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The Visual Experience: Approaching the Photographic Image

excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

by Gloria Hopkins

The visual experience is part of a circular chain of processes and events. It begins with an idea. Then the artist creates and the observer views and forms an opinion and/or experiences emotion. For this chain to come full circle, for the observer to understand or at least appreciate the work, it is helpful to have a receptive attitude, especially if the subject matter or style is foreign to him or her.

When viewing a photograph, you may bring certain personal expectations such as pleasure and enjoyment. Some may bring the expectation that they will understand the subject matter and be able to judge the image. It is important that you not allow your expectations to get in the way of seeing all that an image has to offer. Rather, you should try to understand the image as it is presented. If you do not strive to understand work that is new, chances are you won’t. This is not to say that if understanding does not occur, the experience cannot be satisfying. It is, however, a more satisfying experience when the observers are seeing and feeling what the artist intended them to see and feel. Then the visual experience will have come full circle.

It is important to understand that satisfaction does not equal enjoyment. You can have a positive, delighted response to an image that is not aesthetically pleasing. Conversely, you can experience sadness or discomfort from subject matter that you consider beautiful. To get the most of the visual experience and to achieve understanding, you should strive to reserve judgment until you have attempted to comprehend the idea behind the work, the subject matter, or the style.

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excerpt from Natural Design: Image Design for Nature Photographers

Revised August 2011
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins