Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I share this indispensable tip in my book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY. It is also a topic on which I spend a lot of time in my workshops, classes, and during my 1-on-1 photo lessons. It is one of the most difficult aspects for many photographers to grasp. Why? Because a common reaction is, "I can only see what my eyes see. What else is there to see?" It requires a different type of "seeing;" the type that requires practice, practice, 
 and more practice. It's different than "photographic seeing."

In order to see with my imagination, I need a combination of technical know-how and creative aesthetics. My right brain (creative aesthetics) needs to shake hands with my left brain (technical know-how) and tell it, "I see something. I've got an idea, and this is what     

I need from you." However, before my right brain can tell my left brain what it needs, it needs to know what the left brain can offer. Yes, it takes practice. Two life factors have helped me with this level of photographic application: 1) My art background in college, 
and, 2) I am primarily right brain dominant.

Regardless of where you think you are in terms of right brain and left brain, you can teach yourself. I know because I have students who have struggled with it, but are now "getting it." I have seen the growth in their photography as they send me samples of their work. I have seen improvements in their compositions, exposures, and how they now "see"  things when getting a shot--their renderings.

So, this month I will provide some examples of what I mean by "see with your imagination." But, before I do, l will share a non-photography story. It is about discarding programmed ways of seeing, learning, experiencing. The story is from a book I read, titled Successful Intelligence. Two young boys are hiking. One boy, according to traditional test scores, grades, and teachers' assessments, is very smart. The other boy, not so--not the best of grade scores. As they're hiking, they see a big grizzly charging toward them. The "smart" boy makes a quick calculation and tells his friend that the bear should reach them in 17.3 seconds!  As he is saying this, he sees his friend taking off his hiking boots and putting on his jogging shoes. He yells at him, "Are you crazy? We can't outrun that bear?" His not-so-
smart friend replies, "That's true. But all I have to do is outrun you." A different way of seeing things.

Now, with this long introduction to a subject which I believe every photographer should take to heart, let's start with this first example.

This is a typical way of seeing things; a "Before" image, i.e., a generic, not so exciting scene. This is what my eyes saw.  

By Colorado standards, this was a rather mundane scene. I looked at it for several minutes.
In Right Brain Photography I talk about the method I use to go beyond seeing the obvious.

At first, I didn't see anything worthwhile. Then, my right brain kicked it. Hmm? 

From a distance, I could see some little white flowers. They were in the shallow water, close to the large boulder on the far left. At first, I saw them as just cute little white flowers. My right brain taunted me: Yes, just little white flowers, unless (AND THIS IS WHERE SEEING WITH YOUR IMAGINATION KICKS IN)......I can make them "move." Yes, that's it! I wanted to see what they would look like if I made them "move." My right brain shook hands with my left brain and said, "I've got an idea, and this is what I need....."   

So, what did I need? Four elements had to come together: 1) Tripod; 2) Telephoto lens to "reach out" to the small flowers; 3) A slow shutter speed to help me with the fourth element-- actually move my camera during exposure to create a sense of movement. I was getting ready to apply the etymology of the word p-h-o-t-o-g-r-a-p-h-y--"Painting with light."

I put my 70mm-300mm lens on the camera, set at 300mm. Set it for manual focus, and 
estimated that a 1/5 of a second would give me enough time to move my camera just enough. Shooting on Aperture Priority, I adjusted my f/stops until I saw the camera give me 1/5 shutter speed---it took f/36 to get there! (In my book I talk about the inverse relationship between f/stops and shutter speeds) I put the camera on my tripod, but loosened the head to allow me to move (swivel) my camera to get a fairly smooth movement.

I was ready. When I thought I had the right starting point composition, I slowly moved my camera laterally during a 1/5 of a second exposure. It took three tries to get what I wanted. On one try I moved too fast; on another I moved too slow. But then, v

The image below is pretty close to how it looked to the naked eye as I looked at the scene. My histogram would have loved it--no major light or dark areas to drive the histogram crazy; not much to worry about in terms of dynamic range. But boring. This is why my histogram is turned off. It doesn't meet my right brain purposes. 

