Wheeler Imaging

Photography and Digital Imaging


San Rafael, California
415-457-6914
© Richard Wheeler

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A Few Notes on Sense Perception in Photography

The craft of Photography encompasses mastery of 3 things:

  • Skill in lighting design - how to shape it, mold it and let it flow where you want it to be
  • An eye for composition - how to frame a shot for its greatest impact
  • Manipulating tone and color - selecting for the emotional weight of colors and contrast

Creating great images takes all that plus:

  • An ability to translate sense impressions – touch and sound and smell – into a visual form. 
  • A feel for sensual power and how to show it. 
  •  Ability to make a clear and  focused statement in the image through emotional connections,  not merely intellectual ones.  Information is one thing, sense impression, or depth of feeling, is another entirely.

An image must serve a narrative, a story, a message, but its power derives from how we perceive it emotionally. Sensual perception is the key. Whether following a documentary or dramatic narrative arc int is the power of our senses to perceive that carries the message to the deepest part of out brain.   Attend to the senses to hook the audience. That, of course, is what underlies the immense power of advertising.  

Viewing a photograph is purely sensual in that the only way we can absorb it is through the visual sense. Color and tone are the palettes of the visual artist. Manipulating them to create an emotional bond in the viewer is what an artist does. Often a photograph will have a caption to provide the viewer with some help to find the message the photographer wants to convey.  But at heart it is color and tone that are most dominate. 

Often the caption is indispensable, as in many news photographs,  as photogtraphs by themselves are are rarely literal. A still photo, standing alone, has no meaning. No narrative, no story, no timeline. It is only an abstraction of the real, an imitation of the real, beyond the boundaries of narrative structure.    Even the most documentary of photographs is an abstraction of reality. Still photographs, like motion pictures, are experienced in only two dimensions. The third dimension, if it is revealed at all, must be an illusion. 

Often the inspiration to take a certain picture comes out of the blue. The logical reason for its creation, if there is one, one must search for later, after the photograph is fully processed and exhibited  Put it on display, feel its power -  if it has one. It is a severe test, but a true one. The photograph must stand up to your own scrutiny before it can be let outside. Then it comes to you, the reason why you took it, the meaning implied in the picture. And when that clarity comes into focus, be quick to write it down so as not to lose it.    

  • How are great photographs made?

    I believe great photographs are not always created as much as they are found. The challenge of the photographer is to fix what one feels about a scene into a two dimensional image…