Taking pictures with the right side of your brain - part 1

I'm willing to bet if you had two equally-skilled photographers photograph the same scene at the same time, side-by-side, one with a camera with a conventional reflex (or LCD) viewing system and the other with a ground glass viewing system, the photographer using the camera with the ground glass viewing system will take a better-composed picture than the picture taken by the photographer using the reflex camera. And the reason the picture composed on the ground glass is better is because it was composed upside-down and backwards.

Strong images often hide in plain sight, even at your local Metro Station. By scanning the landscape through a frame or your viewfinder, interesting images can be easily found among the details of your everyday world.

Now odd as that may seem, it starts making sense if you understand the dynamics of how we actually see the world around us. In 1979, a book came out called 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain', by Betty Edwards. The premis of the book is that the brain consists of two distinctly different hemispheres, and if you can mentally separate the two, you can draw better. Although Ms. Edwards does not not specifically address photography, I think you can take better photographs, too.

The left hemisphere, or L-Mode as it's called in the book, is the objective, rational, and linear thinking part of the pair, and it handles the verbal, written, and number-crunching aspects of life. The right side, or R-Mode, is the subjective, intuitive side, and is the side that processes audio / visual content. And unlike the L-Mode, which sees the world as a segmented spreadsheet, the R-Mode sees the world as a changing flow of patterns and shapes.

As we go about our day we are constantly using both spheres. Balancing your checkbook is an example of left hemisphere activity. Conversely, composing a photograph or sketching a scene on paper, i.e. 'seeing', is more of a right hemisphere affair.

As you might imagine this very same yin-yang interplay can trip you up when you're trying to draw a landscape or photograph one because while your R-Mode is busy seeing things, the L-Mode is busy cluttering your radar screen with details that, exposure data aside, have little to do with composing a picture.

The trick, as well explained in Ms Edwards’ book, is to essentially dial down the objective information gathered by your brain’s left hemisphere and take better note of the subjective information being gathered by your right hemisphere. In other words, never mind who or what the subject is but rather how does the subject’s form-factor best fill the frame.

Now how all this ties into the dueling photographers scenario described in the opening paragraph is that when you view an image upside-down and backwards, it becomes abstracted. Instead of being somebody or something objectively recognizable, it abstracts your subject into shapes and forms, which allows you to view the image subjectively and in turn allow your visually oriented R-Mode to take over and compose a strong photograph.

Obviously, most of us don’t shoot with view cameras these days, but just because you’re ‘limited’ to a camera with a WYSIWYG reflex or LCD-based viewing system doesn’t mean you can’t learn to see better when composing photographs. Depending on how hard-wired your L-Mode / R-Mode circuitry is, it's actually not all that difficult to fine-tune your eyes, and a cardboard matt from a small picture frame is all you need to start the process.

The big challenge of framing a tightly composed photograph is to eliminate the visual clutter that invariably surrounds your subject. Some shooters have a knack for zeroing in on their subjects while others struggle. If you're part of the latter group, next time you set out on a photo jaunt take a small picture matte along with you. Just as mattes create neutral islands around framed photographs, isolating the image from any visual distractions that might surround it, by previewing a scene through a matte frame while moving it closer and further from your eyes gives you an opportunity to preview the potential image with varying degrees of isolation from its surroundings. If you don't have a matte handy, you can similarly make a set of 'Ls' with the thumb and index fingers of you right and left hands and invert them to form a four-fingere viewing frame.

A good starting point is to hold the frame at arm's length and from there move the frame at varying from your eyes. If it makes it easier, perhaps close one eye as you peer through the frame. What you're looking to do is find strong lines, shapes, and complimentary  - or perhaps tension-invoking forms that together form a strong composition.

Regardless of how you choose to open up your R-Mode, be it using a matte frame, a finger frame, or simply viewing through your camera, your goal is to find the meat of the picture, and frame the image's shapes and patterns in a visually strong composition. Get closer, zoom in tighter, shoot from a higher or lower angle, maybe show a bit more background information, or maybe not.

Want more visual tension? Try cropping the image tighter to the subject, or tilting the camera in order to introduce diagonal shapes and movement into the composition. If you you have time, try exploring your subject at various focal lengths, as some pictures work better when taken close up with a wider lens while some images work better seen through a longer focal length.

