Photographer’s Étude

Pam Goldsmith, world renowned violist [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 5600, ƒ/4.5, 1/125]


Looking for the light and how it naturally appears is a way photographers train their eyes.

An étude (a French word meaning study, French pronunciation: [eˈtyd], English pronunciation: / ˈeɪtjuːd /), is an instrumental musical composition, most commonly of considerable difficulty, usually designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular technical skill.  —Wikipedia

I grew up playing trumpet and after learning your scales I learned études.  Each one worked on a particular skill and as they became more difficult I thought they were just a way to torture a musician, but they were like tongue twisters for the musician.

Every trumpet player will at some point acquire the famous Arban book. The Arban Method is a complete pedagogical method for students of trumpet, cornet, and other brass instruments. The original edition was published by Jean-Baptiste Arban in 1864 and it has never been out of print since. It contains hundreds of exercises, ranging enormously in difficulty. The method begins with fairly basic exercises and progresses to very advanced compositions, including the famous arrangement of Carnival of Venice.

For me certain light patterns and objects help create a mood. Reading the Sunday Paper with a cup of coffee sets a mood for me. Does it do something for you?

While professional musicians practice every day for 6 to 12 hours so too must professional photographers.  They must learn to see.  They may not use a camera all the time, but they must learn to see with an inquisitive eye.

A shaft of light was coming through an opening in the trees on our back porch.  The branches created a pattern where the whole scene was not being lit up.  When light is not so even it draws your attention to the highlights.
I love a cross light.  It brings out texture and gives depth to a scene.

You need to practice seeing in order to be able to do like a musician does when they perform.  They pull upon all their practices to play the music with such artistry that the nuances are there even tho they had never seen the music.  But in reality they had in a way seen the music.  All those scales and études along with other performances are being drawn upon.  Their well is deep because of all the time they put into their practicing.

I love the back lit clouds at sunset.

Most all the movies and TV shows music isn’t practiced before it is recorded. That would just be too expensive to play through the music a few times with professional studio musicians.  They know how to play the music as written and with their experience can bring it alive.

The professional photographer doesn’t practice a few times taking your portrait and then says OK this is for real.  No they perform right away.

If you photos are not that great–have you considered you might not have practiced? I know my trumpet teacher would ask how much I practiced when they heard me play–it was a good sign I wasn’t doing it right if he asked me that question.

Have you ever gotten a grade for your photography?

This would get an F if I graded my photo
Gary Chapman, a fellow photographer, commented the other night that he enjoys having written something verses the act of writing.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

This got me to thinking and I like to do armchair sociology.  I came up with some thoughts about how we learn to read and write verses visual literacy.

While I have a master’s degree, which means I went through more than seventeen years of formal education, I still struggle with writing.

Testing revealed that I have some form of autism and I believe I most likely have Asperger’s syndrome.  I consider this a blessing.  I am wired differently and therefore this has given me a unique view of the world.  It has also explained why writing is difficult and why I excel at the visual.

There are different ways people see the world and learn.  I am a visual thinker and learner.  What I struggle with regularly is linear thinking that is required for writing.

How do you know if you are good at something?  With reading and writing you get affirmation through grading.  All through school you learn how to read and get tested on your retention.  Just because you can read doesn’t mean you can write.

Contrast this extensive training we go through to learn how to read and write to visual literacy.  We are not trained on how to understand visual communication, unless you took an art appreciation class.  Learning how to appreciate good visual communication isn’t the same as then knowing how to create visual communication.

At the end of this summer when kids go back to school many of them will have a traditional assignment to write about their summer experiences.  This is how many teachers evaluate the writing skills and to see what they may have to teach to get the students up to grade level writing.

I believe if we had been required to hand in our photos from those summers many of us would have discovered our photos would have earned failing grades.  Failing grades because we were never taught even how to read visuals.  If you don’t know how visuals communicate then you cannot create visuals, which communicate a message.

There are many resources to help you learn about visual literacy, just not as many as we have for learning the read and write.  Here is one book The Power of the Gaze (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) that you can get on Amazon.
Here is a description about the book:
The Power of the Gaze, a textbook on visual literacy, entices the reader to seek significant structures in everyday visual reality, which are called visual orders. Visual orders can be found in representations, visible surroundings, or in nonverbal interaction that relies on gaze. In order to understand what one looks at, one must first understand what it means to gaze and what it means to look. Visual literacy is defined as the critical understanding of the meanings of visual orders. The book is written for all readers interested in visual culture and its phenomena.
I recommend taking time and learning to read visually and then learn how to create visuals.  This is especially important if you work in the communications field.