see2think

thinking with pictures – metaphors that let you see the subject from new angles


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Why DO we take snapshots?

The ubiquity of cellphone cameras makes snapshooting almost frictionless. There is practically no expense once the original outlay for device and telecomm provider have been paid. The camera is almost always within reach. And picture-takers are mostly permitted photographs in a very wide range of settings. And yet, as commonly seen or taken-for-granted that casual digital photography is now today, it is still worth examining the reasons that may cause a person to reach for a phone, tablet, or camera to point and shoot a picture. By understanding the itch that a photographer is scratching, the larger meaning and methods for satisfying those motivations can be seen.

screenshot of 28 thumbnail images taken on holiday

These 28 photos come from a weekend holiday, showing a range of triggers leading to shutter release.

This grid of thumbnail images is more or less in chronological order, including photos from several locations visited. So the numbers added here are not organized into thematic set of pictures taken by reason of a common trigger. Nevertheless, for convenience, it is easiest to comment on reasons (in hindsight now) to frame a scene and capture it.

  1. Record for posterity; report to distant family and friends; respond to the low, warm wavelengths of evening light. Upon arriving at the weekend vacation site of annual visits for the past 50 years, taking a look at the lake’s condition and the shoreline appearance is routine or habit. Now in middle May the water level is maybe 12 or 14 inches higher than normal. So that fact seemed somehow important to record and later to share with others.

2. Respond to the quality of light (RQL). The sun was more than an hour from the horizon and shone into the living room, creating a wide range in light values and drawing my attention to its beauty, causing me to respond by “capturing” the moment as framed here.

3. RQL (ditto, above). From dark shadow to bright horizon, the dynamic range of this warm light caused me to pay attention and notice its beauty.

4. RQL (ditto, above). Looking to the west where the bright sun of late spring was reflecting off the vast lake beyond the beach, the golden light called out for a photo in recognition of the abundant luminosity and strong shadows.

5. RQL (ditto, above). Here looking south as the early evening light to the west lit up the marram grass, the occasion seemed out of the ordinary and warranted a photo, not so much for sharing or documenting, but rather as simple call (of the beauty) and response (from the photographer).

6. Recording the waterline; a data point. Looking north the high water of Lake Michigan can be seen as the single steel stake marks last year’s protective fencing to help hold the sand from eroding and migrating away from the dune. Before 2019 the waterline had been lower, leaving more space between steel stake and the waves of the waterline.

7. Wondering at the curious blue-gray of the surf-polished stone disk. The strong light showed this smooth surface to good advantage, inviting me to pick it up to admire and what is more, to take a photo to celebrate the small joy at finding this token of the glaciers long-ago and the lake of today.

8. Artistic tableau, found not made. The significance that called out to be noticed was the intersection of bird foot, dog foot, human foot all lit by the low angle of the evening sun near the horizon and reflecting off the sky overhead as well as the undulating lake that extended to the horizon.

9. Simple visual pleasure: glistening beach stones, moving surf on the sand, majestic view to the horizon.

10. Storyteller: neat pile of shovels recently put to use to dig a channel in the sand to allow the water in view from the small lake to reach the big lake that is out of view. The composition was meant to lend itself to illustrating the periodic work of opening the channel to regulate the small lake’s level.

11. Immersive view: by combing the adjacent view of shovels with this overlapping view of the big lake, the stitched panorama will give a wider viewing experience to tell the story of the channel digging task.

12. Reportage: absent family can see a familiar place of summer, but now with the conditions of springtime, before the trees are clothed in dense leaves.

13. RQL: the last of the sunset paints the sky dramatically.

14. RQL (ditto, above). At this moment the sun’s rays light up the marram grass in the foreground for a brief period.

15. Technical play: experimenting with exposure setting to give truer-to-life colors.

16. Memento: quick record to share with family and friends from a morning walk.

17. RQL (ditto, above). The setting sun reflects nicely in the imperfect surface of the window panes.

18. RQL (ditto, above). The last of the sun glazes some of the branches and leaves in this view.

19. RQL (ditto, above). After the sunset comes the blue hour (here) and then deep black.

20. Hobby-project. Online request list for Wikimedia Commons to gather local photos around the world with the contributions of volunteers: parks, public buildings, historical markers, former movie theaters, and so on. See this overview, https://www.dpreview.com/news/3428446674/wikishootme-shows-you-nearby-wikipedia-items-in-need-of-photographs

21. RQL: the play of dark and light, texture and distance to lens attracted my eye.

22. Memento: proof of having arrived at viewing platform pinnacle, record of the view from that elevation.

23. Error correction (confusing text of this marker): by capturing the unclear sentence structures and sending email to the hosting organization, it may be possible to produce better English there one day.