Conversely, if you want to lighten the atmosphere, or perhaps illustrate your subject in relationship to its surroundings, then allow for a bit more breathing room around your subject. You should also keep in mind while it's always best to shoot tight in the first place, there's no rule that says you can't crop into an existing picture after the fact if the result is a better-composed photograph. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 82
By bossa (Sep 19, 2012)

Another idea is to use your left eye to look through the VF of your DSLR. That should feed images directly to the right brain.

1 upvote
By keenone (Apr 5, 2012)

And remember some subjects look better taken in portrait style rather than landscape

By OneGuy (Nov 22, 2011)

The L-mode operates under the 'if-then' method (same as a computer) whereas the R-mode operates under the 'what else' method. The Left is structured and formal, the Right runs up to infinities and has a feeling ("cannot put a finger on it").

The interconnection is via the corpus callosum and must be composed of geometric points (very thin tubes), for that is the only way for the two domains not to run into conflicts.

More in 'Quantum Pythagoreans' book, including self-organization.

1 upvote
By kurtizone (Nov 20, 2011)

This left-right brain stuff might make for good pop psychology but the facts are more complex. The original experiments done by Roger Sperry were on people who had lesions in the corpus callosum, a band of tissue that connects the two hemispheres. Because of the way the optic flelds feed into the occiptal lobes in each hemisphere, the left optic field feeds the right hemisphere and vice versa. Sperry was able to isolate visaul input to each hemisphere by some clever techniques.
But most people a) don't have lesions and b) don't go around trying to isloate the visual input to one side of their brain. You can't help but use both sides of your brain because that's what evolution has wired you to do - when thinking about photography or crossing a street. So all of this right-left brain stuff just sells books to people who aren't clear about the neuroanatomy. You can't go around isolating the hemispheres at will.

1 upvote
Klimt z
By Klimt z (Nov 20, 2011)

When mild zoom lenses were first introduced, this was what I thought they were for. Reframing and composing with zoom was however and still is overlooked. Also a simple theory of zooming or cropping, is to reduce boring (negative,and usually dark) areas while keeping the subject open, but also framed with pleasant space, rather than pinching it with excessive crop. I dont see the need for the frame when you can do the same thing with zoom or cropping. His last 2 paragraphs are all you need to know. It is simple enough to experiment with digital.

By ngutman (Oct 21, 2011)

Great article but where is part 2?

By peatantics (Oct 9, 2011)

L-Way + R-Way = Watch out for an epileptic fit as your corporeal colossal see em goes into overload aka gladiator and the stoic Marcus Aurelius. Way = Mode. cross eye single camera 3d taught moire' the value of moving to the left just a hip swing right to left can make a lot of difference to the dynamics played out in composing a piece. The picture in the middle is the one that counts. It alone holds the value of depth. P=EaT :)

By shuttrrbug (Oct 2, 2011)

Where is the second part of this article?

By shuttrrbug (Oct 2, 2011)

Where is the second part of this article?

By jsmiller (Sep 18, 2011)

Having used a view camera for many years, often taking 8x10 glass negatives, I'm not sure what is meant by upside down and "backwards." The image seen on the ground glass is simply upside down. But it is not backwards, if by that is meant "reversed." You can still read writing normally. It is not backwards, but simply upside down, rotated 180 degress from the direct view without the camera.

Maybe I'm thinking too much with the L-side in this nit-picking. Regardless, seeing the composition as a whole while seeing the details when one takes a picture is the central challenge.


1 upvote
By Fraucha (Sep 19, 2011)

I agree I started with an 8x10 Deardorff 40 years ago, the view was never backwards, simply upside down, lots of fun!!

Photo Maker
By Photo Maker (Sep 15, 2011)

Cropping is LARGE in "KOMPOSITION" a huge factor in telling the STORY.

By mrfigures (Sep 15, 2011)

I think to focus on the 'theory' leads to academic arguments that will never be resolved in this forum. I think the real message is that to get great composition you need awareness of more than the single focus point.

To illustrate this, when you start sketching portraits off a photo - or anything for that matter, you often get caught trying to draw a head/face. If you turn the photo you are copying upside down and focus on drawing lines and shade - you invariably get a better result. Especially if you break it down into say a 9 area grid.

