Sea Blue Lens

Finding the Words


“Ever had a strong reaction to a photograph?” That’s the question Kat asks in the final lesson in our Find Your Eye: Journey of Fascination class. Well, that’s an easy one: of course I have! But the followup question is not so easy: can I explain why I had that reaction?

I don’t like this lesson very much. I’d much rather just look at a photograph and feel whether I like it or not. But Kat believes that if we learn to explain why we do or do not like a photograph, it will help us to improve our own photography.

And although trying to find concrete reasons for gut reactions is not my strong suit, I knew as soon as I read the lesson that she was right. I think this is going to be one of the most valuable skills I can have in my arsenal, and one whose usefulness is not limited to photography. Now all I have to do is figure it out.

The first part of the assignment was to find several photos we liked (not our own) and describe them: horizontal or vertical format, type of lens, point of view, depth of field, type and direction of light, lines and shapes, warm vs. cool colors, etc. Then we were to choose two of our own photographs — one we like and one we don’t — and analyze them in the same way.

Kat suggested that comparing images from the same photo shoot might be helpful, so that’s what I did. Here is my first photo:


Post I

When I first saw this old fence post with its loop of barbed wire, I saw it as a vertical subject which would therefore fit well into a vertical format. I took several shots of it that way, but it doesn’t really do much for me. I think it’s kind of ho-hum, and it doesn’t capture the feeling I had when I saw it.

Then I turned the camera horizontally to see what I could see:

Post II

Post II

Immediately I liked that much better.  I like the contrast of the horizontal frame with the vertical post, and also that more of the clouds on the left and the mountain on the right were included. It feels better balanced that way to me. I like the rhythm of the curved stick and curved wire leading to the circle of wire on the post that then trails off diagonally toward the lower right of the frame. Streaks of light in the cloudy sky echo the curved diagonal line of the grass and mountain horizon. I also see an implied triangular shape from the lower left corner to the top of the post and down the wire to the lower right corner.

This kind of analysis does not come naturally to me. I’m an Intuitive-Feeling type in the Myers-Briggs personality type system, not a Thinking-Judging type. (This exercise reminds me of the analyses we had to do in high school literature class. I just wanted to get lost in the story, not pick it apart for symbolism. ) So all that in the paragraph above? I don’t really know if that makes the horizontal version a better image or not. I just know it feels better to me.

Clearly I need to keep working on this one until I can integrate it into my photography tool kit.

14 thoughts on “Finding the Words

  1. I think that you’ve already integrated it into you photography, knowing how to make it work even if you can’t quite articulate why. I love the 2nd image.

  2. This must be why I am resisting this lesson. I don’t want to analyze either, I either like it or I don’t simple enough. I do love the difference between your two pictures. Generally, I like horizontal photos better, it tells more of the story I think.

  3. “I just know it feels better to me.”

    Well said! I really know what you are saying here. This was a great lesson, and I agree it was hard to do, but what an eye opener it is. Your examples are so perfect for this in my opinion. The second one tells me more about that old wire and where it goes.

  4. These two images are such great examples for this lesson — the second one definitely has more to communicate and is more visually pleasing to me. You may be the intuitive type (me too), but you have developed fine analytic skills too. Well done, Lee!

  5. I like both images, but agree that second has more of a story. I really like the extra lines of the wire and horizon in the second. It just pleases the eye more. I’m with Leanne, I think you already know what works for you and what pleases you in your photography. You knew immediately the first image wasn’t the one you were trying to get. This lesson meant a lot to me because it gave me a chance to review the basics of photography. I needed that.

  6. You’re absolutely right about the difference in those two photos. Nice work!

  7. I’m an ‘intuitive feeler’, too, in the Myers Briggs. I know exactly what you mean when you say ‘I just know if feels better’! Your analysis of the two photographs, though, is wonderful. I think you’ve said it all so well!!

  8. I really enjoyed reading your analysis of the two photographs.
    This definitely would not be a lesson I would enjoy. 😦
    LOVE this photograph. The horizontal orientation is my favorite.
    Happy day to you!

  9. I agree (as if it matters) that the 2nd shot is perferred. Wondering if there was more sky in the first shot if it might appeal a little more. I love the curly barbed wire and the low POV. Good job keeping on the task when it’s not your cuppa cuppa. I don’t think by doing this, with your strong draw toward the intuitive, that it will get you too much in your head. I think your intuition might tell you and this tool just go “oh yes. I am so right!” who doesn’t want to be right I say?
    Happy day my friend.

  10. In my work life, I was a top-notch analyzer so I find it weird that in my creative life, I struggle so much with exercises like these. Putting in the thought and consideration, as you have done here. Great analysis – I think you felt your way to the answer. I would have had the same reaction to this shot – shooting vertical to enhance the lines of the post. But I agree – the second image pulls in so many other elements – the clouds, the mountains, the curving rhythms. So I guess that just proves the truth of asking yourself the initial question – by improving our abilities to understand why a photo works, we can thereby improve our images. Seems so obvious.

  11. Love the comments on the photo. I had a more visceral reaction to the second one, too. I think part of the reason, on top of all the other good comments, is that the loop of wire to the left suggests a narrative, somehow. A continuation of the story. It takes my imagination out of the frame to consider where the wire may have come from.

  12. Love the second image too but like you it’s completely intuitive and I’d have a hard time articulating it. I loved reading your analysis and can see how useful a tool it is – something I need to work on too, I think.

  13. I believe in exactly the same ideas as Kat Sloma, that by expressing in words what it is that you like or don’t like about a picture, will help you understand picture language and thus help you become a better and more conscious photographer – even when formulating in words doesn’t come naturally as you say about yourself. This post proves the point, where you analysis of your own pictures and process is shows a great understanding and photographic development. The last picture is definitely stronger than the first one.

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