24. Guide to study later: identification posters of wildflowers; also, elsewhere, of wild birds along the hiking trail in various times of the yearly cycle of seasons.

25. Technical play: intending partial blur of rain drops.

26. Technical play: intending partial blur of blowing branches.

27. Writing prompt: occasional blog filled with social observations will reflect upon the use of this parking lot orientation board to inform hikers of the nearby trails.

28. Reporting: to share with absent family and friends.

Taking an overall view of this set of pictures from a weekend holiday, there are distinct motivators at work to produce the framing and shutter release. Naturally, each photographer’s mix of motivators will differ in this age of ubiquitous cameras and wireless telecommunication among a large part of people alive today, but perhaps there are some general categories that can be traced. (1) Social connections with absent family and friends can be reaffirmed by sending a snapshot of a person or experience to others. (2) Practical applications like recording a parking location, a product seen while window-shopping, the condition of a property to report or repair, or to contribute to a collaborative project for gathering a specific subject matter or happening. (3) Mementos to punctuate one’s experience or to give to others present at the time (different to [1], above, in which significant others only glimpse vicariously the matter). (4) Pure aesthetic pleasure to capture something at the point of discovering delightful about texture, color patterns, light quality, irony or incongruity, and so on. (5) Experimenting or extending one’s abilities in using the full capabilities and knowing the limitations of one’s gear.

Analytically compartmentalizing the motivators that lead to drawing a lens to one’s eye and then framing and recording a moment might seem a silly exercise. But yet it does shine a light on many of the things that spur actions and reactions. Perhaps full-time professionals and some enthusiasts will stop to reflect on reasons why they do or do not respond to certain conditions and subjects. But for the majority of people who freely take photos, there probably is not a lot of meaning derived from asking why to take or to refrain from taking a photo. Instead it comes as pure impulse to ratify a moment as photo-worthy, something of significance, beauty, rarity, strangeness, or otherwise valuable to remember and/or show to others.

At the end of the exercise it is fair to ask about the use of reflecting upon photo habits. One reason is to see patterns in one’s own motivators. Another reason is the complementary pattern – to discover patterns for the things that do NOT stir the impulse to compose and then release the shutter. By knowing one’s own motivators, it may be possible to refine one’s own habits, eye for recognizing significant subjects and compositions, and to look at others’ work with added care in the knowledge of one’s own photograph-receptors; those things that make one respond by pointing a lens and recording a picture.

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Source window light versus same light outdoors

2 photos of same light - one via the window, the other outside

Looking north the morning light in the east window gives precious glow; the same look outdoors, though, glows not

Painters knew it long ago: keeping the subject near the light from a (north-facing*) window is the sweetest, most flattering kind of illumination. By why should this be so? One reason is the fact that the sun travels from a point low on the south horizon in winter solstice until the summer solstice, where it reaches high above the south horizon, but always shines onto the northern sky. So a north-facing window has little or no sun directly admitted. Instead the light from the north window comes reflected from the blue dome of sky. It is indirect, diffused, and cooler in color wavelength when contrasted to the window light from the non-north windows.

But there is another reason for the magical quality of window-sourced light. Looking at the two pictures, above, the sunlight and the lens direction is very similar, taken within 5 minutes of each other. And yet the light falling on the shower curtain is so delicate and finely graduated as it grows weaker in proportion to the distance from the window source. But the outdoor photo is filled with an equally spread field of light that seems much less remarkable. In other words, when the sunlight is transformed through the window panes to act like a point source of light, then the directionality and strength is smoothly translated onto the subject. But when flooded with the same sun’s light outdoors, directionality is multi-sided and the strength of the light does not vary, thus producing less pronounced presence or awareness of defined light of a finite and particular quality.

Perhaps something similar is at play in the world of ideas, reflection, and deduction. Here, too, perhaps the sweetest light is one that is funneled through a frame to act like a single source, instead of an all-surrounding sameness. In this way the degrees of brightness can be sensed with deliberate purpose and meaning, rather than to face a uniform brightness over all surfaces, no matter the distance from that source of light. For example, an idea that is illuminated with the same light as all other subjects will not stand out with clear definition. And by shining a point-source of light on the idea, each facet stands out from the others more clearly. In other words, in the same way that window borne sunlight is often superior to the same light from the sun encountered outdoors in the open air, so too of thoughts and ideas that can be shown in best light by giving them the equivalent to window-lighting, something that is directional and with distance away from the light that corresponds with weaker light, thus adding to the perception of surface, depth, and dimensionality.