To translate to this article - when taking a photo, you need to be aware of the lines, shades, space rather than just the direct subject of your photograph.

If this uses the right, or left, or both sides of the brain i couldn't care less!

Louis Dallara
By Louis Dallara (Sep 12, 2011)

Great article, I forgotten what I had learned in Ms Edwards’ book, Thanks for the reminder.

By mr_blocher (Sep 12, 2011)

Quarrels about Neuroscience aside, the practice of framing a scene is quite helpful because it makes it easier to see the effects of negative space.

Art came before photography in my life, and I made a peculiar discovery when still quite young: when I wanted to draw something I had to stop looking at the object and instead focus my attention on the space around the object. I could feel a mental switch being thrown in my brain, but of course it wasn't localized in just one hemisphere.

When I am painting I enter R-mode and lose track of time and find talking difficult (an L-mode function). The exercises in Edwards' book have helped many of my students learn to control the shift in perceptual mode; and they always strengthen my ability to access R-mode as well.

Using a viewfinder to draw negative spaces is the key. When you learn to see the shapes defined by the overlap of your subject with the frame and can use those shapes effectively, you will be a better artist or photographer.

By Slynky (Sep 12, 2011)

Interesting read.

However it's done, the ability to "see" art to capture with your camera is something, I think, some people will always do better than others. Tips and suggestions to help "see" what is out there for the shooting are always appreciated.

By svejk (Sep 12, 2011)

Not at all what I was taught in Art College and am still learning to practice decades later. We were told to use a frame but only for a short period as a beginning to learn to visualize the print before you look through the camera. Learning to visualize a print from viewing a scene opens up your imagination to what can be done if you were to move, say, over there, and a little closer and drop down to get the viewfinder to accord with your imagination. The ideal state was that after seeing your shot and moving to the spot to get it, the image you imagined would be in the finder.
Your feet are your primary composition tool, but they must be directed by your imagination rather than trusting to luck. The shots above also show that using a frame tends to make you ignore vertical format. I would have used it for all of the ones shown.
A frame can be a temporary way of learning to see what a scene offers so that your feet and finder can achieve it. At least, that is what works for me.

Gary Leland
By Gary Leland (Sep 12, 2011)

Stefan, thanks for the tip. Sorry for all of the negativism you have encountered. I for one, find carrying a small framing device, (a slide frame is often suitable) does indeed help you see images in a larger landscape that could be enjoyed. I do not see it as becoming part of my "how I do it" but I have used this techniqe in the past and did not find it without merit.

If anyone has never done this, I would recommend it as an enjoyable experiment and fun to try. My sister is a painter showed me this and I absolutely found it helpful. It does seem to make you see better, If I could be so bold to say.

By Nerkdergler (Sep 12, 2011)

This article makes a valuable point, and is lesson-one in many photography courses. It's always nice to see groups of photography students walking around looking at the world through their 'finger frames'.

However, then they all go and get SLRs and stop looking at the world this way - they shoot with one eye closed and the other pressed up against the viewfinder.

Interestingly, using a compact digital camera is much more like looking at the world through a frame - because you use the LCD at arms' length to compose. It has other drawbacks, but in terms of composition, it has a distinct advantage.

I used film rangefinders for ages and always shot with both eyes open. It takes a bit of getting used to but is a good way to get a sense of what is out of the frame as well as inside it.

I know it's unfashionable to say so, but with the leaps made by modern LCDs and contrast detect autofocus, there's a lot to be said for shooting 'compact style' even for 'serious' photographers.

By PentaxNick (Sep 11, 2011)

A 35mm or medium format slide frame is a bit more portable than a card matte.

By photosen (Sep 11, 2011)

Interesting! I'd thought about this but never put into words; after reading this I guess I'd call it playing with the context.

John Mackay
By John Mackay (Sep 11, 2011)

I liked this article and I look forward to the next part ...keep writing them. Ignore the nit-picking pedants who think that derision and personal attack are acceptable means of contributing an alternative viewpoint.

Can we please have an ignore user option for comments as well as on forums--that would be great :)

By neildg28com (Sep 11, 2011)

I would not classify myself as a nit-picking pedant - just as someone who has been shooting pictures professionally for 25 years, who was trained on 5x4 view cameras and who has realised that being good with composition is all about practice. The problem with a lot of articles like this one is that people read them un-questioningly and confuse something that sounds convincing with the truth. Well I guess that was quite nit-picking and more than a little pedantic...

