Archive for category Street Photographer’s Toolbox

ON THE GO: Train Your Visual Muscle


The Reception © Knut Skjærven

The Reception © Knut Skjærven

A couple of months ago I did not know anything about it. Things sometimes come slowly. This time for a reason.

Turning to neuroscience as a part of this study, it gradually dawned on me. There is even something called neuroaesthetics. The whole area is blooming.

It is not a muscle as you know it from your arms and your tights and your fingers. It is more like a network of capacity that connects different parts of your brain to perform a task. That task could be to register and recognize and evaluate a visual expression, as you find it in a photograph.

This network acts much like a muscle. When you neglect it, it dies away. When you activate it, it starts to work for you. On its own.

You talk about being able to do fast and frugals (See page *). To run on autopilot (See page *). These rely on your visual muscle functioning and being properly trained.

Put it to use, train it, it gets stronger and more reliable. Quite literally you get better at whatever it is you are doing.

If you have but little beforehand, you get something. If you already are well equipped, you get stronger. No matter what activity and process you want to improve. Could be looking at a photograph. Could be even browsing reality itself.

Confronted with a picture there is a chain of actions that is triggered. First the registration of the object (if it is an object), in the retina. Then the signalling to an area at the back of your brain, to pick up the raw data. Then tiny arms reach out to other areas and bring in the full capacity of both you body and brain to get a grip of what the photograph is all about. Perceiving a photograph is a tall order even if it seems so easy.

Did you, by the way, know that the far larger part of you perception of any visual is based on your unconsciousness? Some say 95 percent. Did you also know that about 30 percent of your total brain capacity has been set aside to handle visual stimuli? Not touching, smelling, hearing or tasting. But seeing.

The conscious part of your perception and the unconscious part of it work in tandem. They support each other to make out the whole picture. It is a combination of below the line and above the line perception. With below the line as the locomotive.

That aside. What you need to take away from this knowledge is this: First, be aware that you rely on your unconsciousness to a much larger extent than you could have imagined. Second, as your unconsciousness draws on the whole battery of acquired knowledge, experience and training you will always perceive what you see a little differently from others. Sometimes very differently.

Third, and maybe the most important is you can train your visual muscle to work for you. Even if you are hard wired to a certain disposition, such a hard wiring can be modified.

This will not happen over a weekend even if you set your mind to it. More likely over a lifetime.


Copenhagen, August 20, 2014.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved

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ON THE GO: How Fluent Are You?

Normandy Beaches © Knut Skjærven

Normandy Beaches © Knut Skjærven

It is rather familiar. I am sure you already know what I am going to write about here but you may not have thought it through in terms of photography. In terms of street photography.

It goes like this: If you want to look good you need to make sure that you do. Going for a job interview you need to dress for the occasion. Going on a first date you dress to make a grande impression. Make sure you smell good too.

Much of the visual communication we entangle works on a latent, subliminal level. Like in a job interview, like at a first date. Even in the photographs we send off  into virtual space. You don’t want to send conflicting, ambiguous signals. You want to be fluent and precise in what you say.

The word goes that you will never get a second chance to make a first impression. Being fluent in what you do is important. Particularly for visual communication like photography. It is a question of doing the right things in the right order. Not too much and not too little. To the point of the occasion.

There are interesting research results that you might want to consider. In trying to sell recipes for food one of the promotions was executed with a lean and easy to read typeface. The other promotion used a typeface that was harder to read.

Not only was the second promotion easier to comprehend. It effected the evaluation of the product as well.

Does this translate to photography? I think it does. The less fluently you are as a photographer the harder your message will be to understand. There is more to it. The less likeable you will be as a communicator.

The takeaway from this might well be to pay more attention to what a) you shoot and b) how you shoot it. Make sure you limit the visual options and that you position each part in an orderly way to one another. Be articulate.

As I said, most of us already know this. The question is how well do we handle it on a day to day basis? When out taking pictures. I know, I don’t’ always live up to it. Then some afterthought will do well. To prepare you better for the next time.

Could it be that particularly in street photography all encounters with people are like job interviews? Like the first date with a stranger? You want to fit the occasion when you show your work publicly.

You give the answers. Make sure you are fluent about it. Occam would love it if you were.

If you want more on this, please search for fluency effect on Google. There are plenty.

Common sense will do as well.


Copenhagen, August 15, 2014.
© Knut Skjærven

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Itching Images: Two Of A Kind

Twin Sisters © Knut Skjærven

Twin Sisters © Knut Skjærven



By Two Of A Kind you should understand just that: Two of a kind.

I am sure the two are clearly recognisable. They are the two musicians playing.

You have two of a kind when you have two people, or objects, that are similar in terms of shape, movement, placement and size.

In this picture they even work in synchrony, which it the utmost execution of this theme you can get. The two musicians have the the same size, same shape, the same gestures and the same bodily positions.

You can modify the theme to also include combinations that are less identical than the two musicians in the picture.

Two Of A Kind is a theme under Gestalt Factor of Similarity.

© Knut Skjærven

Copenhagen. August 12, 2014

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Itching Images: Plane Integration

The Reader © Knut Skjærven

The Reader © Knut Skjærven


By Plane Integration we understand a photograph in which two or more planes integrate.

In this shot, you will find two planes: a foreground plane and a background plane. The foreground plane is made up of the woman and the black chairs. The background plane is the CD’s covers.

To qualify as Plane Integration the link between the two has to be more than random. It has to be meaningful in a deliberate way. In this shot, the deliberate link is the repetition of the square pattern that you find in the CDs and the the woman’s blouse. Or for that matter, in the two black chair.

Plane Integration is a theme under Gestalt Factor of Similarity.

© Knut Skjærven
Copenhagen. August 10, 2014

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