Tag Archives: emotions

Powerful feelings, collected in tranquillity

In his introduction to ‘Lyrical Ballads’ William Wordsworth famously commented that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.”  On seeing his words again this week, I was struck by their relevance to mindful photography.  Artists who work with words must surely need to find the mental space for those words to coalesce into meaningful phrases, sentences, characters and plots.  The tranquillity Wordsworth refers to allows the writer’s thoughts to take shape and become expression on the page.

As a photographer, we need that same mental space to explore our subject, to connect with its essence.  We need to be fully present in each moment we are out with our camera in order to recognise those special moments when we see them.  Daydreaming, we would walk by the wonders and miss the details.

From that quiet inner space we are receptive to receiving.  Maybe watching the world as we go for a slow and observant walk, perhaps sitting a while and watching the world as it goes by.  We open ourselves up to experience the true beauty around us and genuinely see what is there.  We may be led to wonder about what we are seeing, to consider cause and effect, ways and means, beginnings and ends.  Whatever our vision prompts within us, it is in that experience that the emotion is ‘collected’ in tranquillity.  The poetry is in the picture.  The difference is in the timescale.

Photo saturation?

It’s been suggested that continued exposure to anything inures us to the experience.  In other words, familiarity breeds contempt.  It might be that we don’t see the beauty of our daily walk to work because we do it every day.  It could be we ignore the pictures of famine and suffering elsewhere in the world because we see so many of them nowadays.

Our modern lifestyles are overflowing with imagery, be it photography or graphic design.  Have we become immune to it because we see so much?  Images abound in social media; Facebook seems to be the new repository for the holiday photo album, people post pictures of their meals, shoes, latest nail polish.  On Instagram I struggle to keep up with the pictures in my feed.  How do those who follow hundreds of accounts manage?  Loading a news article from certain newspapers on my phone takes forever (and sometimes fails) because of the sheer number of images it contains.  And what about the craze for the selfie, newly added to the dictionary and seemingly the word of the moment?

Are we suffering from image overload?  We see so many pictures on a daily basis but how many of them are memorable. If the camera records the moment in time, yet we consider this moment to be ‘disposable’ then why are we bothering?

So what makes an image special, makes it stand out?  For me it’s about the emotion it conveys.  A connection to the photographer and the scene.  Something that stops me in my tracks and makes me say “Ohhhh”.  What about you?

A colourful life

Do you remember watching the Wizard of Oz?  The film starts out in sepia-toned monochrome, emphasising the dreariness of life in Kansas, and once Dorothy is transported to Oz everything explodes in glorious technicolour.

Colour plays an important role in our lives.  We may associate particular colours with our memories of past events, and they evoke a response in us when we see them. Colour can be used as symbolism and we have many colour-based associations within our language and culture.  We even have a ‘Colour of the Year’!

Isaac Newton showed that colour is an illusion when he used a prism to split light into a rainbow of colours.  All colours as we see them are made up of light emitted at different parts of the visible spectrum.  The colour perceived by our eyes is based on the light reflected from an object, just as the image made by a camera represents the light received by the sensor.  If the surface of a red apple absorbs all the wavelengths other than red, the red light is reflected back and we see the apple as red.

We all see colour in different ways.  Women are more likely to see colours accurately than men, and there are many degrees of colour accuracy even amongst those who would not be considered colour blind.  Aside from this, our perception of colour is affected by the prevalent light falling on the subject.  The mind analyses the information it receives by comparing the colours in the scene and corrects for the variations in the light over the day, or indoors/outdoors, to give us consistency in what we see.  Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, called this ‘colour constancy’.

There has been a tremendous amount of research on how colour affects human beings and some suggests that men and women may respond to colours differently. Colour affects us emotionally, with different colours evoking different emotions.  Emotions are felt in the more primitive, limbic system of the brain, and we may have a strong emotional response based on memories associated with a particular colour.  Wearing particular colours can affect our mood or represent it.  Some days it feels right to wear that bright red sweater yet at other times we may be drawn to a quiet pastel colour shade.

Warm colours are attention-grabbing reds, yellows and oranges.  They may represent warning, energy, vibrance, heat and fire.  We also associate them with hostility, anger, power, warmth and comfort.  They are likely to dominate a photograph, even if they are a tiny part of it.

Violet, blue and green are cool colours.  They are more peaceful, soothing, calming.  They may be associated with sadness, indifference, freshness or clarity.  These characteristics influence how the viewer feels about our photographs, the overall effect may be quieter and more relaxing.

Does your mood affect the colours you are drawn to photograph?  There is much to learn about ourselves when we consider our relationship to colours and the shades we choose to make a part of our lives.

Textural world

When I think of the word texture, my immediate reaction is in relation to how things feel.  Soft, bristly, rough, silky, smooth, gnarled.  Our fingers are incredibly sensitive and the nerve endings in the fingertips can transmit a wealth of information to the brain based on what they are feeling.  We have a similar response when we take a bite of food; texture plays an important part in how pleasant it is to eat and we appreciate different foods for their particular textures.

Texture influences how we feel about something.  Compare the crunch of a stick of celery with the smoothness of ice cream or the crispness of a slice of toast.  We expect these sensations when we take our first bite and are surprised if our expectations are not fulfilled.  We would have a shock if our ice cream was crunchy like the celery!    These are all part of the preconceptions that influence how we react to experiences that our day presents us with, based on previous experiences that create expectations in our minds.  My dogs have very short fur and people are often surprised at how soft it is, as they assume it will be wiry.  They associate short fur with a rough feel rather than silkiness.

When it comes to photography, texture might refer to the physical texture of the subject of your image, or perhaps to a texture created by the interweaving of different elements within the scene.  The appearance of texture changes depending on our distance from the subject.  If we look out at a landscape, we might see the canopies of distant trees as a texture of colours and shades, rather than as individual leaves.  If we moved closer to those trees we would start to see the individual leaves and looking closer still, the texture of the surface or the pattern of veins in the leaf.  We see the textures within the textures as we move closer and closer.

As we explore texture with our cameras we can also explore the associations our minds make, the memories and reactions that different textures evoke for us.  Studying texture gives us an opportunity to learn about our inner thoughts and feelings, looking at what makes us who we are.