By Lukino (Sep 12, 2011)

Reading comments around, I tend to agree with you, but - just as someone who takes family snapshots with p&s and have no "professional" ambitions, realized that articles like this helps me a lot in taking better pictures. I can undertand that this is just a little trick to help me visualize a scene and not the key to become Oliviero Toscani, so because others cant should I stop reading?

By luxborealis (Sep 10, 2011)

Brilliant - thank you! You have hit on exactly what many have been advocating for years - use a framing card as a visual tool! I used one back in the 4x5 days and still use one today with digital.

I use LiveView today in much the same way as my 4x5 ground glass. Wouldn't it be great if we could convince camera manufacturers to include an option to "View Image Reversed and Upside Down" on the LCD screen.

By Sjoerdve (Sep 11, 2011)

No, the right picture you design. Else take Gimp, adobe products or whatever and just crop, flip and rotate. the idea here is that you visualize the way you see the object.

By kingmidge (Sep 17, 2011)

Hey the same idea I had during reading! I hope camera manufacturer will do such button in future. I'm sure I would use the function. If they at least have it somewhere in the menu and everybody who want it can set it to a free function button. All the folks who don't want it, could use the button for any other idea.

Terje H.
By Terje H. (Sep 10, 2011)

In the article it says: "the photographer using the camera with the ground glass viewing system will take a better-composed picture than the picture taken by the photographer using the reflex camera. And the reason the picture composed on the ground glass is better is because it was composed upside-down and backwards."

New cameras with electronic viewer and cameras withlive view should have an option to show the composition upside-down and backwards then. Then the quality of our images should automatically improve.

1 upvote
By TimGarner (Sep 10, 2011)

I think the author has a point that being wrapped up in technique gets in the way of taking good artistic pictures. That is why automatic cameras do a great job of good technical images with minimal fuss. The photographer spends more time on the artistic side. Sure, sometimes I take a great image that in retrospect needed more attention to the technical side, and that is very frustrating since I am quite competent technically. Trick is to know when to spend the extra effort on the technical because the automatic functions are not going to be sufficient.
The other point is that how you look at a scene through a viewfinder is different that how you look at the image of a scene on a ground glass. Best results with a viewfinder come with treating it more like an image, rather than a telescope. Spend the time to objectify it, look at the corners, etc. The psychological difference is that a viewfinder image is at an apparent distance of feet, where a ground glass image is only inches away.

Bob from Plymouth
By Bob from Plymouth (Sep 10, 2011)

A few responses from folk with a dominant Left Hemisphere I think.

It's not a false premise at all and for the same reason composing a letter is easier first thing in the morning before your L-Mode wakes up and swamps your intuitive and more artistic R-Mode.

By globethrottle (Sep 10, 2011)

Thats actually really interesting stuff. And in my care I guess its the opposite as I'm a leftie. :-)

By increments (Sep 11, 2011)

It is completely debunked by every expert in the field. I suggest you do a bit of study.

1 upvote
By increments (Sep 11, 2011)

A couple of non technical links



By latyshevv (Sep 10, 2011)

Neurological premise of this article is outdated and is simply false.

Andy Karr
By Andy Karr (Sep 10, 2011)

If you understand the "neurological" terms as metaphors for two ways of knowing, or thinking, then this holds up quite well.

By balios (Sep 10, 2011)

I agree it's outdated. It's been demonstrated that both sides of your brain are used for logical or visual thought processes.

But the premise of two different thought processes is not. If I was to draw a car, I could look at it completely logically and say I need to draw tires, side mirrors, doors, etc., and end up with a drawing that is technically accurate but visually boring. Or I can look at a car as nothing more than a series of shapes, silhouettes, and emotions and draw something that lacks technical accuracy but perhaps has more visual impact and appeal.

Labeling those two points of view as L-mode and R-mode is just semantics.

By latyshevv (Sep 18, 2011)


By franta123 (Sep 10, 2011)

I'm struggling to tie together the first part of the article (upside down = good) and the second (look through a frame). In fact, I do not see much difference between using the frame to isolate the scene and using your camera's LCD or viewfinder to do the same.
Anyone care to explain ?

