Recently I discovered a comic called the “Awkward Yeti”. It has a compilation of cartoons by Nick Seluk explaining the daily experience of Lars, the yeti. But the yeti is not the only character on the series. In fact all of the yeti’s body organs have their own personality and they interact with each other (Nothing creepy here. They are really cool cartoons). My two favorite organs are Heart and Brain. Brain is the one analyzing everything. He is practical, down to earth and even a bit cynical. Heart is optimistic, always dreaming. Although they are good friends, many times they disagree. I find this cartoon genius. There is so much truth in them! There are times that I totally relate with Brain and others that I am 100% like Heart. And as a photographer, I also have this duality. Is it better to leave the Brain in control of everything when we are taking photos? Or does Heart make a better job? Brain or Heart? Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages of being led by one or the other:
We live in a world full of information: books, arts, blogs… everything can be a source of knowledge. Travelling or talking with other people can also be great ways of broadening our arsenal of technical skills. Brain is filtering the interesting stuff and it keeps it for future use.
The word photography has Greek roots and literally means “drawing with light”. In our case, the brush is the camera. In order to use it properly we need to understand the technicalities of the craft: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance… the list is long, but achievable.
Nowadays cameras can be pretty sophisticated devices. They have a lot of buttons that control tones of settings. The manual of my Nikon D7000 has around 300 pages. And there are several types of cameras that work different: DSRL, mirrorless, compact, film… And this is just about the camera itself. Then we have a huge spectrum of accessories: lenses, flash, reflectors, filters…. In order to be able to use all this gear correctly we need to invest time and get to learn which one to use at any particular situation, how they work and how to use them. This is a mission 100% for Brain.
I am not referring here to problems of our daily life; I am talking about things that need to be solved in order to take a photo: choosing a location, choosing the frame, composition, camera settings, using or not extra gear such as filters or flashes… Brain is the one analyzing the situation and choosing the best option in each step.
Showing our emotions and expressing our feelings are ways of communication. Joy, happiness, love, anger, sadness…. they are all universal emotions that unite us as humans. For that reason, a photograph full of emotion is a strong thing. As Ansel Adams said:
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
Heart has no constraints because it is not in charge of analyzing and solving problems. So it allows itself to dream. And sometimes it can dream big. Dreams are a leading force and can keep your motivation awake and in shape.
There are important questions, the answers to which define your photographic vision. “Why do you do photography?” or “What do you want to express with your pictures?” You will find the answers to these questions by looking into your heart.
There is such a huge variety of gear that can help you to take better photos (technically speaking) that it is extremely easy to get carried away. You can spend tones of time looking for new gear, reading reviews and comparing prices. Don’t misunderstand me. Doing all these things is totally necessary sometimes. But when you find yourself obsessing over gear (which can cost you dearly in terms of both time and money) instead of taking pictures, you are in trouble.
Brain can get a bit greedy about knowledge. It is always interesting to learn new techniques or trends in photography. Learning is good, but if you are not careful, you can end up learning theories upon theories without practicing.
As I said before, mastering the whole process of taking photos will lead us to “better” photos. But what is a better photo? One that is better technically? Or one that manage to express something even if it has some technical issues?
You could have a vision, and you may know what you want to express, but if you disregard the importance of the technicalities of photography and your gear, you will be unable to use your tools (or use them inefficiently) in order to achieve your visions. And let’s face it. If you can’t make your vision real, it is as if your vision doesn’t exist at all.
Emotions are fundamental in order to express ourselves. But if you are a bit too emotional you can end up being unable to control them. Instead of being an instrument of communication they can easily be overwhelming and become a source of confusion.
If you don’t invest time reading, enjoying art, travelling or doing other activities to broaden your ways of seeing the world, you will have less inspirational resources. These are the things that will help you to develop your own ideas. If you don’t have a good basis, you will suffer more creativity blocks.
So what is better? Heart or Brain? I think that as photographers we should aim for a balance between both of them. We need to be able to understand the technicalities of the craft because these are our tools and we should keep learning (Brain). But we also need to listen to our hearts because this is what makes our photography a valuable tool to express our visions.
My personal experience was that along my first years as a photographer I have been too busy with the technique: how to use the camera, light, composition… I don’t mean that now I master them 100%. What I mean is that I reached a point of certain proficiency. I also understand that I will be always in a learning-state (feeding Brain). However, time has arrived for me to start working more on my photographic vision (Heart). Will I be able to balance Brain and Heart? I will work on it! What is your situation? Are you already a balanced photographer? Are you mostly Brain? Or are you mostly Heart? Feel free to share with me your thoughts and feelings about this subject.
Have a happy shooting!!