What I "saw" was a more vibrant and dynamic scene, with colors "popping" against a dark background. So, here goes the right brain again shaking hands with the left brain.
The left brain is endlessly in search of the "correct exposure." After all, isn't that what the histogram is for---to warn us when we don't have it? The right brain, by contrast, is calmly looking for the "right exposure." I arrived at the right exposure by setting my exposure compensation dial to........are you ready for this? -2 2/3 underexposure! This is seeing with your imagination.

These same concepts and principles can be applied to any subject, not just nature. Let me set the scene for this next example. It was Christmas time. I heard about a place where they had different variations of the nativity scene from several countries. Among the many interesting displays, one in particular caught my imagination. It was a display of the 3 wise men and Mary carrying baby Jesus in her arms. Behind the display, on a wall panel, was a mural of Jesus carrying a cross on his lady day of life. The mural had nothing to do with the nativity scene displays. My imagination saw the odd coincidence, even surreal, of the birth of Christ and his last days on earth, at the same time; in the same image. This is what the scene looked like to my eyes, after I got my composition; my perspective.

Not satisfied with the way it looked, I decided to do some light painting. I shined my flashlight as if making quick paint brush strokes around the area of the head of Jesus. With a 3 second exposure, I knew I would have enough time to do that. I also made sure to highlight just the head area, to keep the rest of the mural in darkness. I titled it "Dawn to Dusk."

The following example is one of best I can share, in terms of the amount of "seeing" that went into it. Let's start by looking at what my eyes saw. My strong belief is that most photographers would keep walking past this scenario. It's a beautiful flower, but, my goodness, look at that distracting background; the flowers just blend into the background. Wouldn't you "pass" on this? 

When we see with our eyes, we risk the chance of losing out on a lot. This is but one example. "OK," you say, "What else is there to look at?" Look at what's not there. Look at what else you could do with this, other than what you see before you.

Let me walk you through my "seeing." There's a reason why I refer to it as "seeing with your imagination." The key is not just imagining, but sharpening your imagination. Here's what my imagination saw: Create a double exposure, against a black background. Like this.

Let's pull the curtain back and see what the wizard did. Like in the Wizard of Oz, this is not magic; it just looks like magic.
Step 1) Once I get my composition, I manually focus, with a wide f/stop (small number), take the entire grouping out of focus and underexpose by about 1 stop (the black backdrop tend to overexpose my shot). At this point, it's an estimate and I'm ready for a test shot. I set my camera on a 20-second delay. I go behind the flowers and place my large piece of black material behind them. 
I hear a click.
Step 2) I check my display to make sure it isn't too blurred nor too sharp. If 
I need to make an adjustment, I do and try it again. If I like it, I am ready for my double exposure.
Step 3) I now engage the multiple exposure feature on my camera and set it for 2 exposures. I already know my first shot is going to be good because that was my test shot. 
I depress my cable release, knowing that I have 20 seconds. I again stand behind the flowers and place my black material behind them. I hear a click. I double check my display again to make sure the shot looks like my test shot. It does. I have my first of two exposures.
Step 4) I now focus right on the entire grouping of flowers and change my f/stop to make sure I cover my subject. I underexpose my second shot, usually from -2/3 to -1. For this image, I underexposed by -1 & 2/3 because of the black background. This is art, not science. That's why I take test shots. Now I'm ready for my second shot, which will be in sharp focus.
Step 5) My camera is already set for a 20-second delay. I click with my cable release, then walk behind the flowers again and hold up the black material. I hear a click. I now check my display to see if I got what I wanted. In the example above, when I saw that image displayed on my screen, I stopped shooting. Got it!

Art is subjective. Photography is art. I say this to introduce my last examples. The first one is a straight shot, with which I was satisfied. The second one is a double exposure, using most of the same steps as the example above. I like both for different reasons. They both have those sought after autumn colors. The second one looks like a painting. Impressionistic.


Are you ready to start seeing with your imagination? Have fun with it. Loosen up. Don't think science; think art. Don't limit yourself by letting your eyes determine what you can see. 

A combination of reading and practice always helps. You can also e-mail me. I can help massage your imagination