was the conflict between the two and its synthesis that accounted for much of the power and influence of ancient Greek culture,
    Again dialectics/dichotomies are an oversimplification, but it is useful as a way of thinking about and hopefully improving one's work, as well as examining
    the work of other photographers. Mapplethorpe and E.Weston come to mind as examples of the power of an Apollonian expression of a Dionysian soul.
  11. Left sided approach- on a tripod, groundglass visualized, contemplative/ analytical. Horseman Technical 6x9 back
  12. rowlett

    rowlett Moderator

    I read Betty Edward's book (the first ed... the second one looks even better) and was completely fascinated by it. It lead to a much better understanding of how to really draw what you see, and not what's in your mental database of what certain objects should look like. The example given above about repro-drawing an up-side-down rendering is a particularly good demonstration. The other that I liked is the exercise of drawing as ugly a monster profile as you possibly can (an example of drawing on the Left side of the brain... taking things from your mental database, an ugly nose, a weird eye, a protruding, hairy chin, etc.). Then you are to reproduce an exact reverse replica of what you drew (an example of drawing from the skills of your "Right" brain, copying what you see as exactly as possible); an impacting demonstration of the L v. R thinking concept. I have wondered for several years what sort of connection (if any) there is between these ways of thinking and the process of photographing.
  13. Right sided approach-just do it. M3/Noctilux.
  14. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I take a No Brain approach...
    Golden Gate Bridge, Copyright 2003 Jeff Spirer
  15. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    Ahh, an honest man . . .
    This was my brain on drugs:
  16. <BR>
    I double majored in psychology and procrastination (I’m writing this instead of a paper which was due last Fri.), and minored in biology and wasting time. I will be graduating within a month (yay its over, for a little while at least!) but will be the first to acknowledge that neither the piece of paper with my name written in fancy letters or my time served grueling over thick books about nothing, means little nor has it endowed me with any particularly sophisticated knowledge. Nevertheless, while I would readily agree that such terminology is, indeed, an oversimplification of a very complex and poorly understood cognitive process, I still think it has its place. That is, even if by arbitrary names, a generalized characterization can be made, than it has some, however limited, validity. In other wards, it’s probably a poor choice of wording to use “right brain” and “left brain”, respectively, to denote unilateral polar characteristics. But this is not to say that these characteristics do not exist. Personality traits with respect to inclination or disposition cannot be, quantifiably, localized or attributed to specific parts of the brain, certainly not. There are far to many factors involved in shaping “personality traits”, just as art verses science inclinations cannot be overly generalized as stemming from a particular hemisphere. But whatever its attribution, they do exist, in greater or lesser uniformity, and is nevertheless very palpable. Therefore, by whatever name you choose to give it, these observable characteristics or traits do present themselves, systematically, and thus should be allocated a name. Simply, right verses left brain, despite existing supporting research, may not be the best choice terminology. Hooha and joojoo, work for me… But when put into context, right brain -- left brain is a “neat” way to consider idiosyncratic behavioral tendencies, such to the extent that they may be seen in one’s photography or photographic style and approach.<BR>
    Ollie, thanks for the complements!! :-D<BR>
  17. Tony, Do I get an award for the most words generated from a "No Words" thread? ;-)
  18. Have any of you read Galen's ( RIP ) book, "Inner Game of Outdoor Photography" ? He says, and I am now a believer, that good photography ( in so many words ) is about all about emotion. Try looking at pix with that in mind. I think you will improve your photography right away. I looked at the sample work at and find that I highly admire the fact Mark gets in people's faces, but there is a lack of this "emotion." I am not sure what Mark is "saying."<p>