Even without drawing a figurative parallel between seeing and thinking, though, the beauty of the window-sourced light can be enjoyed in strictly visual terms alone. It benefits not only artists, but also lookers who see only with their eyes, unaided by lens or drawing instruments.

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*Privileging the north-facing windows presumes the northern hemisphere. Standing in the opposite hemisphere the privileged light would be reversed: southern hemisphere and south-facing windows.


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Layered decisions – for lens; for life

Thanks to the convenience of point and shoot, a person can leave the decisions about exposure and time to the camera and think only about the moment of shutter release for the subject that fills the center of the frame Matters of standpoint, angle of view in the lens (sometimes fixed, not adjustable), and carefully framing the composition can be overlooked in the rush to bring camera into operation and release the shutter. When there is less haste in the moment or if the person is more deliberate in making the photo resemble the image they hold in their mind’s eye, then perhaps everything slows down and there is time to explore the best position to stand, the most important element to fix the focus onto, and even to exert care in framing some parts in or excluding them from the final composition. And if lighting is complicated or defeats the automatic settings for exposure, then that person might exercise some manual control to add or subtract the exposure value (e/v, +/-). But whether it comes from thought and decision deliberated upon, or is left to chance and the automatic settings of the camera, each of these components affects the finished photograph.

Depending on the subject and locational factors, these decisions may shift in importance or sequence, but generally speaking it is safe to say that the following decisions go into the making of a photo; although the technology for “point and shoot” often makes the decisions automatically for the person holding the camera. In the case of a pleasing landscape that motivates a person to reach for a camera, the most basic decision that contributes to the eventual composition is standpoint or point of view. Sometimes the finest picture comes from adjusting the location of the camera an inch closer or further away, a little to the left, right, more elevation or less. In stopping at a particular point the various parts of the scene are set in relationship to each other with lines that touch, intersect, or remain apart. Shadows and reflective surfaces in their colors and textures are locked into the composition. Then there is the lens – wide, normal, or telephoto – to affect the angle of view and the relative sizes and perceptual depth between foreground, middle, and background. This contributes to the third layer of decision, the frame for the composition; what is inside the boundaries and what is excluded from view. Next comes the decision about field of focus, including the point of sharpest focus along with the adjacent space that falls into the particular depth of field created by a given aperture setting. Control of the exposure also affect the final composition and this decision can lead to photo that averages the brightest and darkest elements to arrive at a setting that captures a little of both, while possibly losing the extremes of brightest and darkest. Then comes the question of time (how fast or slow a shutter speed to decide upon) and timing (determining exactly when to make the picture.

How do the layered decisions of a composed photograph correspond to the landscape of a life well lived? If the basis for all the other decisions comes from a standpoint or location, that seems to be equally true of a photograph that is composed or a life that is carried out. Where you are affects what is within the range of eyesight and therefore the subjects you can or must respond to. Your “lens” on life or worldview also shapes the kinds of subjects that are appealing or the opposite, ones that hold little interest or ability to encompass (e.g being too wide or narrow for one’s field of view). Micro-adjustments of one’s view also can include or exclude certain elements at the edge of the frame, too.

As for one’s main focus, that is a direct analog for camera or life. And the depth-of-field created by exposure decision about choosing a preferred combination of aperture and shutter speed (and ISO) might have an analog between camera and life, too. After all, the greater one’s knowledge and experience of life (perhaps also tolerance, respect, curiosity, or degree of open/closed-mindedness) then perhaps also the greater one’s “depth” of focus; the greater one is able to hold bigger and bigger spaces in focus at the same time. Stated in the reverse way, lack of knowledge and life experience may correspond with narrower field of focus (depth of field), like the photos with a wafer-thin plane of focus and all else “bokeh” blurred.