By ovatab (Sep 10, 2011)

May be they going to promote some iPad app to flip camera image in part 2?

1 upvote
Irakly Shanidze
By Irakly Shanidze (Sep 10, 2011)

What the author meant, when looking through a viewfinder, you have to dissociate from the semantics of the scene. The ground glass makes it easier, but, with some practice, you will be able to do it in a viewfinder of your SLR.

1 upvote
By jtmon (Sep 10, 2011)

Uhh it says you can use your viewfinder in the same way.

By balios (Sep 10, 2011)

Flipping the picture upside down or using a frame forces your brain to see a scene from a different (hopefully more visually artistic) perspective.

A viewfinder would do that, except that you don't walk around looking through the camera viewfinder 100% of the time. You could also be missing that taking several steps back/forward or swapping lenses could make a dramatically better shot.

I believe the point is to train your eyes (brain) to see the world as a series of patterns/shapes and how to spot a good photograph prior to lifting the camera to your face. The idea is that eventually you don't need the frame, it will simply be automatic. You will see a shot, then ask yourself what you need to do to get it (whether that’s zooming in/out, swapping lenses, cropping later, adding light/shadow with a flash, etc).

By kadarpik (Sep 10, 2011)

Betty Edwards has many books about visual art. For me drawing.. and colors have been very important. Photography and drawing walk side by side and are close than ever with photoshop. DSLR really emphasizes our virtual world created by our brains which is no existent at our retina even.

Eyes are most importnat in drawing as well as in photography, it is important to see shapes, lines, intensities and colors as they are.

For me it was shocking to see trees during overcast afternoon thin as papers from certain perspective. They look like thin papers climbing up. So quite often we just think they are 3 dimensional and same thing happens with drawing and shooting we are in wrong mode.

Left and eight side of the brain os of course very inaccurate model created by scientists and there is no need to take it seriously as any model. Betty just can teach you two diffrent state of your mind. There is also a video teaching drawing according to the book.

By DonAndre (Sep 10, 2011)

"The left hemisphere, or L-Mode as it's called in the book, is the objective, rational, and linear thinking part of the pair, and it handles the verbal, written, and number-crunching aspects of life. The right side, or R-Mode, is the subjective, intuitive side, and is the side that processes audio / visual content."

You're basing all your argument on the information of a single book from 30 years ago! That information is completely outdated and all of today's neuroscientists are shaking their head about this. Some even go out to the general public to talk about this and that it's simply not true. I've attended such a series of talks and in the first part she explicitely spoke only about the "difference" between the two brain parts. There is NONE (a.k.a. no significant in science terms)! The brain is symmetric, processing occurs on both parts.

Do the world a favor and stop this whole left-right brain bull***, take the whole article down, contact a neuroscientist and rewrite it.

By barkal (Sep 10, 2011)

Whether it comes from brain hemispheres or not, the discussion is about rule-bound, perception vs. rule-free creative thinking and that is a valid discussion.

By Lukino (Sep 10, 2011)

you people are crazy, this article is about composition, not brain surgey!

By barkal (Sep 10, 2011)

The picture frame is a great way of introducing composition to students but can it inspire art? Art involves the intervention of the artist, not simple observation. Is it possible that there is a continuum from art to design to kitsch and that this approach falls somewhere between design and kitsch?

1 upvote
By AnandaSim (Sep 10, 2011)

Here. Get yourself a bigger frame:


Good article.

By pcalkins43 (Sep 10, 2011)

RB/LB debate: enough! I think the article will vastly help my composition and I intend to get a mat out of an old frame and carry it around with me, composing shot after shot (and by the way not a sample picture offered is without content either. Relax and enjoy!

By WalterPaisley (Sep 10, 2011)

f DPReview can be said to espouse a "photographic" ideology, this article certainly articulates it. And if you follow its line of reasoning, then by default Ansel Adams is a better photographer than Henri Cartier-Bresson, based on the cameras & consequent techniques these men used.

I would counter that one methodology need not discount the other.The author presents an argument that appears to promote the superiority of a decorative (right brain) approach to photography vs. an intellectual (left brain) one.

Looks vs. Brains. Just like the old find the right mate quandary. Who said it always has to be an either/or proposiiton?