    On the other hand, I am touched by the work of Travis and Marc Williams. I think they are accomplished "photographers."
    I am not sure how this fits in this thread...I am just battling with my own inner demons in terms of "what is a good photograph?"
  19. Is there any correlation between those approaches to photography (whatever you call them, "left/right brain" or ...) and which eye is used for framing and focusing, i.e., would a right eye shooter have more likely the "left brain" approach? -- What about being right handed or left handed? E.g. in music, would it be possible to hear in a blind test whether the musician is right or left handed? [btw: my favourite pianist is left handed, and wow she does sound very different to everybody else, making a piano sing]. Once I heard somebody claim to be able to tell from the composition of a picture whether the photographer or painter is right or left handed. -- Should there be a left-handed version of the Leica M? Or are Hassies the true left-handed cameras? Thanks for the tip on the B. Edwards book, I want to get one tomorrow...
  20. Without right brain, I couldn't imagine this shot. Without left brain and careful composition and exposure, it would look as good as it should be.
  21. Without right brain, I couldn't imagine this shot. Without left brain and careful composition and exposure, it would not look as good as it should be.
  22. Sorry about double posting. My brains are confused ;-)
  23. dcolucci<BR>
    While it was not and is not at all my intention to sidetrack the “no wards” topic with my own photography, and though I feel bad about using this forum to do so, I do wish to briefly reply to dcolucci with respect to the emotion issue. While obviously such things are entirely subjective, I am sorry that you do not feel my work carries with it emotive qualities. What’s on that page is 99% part of a project that I am working on. This is not to say that every image will make it into the final cut. However, there is a specific emotive quality that I am trying to capture, it is that of discontentment, disenchantment, and what I call a “bewildered irony” primarily relating to a socio-geographical discourse. I cannot explain the context of these emotions without getting into my project, which I am not going to do, certainly not here (this thread) and not now, or yet… Regardless, much is situational but several, in my subjective view, do possess strong emotive qualities. With further respect to emotion as methodology, I spoke briefly on that topic in response to a previous POW. I believe that perhaps my comments were much too harsh after just reading them again now, but they did, however, take side with emotion being a driving force in meaningful" photography. I believe that if you click on my name, at the bottom of the photonet page, it just so happeneds that those comments are right there under “general comments”.
  24. This is a fascinating thread. Dcolluci's reference to Galen Rowell was interesting. "Galen Rowell's Vision" is another valuable reference.

    The January-March issue of photo-insider had a piece on National Geographic wildlife photographer Jim Brandenburg in which he asserted that "the greatest work is all about emotion. As technical as you want to be, it still comes down to an emotional thrust about your subject, whether you're shooting fashion or news or nature." He urged young photographers to limit their equipment and surround themselves with people they really respect. (This forum is a good starting point, it seems to me.)

    A masterful craftsman and artist himself, Brandenburg said he and his sucessful colleagues have one thing in common: "We are highly emotional and have deep passion for our subjects. You can't fake that. If you don't have it, don't even pretend to think that you could be a professional. Especially today, there is so much competition, you must have a driving passion."
  25. [​IMG]
    More activity on the left side
  26. me!
  27. FWIW: Just saw an article in the newspaper which reported physiological research on "choking" in sports (golf, free throws, etc.) The two sides of the brain were actually monitored during performance trials. Left brain is active when setting up the shot, and for those who choke more often, it continues to be active throughout the shot. For those who do not choke, once the shot is set up with the left brain, the right brain becomes more active and takes over to finish the shot. In other words, those who choke keep trying to think about how to get it done instead of letting go "with the flow." This is not speculation, but rather measures of brain activity during an activity. Seems clearly relevant to taking photographs, and re-emphasizes "knowing your equipment better than the back of your hand, so that the technology disappears and photography takes over. Clear implication for the Zen of Archery, if anyone has ever read that.
  28. There is nothing RIGHT on the left brain, and then there is nothing LEFT in the right brain. So big confusion.
  29. Albert,

    Your words: The basic premise is that there are two kinds of shooters… Left brained: extreme precision, following “ the rules” for things like composition (rule of thirds, leading lines, etc…) and Right brained: shooting from instinct, suspending thought and just “doing it” when things “look” right

    remind me of Erwin's recent writings about the difference between MP and M7. Seems like Erwin's opinion is that the MP is more suited to left-brained people, while the M7 is for those of the right-brained persuasion. Who knows, maybe there's a point to all this?
  30. Ray, let's be honest: Erwin knows nothing about photography or about how art is created.
  31. Not very charitable. Some of his photos are quite nice, actually.
  32. Allmost dinnertime(Nikon F2, 50/1.8Ai) [​IMG] I wish my left brainhalf tapped me on the fingers a bit sooner sometimes ;)
  33. Sorry for the offtopic, but could you tell me where the first picture was shoot?
    Looks nice there so maybe go there for holidays ;)
    Thank you
  34. ...but could you tell me where the first picture was shoot?
    The first picture in this thread was shot by me in Korea in 1987. I lived in Korea for three non-consecutive years from ealy 1980 through 1997, and the country looked nothing in 1997 like it did in 1980.
    FWIW, the photo was taken in the town of Suwan, which has a Korean folk village that tries to retain a traditional Korean motif. Now 20 years on since I took that photo, I am not sure you could see the same view today.

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