What about timing of shutter release for a photographic capture? Perhaps this is similar to life’s experience in that certain shutter speeds create a “frozen moment” while others create an awareness of motion and the passage of time. In other words, some people view their life as a series of sharply focused and unchanging moments, while others have a blurrier understanding of time’s passing and the processes they find themselves to be a part of. Taking all of these dimensions of a composition together helps to understand the many sides of a finished photograph. Likewise of a life that can be lived – sometimes a person relies on automatic settings or indecision to determine the course one takes, but other times the person carefully considers decisions that contribute to the overall view that makes up one’s life, whether these decisions lie unilaterally in one’s own hands and imagination, or instead come about in response to circumstances.


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A-ha moments in photo-walks, the thrill of serendipity

red maple leaves newly sprung

New red maple leaves at base of tree trunk [click to view in full]

The Persian story of Princess Serendeep is filled with Forrest Gump moments where surprising events occur, propelling the story forward. Serendipitous flashes of insight, realization, epiphany, or visual delight in the play of shadows, texture, line, and color seem to be a central source of satisfaction for Street Photography and ordinary photowalks in search of subjects to compose and capture, whether the arena is wide-open landscape, building interiors, the macro world, or unfolding live events on stage or in streams of consciousness during the course of ordinary life.

At late morning today the glossy luster of newly sprung maple leaves presented themselves during my walk. So I went back soon afterwards with a camera to capture this picture to serve as a writing prompt for the small thrill of discovery felt when being surprised at a great beauty spotted unexpectedly. A similar excitement can come in the world of ideas and learning a skill or a body of knowledge. Every so often seemingly unrelated pieces intersect and the resulting recognition of something significant fills one’s heart for a moment. Perhaps the thrill of the hunt for new understanding, unexpected beauty, or elegant solutions to a problem is one of the drivers that makes a person press on, looking for the next meaningful thing.

Two quotes come to mind with regard to seeking or mindfully noticing the things one is surrounded with. There is a saying among photographers to the effect that “amateurs talk about gear; professionals money; and artists light.” In other words the preoccupations that fill the person’s mind in each of these capacities can differ widely. The other quote appears in Kenneth Tunnell’s 2019 book, Seeing the Unseen, in which he quotes Ulrich,

screenshot of p.2 Seeing the Unseen

from page 2, Seeing the Unseen (click for full-size image file)

“…Taking delight in… embracing questions and discovery… fundamental qualities shared by both the artist and seeker” nicely describes those serendipitous moments when one stops to pay attention and says “ah – there now is a photo.”

So the same spark of excitement seems to reward the person who looks with care, with or without lens, and the person who thinks with care, with or without recording medium. Truly, seeing and thinking seem to run in parallel and sometimes are integral to one another.


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Goldilocks effect – neither surfaces, nor depths

The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears shows the protagonist sampling the chairs, porridge, and finally the beds of the Mama, Papa, and Baby bear. In each case, she finally finds the one that best suits her own situation; the one that is “just right.” Something similar can be said for how deeply one knows a place or a subject matter. At first the impressions are confined to the surface – shapes, textures, line, and colors.

a newcomer notices surfaces, shapes, and other artful abstract aspects of a subject

By contrast, a local resident or someone who knows many details of a place or a subject has a different vision of the scene, based on many layers of experience, memories, and the familiarity that comprises a long-lasting relationship there. This next photo illustrates the same view, but now lit by bright morning sun instead of the backlighting of dusk that strips the details away in the silhouetted picture, above.

an old-timer notices small changes rather than surface impressions of a subject

The Goldilocks Effect seems to apply to this spectrum of one’s experience and relationship of a place or a subject. Viewed in terms of surfaces and abstract, isolated parts of a living thing, a newcomer is most aware of static impressions rather than processual, dynamic significance of what is visible. At the opposite extreme, there is the perception of the longtime resident who is not particularly impressed by the surfaces that soon are taken for granted. Instead the local resident may be looking for risks or opportunities in the day to day small changes that come with the seasons or in the developments taking place in the familiar arena that the resident sees. In between these extremes –of surface and of depth– there is a middle (Goldilocks) position: a person who is aware of local resident’s interests, responsibilities, worries, and dreams can still see some of the abstract elements of beauty, too: the line, color, texture, and other compositional elements.