By BoyOhBoy (Sep 9, 2011)

I struggle with this article, because my left brain tells me that the use of the terms "objective" and "subjective" is totally... subjective and contradictory to their common meanings.

By mikeoregon (Sep 9, 2011)

I might restate the premise as conscious v unconscious--see David Eagleman's book 'Incognito'. But the oppositions are similar--conscious is driven by its concept of a correct or proper image, while subconscious seeks emotionally appealing images. The dichotomy has been very helpful to me as a new landscape photographer in learning to see.

1 upvote
By mrmart (Sep 9, 2011)

SUBJECTIVE = emotional, prejudiced, biased, instinctive, intuitive, idiosyncratic
That's what I get in my Thesaurus, surely Stefan has got the meanings of 'Subjective' and 'Objective' the wrong way around. This makes nonsense of the whole article. Does anyone else agree?

By 406coupe (Sep 9, 2011)

Absolutely agreed - the usage here seems back to front and although we're in a qualitative pseudoscientific area this reversal made it even harder for me to follow the tenuous thread of the article.

Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 9, 2011)

thanks, we have corrected this.

By tkbslc (Sep 9, 2011)

Thank you for writing a useful non-technical article. I apologize for the persistent negativity of many of my fellow forum members.

By BillydeKid (Sep 9, 2011)

This just simply isn't true. It isn't remotely that simple and a miriad of factors need to be accounted for. I say take pictures through the eye that feels right for you!

By barkal (Sep 9, 2011)

Of course all this presumes that composition is your goal, not content.

By Lukino (Sep 9, 2011)

Yes, the author explicitly wrote that you shouldn't care about content and from now on, only take pictures of colored stripes every day. Don't even dare to point the camera at your mom, this is offensive for every fine artists around here!
This is of course wrong, as we all know that photography is all about content, and whenever something meaningful enters the frame, be it a bleeding soldier in a foreign land or a beloved daughter playing in the garden, it is absolutely impossible to compose a pleasant scene.

By barkal (Sep 9, 2011)

That book was written by Betty Edwards but I'm sure Betty Thomas would have something right-brained to say about it.

Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Sep 9, 2011)

Thank you, you are indeed correct. I have corrected this in the article.

By Poss (Sep 9, 2011)

My wife keeps on telling me I have two left feet... I must be having two left sides on my brain as well. Most likely the connection between them is backward as well... Bummer... that's why my photography sucks... :-)

Ashley Pomeroy
By Ashley Pomeroy (Sep 9, 2011)

Do you in fact have two left feet?

1 upvote
By ChrisKramer1 (Sep 9, 2011)

I always felt that viewing through an lcd screen away from your body helps framing because it doesn't isolate your view from what's around you. I tried the Sony 580 the other day and imagine that framing must be a joy on this camera.

Good, interesting articles for the lunch break.

By Shrapnel (Sep 9, 2011)

The screen on the back of a camera does the same job of distancing yourself from the more close-up view you get in a viewfinder and allows for easy composition by arm movement without having to duck and dive with your whole body. Having the scene on a screen at arm's length (or half arm's length) disconnects you from the "being there" binoculars effect and helps with composition IMHO - I know OVF fans will disagree though :)
Tilt/twist flip-out screens are even better, hence their ubiquity on camcorders.

By increments (Sep 9, 2011)

I like the creative ideas here, but as stated earlier the Left/Ride brain thing is disproved. I'd lose that in the future parts and concentrate on the photography.

Andy Karr
By Andy Karr (Sep 9, 2011)

This is an great introduction to a key photographic theme: how to develop the ability to see. As Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, "Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. . . . In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing."

Michael Wood and I take this discussion further in our book "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes." You can learn about this approach at the book's website seeingfresh.com.

By coastcontact (Sep 9, 2011)

This is the kind of article I like. It makes me realize that I am surrounded with many photo opportunities from a creative perspective. That is difficult to do when you have lived a life of left brain spread sheets and still love to track BLS data and research stocks and bonds.

Thanks for the ideas


Jason Butler
By Jason Butler (Sep 9, 2011)

Hooey! This left brain - right brain nonsense has been dis-proven and only serves as fodder for self-help tracts. The idea of distinct functions between brain hemispheres stems from 40 year-old research that has been superseded many times since then. (Note how the author cites an art book from 1979.)

