Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

How Long, Why, And Would I?

Remember the experiment that was done to calculate how long the casual observer spends looking at a photograph? I can't recall which photographer did it....but please chime in by writing a comment if you happen to remember who it was. At any rate, he took his students to a photography gallery where they stood outside and surreptitiously timed how long each person who entered the gallery spent inside before leaving. That time was then divided by the number of images on display in order to determine how long each person spent looking at an individual photograph. Clearly, there was apt to be some error as theoretically the patron might not have attempted to view each and every image on display. Nonetheless, the results were quite revealing........viewers spent mere seconds on each image. This is certainly significantly less than the 30 minutes that Minor White suggested one should spend viewing in order to truly appreciate just a single image!

It really is rather amazing that someone would go to a gallery exhibit and spend only moments to try to take in and appreciate a photo. But then again, what else might one expect in the Bumper Sticker Depth society in which we live (phrase coined by Brooks Jensen in a recent podcast to which the title is linked)?

Now, I am not claiming that I spend 30 minutes with each image. Far from it. On the other hand, I certainly hope that I spend more than a few moments with each photograph in an exhibit. However, when I do find an image that moves me in some way or, for that matter, an image that I don't understand (independent of whether I actually like the image or not) I do often spend ten or fifteen minutes with it to try to appreciate all it's nuances. There are always a multitude of aspects of an image that simply can't be absorbed by osmosis with just a few seconds of viewing; it can take time and effort to tease them out. Time to appreciate subtle aspects of the tonality, time to appreciate details in the image that were initially unnoticed, and time to just 'wrap yourself around' an image to try and understand it, revel in it, and just take it all in.

There is also another aspect of viewing an image that I find myself doing, usually after I have spent the time to try and appreciate it, and particularly if I have found the image to be one that moves me in some way. I find myself trying to go beyond the appreciation stage in order to learn from the photograph; to use the experience of spending time with the image to help me to try and become a better photographer. This aspect of viewing usually starts with the 'Why ?' questions and ends with the 'Would I ?' questions.

Examples of 'Why?'

Why did the photographer frame the image the way they did?
Why include/exclude a specific object/person?
Why focus on a particular component of the image and not another?
Why choose to blur a particular component of the image and not another?
Why expose/print the image with certain tonalities?

And what I find to generally be the most important 'why' question:

Why did the photographer make this image; what was he/she trying to convey?

I find this an important question to ask of images that 'speak to me' and perhaps an even more important question to ask myself for images that I just 'don't get'.

Would I?

These questions take the 'why' one step further. Simply substitute the 'why' with 'would I have'.

Would I have framed the image the same way had I taken the photograph?
Would I have included/excluded a specific object/person had I taken the photograph?
Would I have focused on that particular component of the image?
Would I have used a similar depth of field?
Would I have exposed/printed the image with the same tonalities?

You can be totally honest when you one else is listening in :>)

Would the way I would have taken the shot made it better or worse, helped or hindered the ability of the image to convey a feeling ? Either way, what can I learn from what I would have done as compared to the way the photographer did it.

No question about it. There is a lot to be said for and a lot to be had from spending time with an image that 'speaks to you'.