Engaging the subconscious

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Last week I showed the photo above to a friend. She didn’t know the couple in the photo. Her reaction was unexpected: she started crying.

I had showed her the gallery of photos from this wedding, and this was one of the last shots in the gallery. No other photo made her cry.

I asked her what made her cry. It isn’t a particularly emotive photo in the traditional way - it’s not an extreme expression or a crazy, love-y moment.

She couldn’t explain why the photo made her cry.

But what was interesting about this photograph, is that it was the first photograph in the gallery that I showed her that was shot on medium format film (Fuji 400H pushed 2 stops if you want to know).

I’m not going to say that the only way to create emotion in a photograph is to shoot on film. That’s bullshit. But it was an interesting experiment.

My guess? This photograph triggered a subconscious reaction.

It reminded me that equipment and composition choices can be important in conveying meaning, particularly at a subconscious level. A photograph can be technically excellent, yet be completely emotionless in delivery.

The modern trend toward super-sharp lenses and billion megapixel sensors, all perfectly stabilized and free from ‘abberation’ or ‘errors’, can leave something behind. That something is character. Character engages the subconscious. You can’t explain the way you feel but you feel it nonetheless.

The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to listen to your subconscious when choosing what lens or camera to use. So many decisions are already made for us before we choose equipment: this camera has more dynamic range, better ISO, that lens is sharper and has less vignetting. It’s the ‘obvious choice’.

But you know what? Fuck it. You’re an adult. You aren’t at school anymore. You don’t need to listen to anyone else’s opinion. If you like something better but you don’t know why - make the conscious decision to go with your subconscious opinion, and stop worrying about the consequences.

Oliver SmithComment