I find Moleskin notebooks have become a necessity in my photography. I use them like many would use pinterest but they have many advantages. The act of printing and cutting out images to stick into them takes time. The book itself is expensive and you want to keep it like a neat careful piece of scrapbook art. The result is a much more careful and considered approach to what goes inside.
A few years ago I made little scrap books of photographs that I found inspiring. I would try and decode these images to discover why I liked them. Sometimes it is not obvious, you get drawn to an image yet cannot describe why you find it fascinating. On image sharing websites you will find people commenting on images they like, hardly ever will anybody be able to say why they actually like an image. It appears there is no secret ingredient, people just know a good image when they see one. Nothing could be further from reality.
It takes time and effort to appreciate an image, to know what you like about it. Sometimes it may even need a little sketch. I dare you to do it, find an image you like, always use a master of photography and not simply your best flickr contact or the guy who does better than average images on a photography forum. This is about expanding your appreciation of art and photography. You will find your tastes change and you need to start with studying the masters as with any other branch of art.
Try and pick an image that challenges you, an image that grips you, an image you remember when you look away.Forgot images that rely on trickery, the cool aperture, a vibrant red against deep blue, fish eye lenses or macro shots. Pick an image that seems simple but for some reason resonates with you. Perhaps a image that looks almost like a snapshot but at the same time maks your heart skip a beat.
Now try and write as much as you can about it, put everything you know about photography into practice. Imagine that for everything included in this photograph, the photographer had made a conscious decision. Write about the light, the tonal distribution between light and dark. Think about the camera angle and what the photographer may of be been emphasising. Write about the textures, every feature of the image, colour and shape. Write about the composition, the directions of movement, lead in lines, even draw it if you have to. Think about the background, the perspective of the shot, if everything is more or less 2d or in deep perspective.
Start to write how the image makes you feel, calm and relaxed, tension or fear. Then a secret to decoding a lot of images is trying to get a little poetic. Look for forms or textures that repeat themselves. Perhaps a model with flowing hair stands in front of the waves on a beach. Look for forms or features that are repeated in an image between differing subject matters.The list of things to write about is diverse and almost infinite, I’ve just included a tiny fraction of possibilities. Never just write about the technical. Always include how the image makes you feel and try and get a sense of the artistic sensibilities the photographer has when producing the image.
After a while hopefully your tastes will begin to diversify, you will slowly begin to say why you like and don’t like images with valid reasoning. This will feed back into your own photography and help you develop your own photographic tastes and sensibilities. Learn to be opinionated, but always be able to express the reasons for your opinions.
On that note, I leave you with my favourite quote from Bill Jay.
“Pictures of sunsets are too easy, like clubbing baby seals.”