Looking side-by-side in the following collage at the contrasting views of the earlier photos hints at this Goldilocks perspective –neither looking abstractly at beautiful elements in abstraction, nor looking specifically at myriad daily details that comprise the place. Perhaps this middle standpoint offers the best of both worlds – familiarity, but not to the point of taking for granted the things expressing beauty and aesthetic pleasure AND abstract distance that is ignorant of the flood of detail so that the person can focus on the contours, lines, and juxtapositions that contribute to beauty.

the same spot, focused on detail (left) and outlines (right); early March 2019 [author]


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Limits on your best shot – will you hit a wall?

late afternoon box elder tree, December 19

Many subjects and moments cry out to be composed and captured in a fraction of a second to share, to document, for future reference, to commemorate, or for purely aesthetic delight. All along the learning curve, from first-timers with point-and-shoot device to grizzled old veterans of many cameras and compositions, people make an effort to consider their standpoint and the moment of shutter release. Sometimes the photographer is lucky and creates an image that is more than was expected, a happy coincidence of light, intersection of multiple moving subjects, and an exposure setting that faithfully represents the scene. Other times the conditions are very complicated and so only a photographer with deep and wide experience can translate onto the film or camera sensor what appears before the eyes or in the imagination. A person without sufficient technical mastery and experience of the translating process from live scene to captured composition is not able to make a picture in such cases.

Thinking of the very best possible result for a photograph –not its timeliness, dramatic emotional response, or the price that the marketplace will bear — what is the most that potentially can be photographed of a portrait or a landscape, for instance? The resulting image is a combination of a couple of factors: the person’s eye or imagination; that is, the recognition of a potential subject and composition to make. There is the artistic flair to arrange foreground, middle, and background effectively and to make a decision about angle of view (lens size) and depth of field (focus area), as well as timing of shutter release. Finally, there is the technical mastery of the camera and the post-processing and factors in final presentation (for settings in print versus on-screen, or fit into a sequence used for multi-media or visual essay).

For the sake of this thought experiment, suppose the photographer is blessed with the maximum powers capable in 2018 technology (gear and software), as well as artistic sense, and awareness to respond to subject matter potentially usable in composition: how well-made a photo can be expected from this extreme degree of masterfulness? Is the gold standard to compare the photo to the original scene; in other words, is verisimilitude the best that can be aspired to – a close match to the original subject in its setting? Or can the skill of a photographer go beyond the physical facts of the moment of shutter release and communicate to the viewer something above and beyond what is present in its raw, unmediated form?

Of course, when the photographer’s goal is unmoored from sensory reality and non-fiction subjects, then a person can be limited only by imagination when introducing post-processing artifacts and miracles of Photoshop inventions. Clearly the result is more than the sum of the raw materials in that case. But when something free of post-processing enhancement and amplification or suppression of original subject matter is the purpose, then again the question remains: will the very best version merely attain an immersive, true to life effect; or will it go beyond what is present on the surface and reveal (or suggest) something more; something that a less careful or less reflective observer perhaps would not notice without the photographer’s expertise in foregrounding something by light, depth of field, or choice of lens focal length, for example?

Thinking of images that make a deep or lasting impression, it is fair to say that the very best photographs (and by extension, also photographers) do produce value-added meaning to the scenes they compose and communicate to others. So there does seem to be an answer to the question about limitations being imitation of the original place and time. A skilled eye and hand makes something better than the raw material begun with: emphasizing certain things while downplaying or minimizing other things that diminish the artistic statement or question being expressed.

By analogy the same thing seems to occur when the ensemble effect of many musicians can produce something greater than the sum of the single instruments. In the case of harmony that is perfectly expressed there can be a ghost-like “overtone” added to the harmonic structure, a note that can be heard that none of the players or singers is making. And in the realm of cooking, too, there are examples of combinations of ingredients that express something that the component elements alone cannot do. A third analogy is the cultural or natural landscape: experts can “read” things in the frame that may be invisible at first to inexperienced people. So, too, of photographers – by striving to reach one’s peak mastery, it is possible to make pictures that exceed the original subject at the point of shutter release.


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Metaphorically – see then frame; then focus; then capture… an idea

stick figure to illustrate photographer with camera

composing a picture with camera; without camera

The habit of setting off each day with some form of camera close to hand is the kind of exercise that builds a habit of seeing. Eventually, once this habit is well-formed, the physical camera becomes less important and the exercise can proceed even without “writing with light.” Although one’s mental lens does not produce something to share directly with others in print or electronic form, sometimes a person can “paint pictures with words” that approximate the visual experience that first drew the person’s eye.

