a blog by knut skjærven

Bits & Pieces: Using The Visual Radar.

Lost In Translation.© Knut Skjærven.

You mention using a visual radar. What do mean by that and how do you work it?

It is really very ease. All of us know how such a technique works.

An example: Many modern photo-related programs have, for instance, face detection. You feed the database with pictures of a face and the machine will be able to recognize the face in other pictures. You name that face. It is very handy if you want to search for a person in a large catalogue of images.

In photography the visual radar works the same way. Your mind is the program and that database that holds the data. Like a computer program you have to feed it. Feed it well, and it will serve you well. Feed it lousy, or not at all, and will serve you lousy. Or not at all.

When you study the photographs of famous photographers, or the paintings of celebrity painters, it is like feeding a machine with data.

It helps a lot if you know what you are doing. Roaming museums and photo books will not do it alone. You have to tell your mind what kind of mission you are on. You have to tell it that you are on a data collection mission. You could say for instance: we are here to study the use of light and composition. Whatever you decide. That, then, is what you have to set your mind up to.

Study a limited number of objects at a time. Maybe even only one single picture to begin with. Later you can go for more advanced stuff like a photographers style, his use of people and spaces. His uses of lights and shadows. Et cetera, et cetera. Soon you will walk down your own alley.

Try to remember what you see. Having HCB as a mentor it is clearly HCB’s photos you want to study. When you have collected enough data you are ready to go to work. In the city, if you are street photographer. In the countryside, if that is what you prefer.

And again, if you just roam around mindlessly you get nothing out of it. Being out there you have to turn on the radar. Let it know that you intend to use it. Let is scan the surroundings for you. The streets, the cafés and the parks. The people passing. When something interesting comes along the radar will stop you. Ask you to take that picture.

You will be surprised how well such a radar will serve you once you have discovered that you have one. And you have set it to use.

That is what the radar is, and how you use it.

Bits & Pieces: Introduction; The Sources; Picturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;


6 responses

  1. alemayou

    This processus is related to “pattern recognition”, used both in psychology and in industry. It can be helpfull, as you say, when it comes to be aware of a situation. But the same processus may tend to limit the perception.
    In fact, the photographer must both be sensible at some patterns, and stay open to whatever he could notice around him.
    Personnally, I try to be as receptive as possible. This needs a lot of concentration – unsuspected by the non-photographers – and that’s why I refuse human contact when I do streetphotography. The slightest loss of concentration, and this magical state vanishes.

    January 22, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    • Very interesting comment, Bernard. Thanks.

      I agree. It is, in my opinion, one of many tools and never an end in itself. It is a good training tool, and if you have done your homework properly it sticks with you. It is like biking: you never forget once you have got the grasp of it. It should, however, not be practiced to the extent that you loose your own vision.

      I also agree on the concentration part. The best way to do observant street photography, as well as most other forms of photography, I guess, it being on your own. I always practice that.

      I thought that the radar analogy was a good way to describe it.


      January 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

  2. Di Van Wyk

    that is such good advice – it applies to artists aswell

    January 23, 2012 at 7:18 am

    • Many thanks Di Van Wyk for your encouraging comment. So photographers cannot be artists, then :-).


      January 23, 2012 at 11:06 am

  3. I know very well what you mean talking about this radar. The same walk, having the radar off and at another time on, is two totally different things. Many times I keep my radar on even without a camera and I get a totally different sight of the world around me. I don’t do that very often as it’s frustrating to realize how many decisive moments I lose if I don’t carry a camera with me.

    January 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    • Stamatis, thanks.

      It is indeed a very different mindset. I completely agree with you, and at the same time I am surprised how different the two attitudes really are.

      I wonder if this is a common thing or not? Do all people have a radar they switch on and off?


      January 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm

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