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Are you Taking Photos Using your Brain or Your Heart?

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Sara Rodriguez Martinez
  By Sara Rodriguez Martinez
Are you Taking Photos Using your Brain or Your Heart? www.sleeklens.com

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:

Advantages of working with your Brain

Brain stores a lot of information

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.

I love visiting museums. When I was living in France, I was going a lot to the Louvre (mostly the first Sundays of the month between October and March because the entry is free). I spent hours just looking at any kind of art. I think I learnt a lot about composition at that time.

Brain allows us to understand the technicalities of photography

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.

Brain helps us to understand how to use our gear

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.

Brain allows us to solve problems

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.

Advantages of working with the Heart

Heart is good in emotions

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 is a dreamer

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.

Dreams can be the force that fuels your motivation

Heart is leading your photographic vision

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.

Part of my photographic vision is to express my appreciation for life and highlight the importance of being mindful. Almond flowers are beautiful and ephemeral. If you don’t pay attention to their blossom you can totally miss them. And just as we can miss the blossom of the almond flower, if we are not mindful, we might miss other things in life.

What happen when you use too much Brain?

You can get obsessed with gear

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.

You can end up spending too much money on gear if you don’t set limits.

Too much reading too little practice

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.

You can end up taking technically correct photos with an empty soul

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?

This was one of the first pictures in which I realized I had an intention. I wanted to show that even in the middle of a totally man-made scenario; life is still able to bloom. It is far from being technically perfect. The ISO was set too high, the composition was not the best, the edition can be better too. But I still like it because it speaks to me.

What happens when you use too much Heart?

You might end up unable to take the photo that  you have in your mind because you don’t know how

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.

I wanted to express movement. For that reason I decided to do panning. I was able to do it because I spent some time learning this technique and practicing it. At the moment I needed it in order to express myself; I was able to do it.

You can get into an emotional roller coaster

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.

You might lack the resources that will lead you to develop your own ideas

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.

Get in contact with other cultures or religions broaden your perspectives about life. All the experiences you have in life can have an influence on your photography.

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!!

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Sara Rodriguez Martinez
I am a biologist and a self-taught photographer based in Barcelona (Catalonia). Buddhist philosophy has a strong influence on me: I have a deep appreciation to life and I give a huge value to the little things that makes our days happier. I became a passionate about photography when I got my first camera and I understood that photography allows me to express my way of approaching life. I love learning so I am always willing to trying new things. These days I am shooting mostly nature and portraits.

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