What happens in the mind of someone who is well-practiced in the habit of making pictures; and by extension, a person who is adept at speaking metaphorically? Is there a similar sequence of steps that takes place in one’s mind when capturing an idea, expressing an impression, or exploring one’s imagination? Looking at the camera in hand, the first thing that happens is the spark of recognition: a-ha, here is a scene or subject that attracts my attention. For a point-and-shoot photographer, there is little more to do than releasing the shutter, although some might know from experience that greater rewards can result from delaying the release and first considering the alternatives – moving closer or moving to a different standpoint, choosing the best moment of release, or time of day that supplies the most effective lighting conditions. And there is the delicate art of precisely framing the scene to include some things and exclude others; and to foreground certain parts while placing other parts in middle or background.

With cameras other than a point-and-shoot model, there are more decisions to make before capturing a subject on film or electronic sensor. But a similar sequence in involved. First the person must become aware of a potential subject and the context available to frame it. With the scene composed, then the question of focus comes into consideration. Determining the main subject is the starting point for focus, but if there is plenty of light, then the lens aperture can be closed small enough to produce very great Depth of Field so that the zone of focus extends far past the central subject point of focus, and also far in front of the subject; perhaps the entire scene will be recorded fully in focus in that case (cf. “focus stacking“). At other time the opposite effect may advance the photographer’s intended expression of the subject: very shallow zone of focus with all other elements blurred (bokeh). As for moving subjects, the photographer may deliberately freeze, or blur slightly or greatly, that motion by selecting a correspondingly fast or slow shutter speed.

Besides framing, focus, and freezing or blurring of moving elements, the matter of exposure lies within the control of the photographer. The human eye has been estimated capable of absorbing a greater range of light values than current electronic sensors, or indeed film stock. Some reports say the best digital cameras can accommodate 10-12 f-stops from darkest shadow detail to brightest highlight detail before all else is rendered indistinguishable black or white. Healthy human eyes, in comparison, can handle 14 f-stops of dynamic range in light values. Therefore, along with the framing, focus depth, freezing or blurring of moving subjects, the photographer can decide to give priority to the brightest part of the scene or the deepest shadows of the scene, but not to both, unless merging several shots of different exposures (see HDR).

Of course, an evenly lit scene that is uniformly bright or dark or somewhere in-between will not have to sacrifice part of the dynamic range, since all of it fits well within the sensor’s limitations. But for situations with a very great range in light values, then the photographer’s decision can average things out, losing a bit of the dark extreme and of the bright extreme; or the person can prioritize the brightest elements (while sacrificing some of the dark parts); or the reverse, the person can prioritize the darkest elements (while sacrificing some of the bright parts).

Now for the figurative¬† jump from cameras to the compositions of the mind: there seems to be a similar three-step process. Walking along, once an idea enters a person’s mind, then the first step is to frame it (mentally in one’s mind’s eye) by drawing boundaries to include some things and exclude other things, foregrounding some things while leaving other things in the middle or background. The second step is to choose the main subject to focus upon, also determining whether to produce shallow, medium, or deep focus by controlling the Depth of Field. And the last step is to consider the exposure level of light and moment of shutter release. For someone who is in the habit of mentally composing a picture, these decisions come one after another with little effort, almost automatically. The result of practicing cameraless composition with one’s eye is to produce better photography when an actual camera is to hand.

The key is to resist the quick-trigger impulse to spot something attractive, then point-and-shoot before quickly putting away the camera and moving on to the next visual feast. Instead, there is great worth is separating the sequence of events between spotting an opportunity and then finally capturing the subject. Each of the three stages that leads to finally committing to a frozen moment of time captured on sensor or film will increasingly narrow down the field of possible decisions until at the end the solution to the compositional problem is solved and the shutter can at last be released.

A promising subject to look at arises, then the first narrowing down comes from framing it with big or small boundaries and a standpoint that puts certain elements into foreground or background to the main subject. The next narrowing down comes from decisions on how much should be focused, and where that plane of focus should be centered. The final narrowing down comes at the point of exposure: which part of the illumination shall be captured well and which part, possibly, to sacrifice (exposed too bright or too dark in relation to the main subject), in addition to deciding on the Decisive Moment as Cartier-Bresson called the optimum moment of releasing the shutter for the composed scene. These same increasingly refined stages occur not only in the lens of camera or mind’s eye, but also more generally in the manner of encountering a new idea, then framing, then selectively focusing, and finally committing to a final grasp of the thing.

As one’s habits become more firmly established and one’s mind also becomes more supple and nimble, then compositions that are “written with light” or understandings that are captured in one’s mind can be ever more beautiful, subtle, and sophisticated as a result.