Just as star signs belong to astrology, not astronomy, split-brain theories belong to phrenology, not neuroscience or psychology.


By tbcass (Sep 9, 2011)

While the LB RB brain stuff may be bunk the concept of seeing things as shapes and colors rather than objects is still valid. All the gearheads who worry so much about DXO Mark, noise, resolution charts etc should learn a little more about the aesthetics of photography. I'm not saying IQ isn't important but it's not the most important factor in a pleasing photograph.

By DonAndre (Sep 10, 2011)

No, it's just wrong to take any argument, present it as true and then base your own point on it. That doesn't make sense, besides spreading that left brain right brain stuff around should really stop. What would you say if he claims the world was flat and then makes a point of how that influences photography? Because that's pretty similar to what he does.

By ThePhilips (Sep 10, 2011)

Hi Jason!

I would advise you to read the actual book - "Drawing on the right side of the brain" (which BTW had the 2nd edition in 1999). It mentions that no scientific explanation exists, yet the methods works pretty well in practice.

The book is based on a method of teaching people painting. And the method grew out of wast practice of teaching people seeing things around them. As the book goes, the "brain sides" stuff is just icing on the cake.

Disclosure. I own the 2nd edition, but read only one third.

1 upvote
By TEBnewyork (Sep 9, 2011)

Nice article.

walter marshall
By walter marshall (Sep 9, 2011)

I went on a photography course years ago and the guy who was running it said to confirm our pictures worked was to hold them upside and look at them in a mirror, of course that would be the same as looking at a large format ground glass screen, I had forgotten all about it till I read this article.


1 upvote
By sensibill (Sep 9, 2011)

Same holds true for pencil and ink illustration - I was taught to flip my work (with a lightbox or other light source) and make sure proportions and features looked 'right'.

By RoelHendrickx (Sep 9, 2011)

My wife, who is a semi-pro painter, always says that the best of her paintings (not only abstracts but als figurative ones), are the ones that you can hang upside down or tilted 90° either way and they are still visually appealing.
Same thing, I guess.

By Vulcanrider (Sep 9, 2011)

The validity of B. Thomas' hypothesis is not the take-home message from this fine post. The Op presents some very useful reminders on how our brains can/will over-analyze (my term) and lead us away from a photo (or sketching, painting) opportunity.

Read (and practice) the first couple chapters of her book. Then consider the Op's message.


Jeff Greenberg
By Jeff Greenberg (Sep 10, 2011)

Portable frame advice relates to how I trained myself to take salable stock photos at start of my career:

I "obsessively" asked myself while looking through viewfinder:
1. is there clutter, how to clean it up?
2. what is "message" or concept, how to simplify composition without changing message?
3. not taking photo until changing something after #1 or #2

By Crassus (Sep 10, 2011)

There is indeed a difference in the way the brain hemispheres function, as again shown in Iain McGilchrist's book 'The Master and his Emissary', the the difference is not as black and white as was proposed earlier. Both sides work together, contributing to the whole.

Jason Butler
By Jason Butler (Sep 10, 2011)

In McGilchrist's SELF-PUBLISHED (read NOT peer-reviewed) book, he uses the left/right brain concept as a metaphor. He then uses that metaphor to examine the socio-political history of Western thought. The book is more a study in philosophy than neuroscience.

By RussellInCincinnati (Sep 10, 2011)

By Jeff Greenberg:
1. is there clutter, how to clean it up?
2. what is "message" or concept, ***how to simplify composition without changing message?***

This is great, Jeff, thanks. Not only good advice on an important part of professional photography, but even short enough to remember in the field.

Also the original article is the start of something good, hope the articles continue. Of course the valid topic is being able to separate intellectual from visual form information as part of being a good photographer, and thus who cares that there's no such thing as a "left" or "right" brain. Particularly silly to worry that a reference is to something from 30 years ago. As if that's too old to be relevant, because we've all changed so much genetically since "The Odd Couple" is no longer on television.

Gary Dean Mercer Clark
By Gary Dean Mercer Clark (Sep 14, 2011)

I'm not big on this right or left brain thing, but the techniques do change your perspective and the way that you look at a scene etc--but I'm not sure it has anything to do with being right or left brain. I think it has more to do with training yourself to see things in a different way.

Total comments: 82