John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche


Introduction to Photographic Psychology


Photography is psychology. Why? Because understanding the visual image is understanding the realm in which the psyche of the photographer and viewer intersect. Psychological principles about perception, emotion, creativity, personal identity, interpersonal communication, and human relationships help explain how we create visual images, how we share them, and how people react to what they see. Psychology can also help clarify the personality and social factors that shape the vocation and avocation of photography.

Photographic Psychology is a journey into this realm where photography merges with psychology. It's the exploration of how people create, share, and react to pictures. There are many books out there about how to create photos. I cover that territory too, but with a distinctly psychological emphasis. What you'll find here that other books lack are many ideas about how people share and react to images. I place special emphasis on what has, in recent years, marked a revolution in the history of the visual image and touched almost everyone’s life: online photo-sharing and digital photography.

Here's where I'll pose a seemingly benign question. What is "photography?" It's actually a rather tricky technical and philosophical issue, especially in this media-rich age of ours in which many types of visual images proliferate. At the most basic level, photographs may be black and white, color, film, digital. People sometimes rigorously defend their particular work as “real” photography.

Instead, I will propose a flexible and fascinating definition of photography as any picture created mostly from the images taken by any type of camera, whether it's a box camera, range finder, SLR, DSLR, digicam, pinhole, cell phone, or any other type, including the quintessential dark room itself, the camera obscura that was the origin of all cameras. In defining photography, I also place no restrictions on what type or how much post-processing is used to transform the orignal shot. Some photographers who think of themselves as purists will reject this very inclusive definition. I think they are almost always drawing an arbitrary line in the sand. Some of the essays in Photographic Psychology are devoted to this issue.

Now for a more practical question. How should you go about reading this book? Well, it's like a traditional book in the sense that you can read it from beginning to end, starting with this introduction and then proceeding through parts 1 to 5. Each section does tend to build on the previous section.

But I also designed this book in the spirit of hypertext, which is one of the reasons why I'm publishing it online. You can create your own unique path through it, based on what interests you. Use the jump menu, the five table of content pages, and the index of articles to find the articles that you want to read. At the bottom of each article I list links to three others that discuss related ideas. If you liked that article, you'll probably also like the others. If you follow the links that look interesting to you, see where and how far that path carries you through the book.

Some of the articles are short, others are long. The short ones tend to be an easier read. The long ones may be more challenging, usually because I've tried to cover the topic in depth, including some rather complex issues in photography and psychology. If you find an article starts to get too technical, skim through it to find the parts that are more interesting to you. Throughout my career as a author I've tried to integrate technical and casual writing, so that experts as well as novices might enjoy my work. This is certainly true of Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche. People who just started doing photography, as well as seasoned professionals, have told me that they found this book valuable. I hope you do too.

Unless otherwise indicated, all the photographs in this book were taken by me. Please don't use them without asking permission. Besides being a violation of copyright, it's just not right.

The pages in this book are "expandable," which means you can increase or decrease the size of your browser window to create a page layout that looks good to you. Usually a window width of about 12 inches will be optimal. If the page layout ever looks odd, try resizing the window. I originally designed this online book with cinema-style displays in mind. It also looks pretty good on a tablet, like the iPad. However, some pages need tweeking for that smaller screen. I'm planning a Photographic Psychology iPad app. Because I use Photoshop exclusively when processing images, I'll refer to that program often. However, much of what I discuss pertains to other image editing programs as well.

Although I feel comfortable finding my way around Photoshop and other digital imaging software, I'm still a bit perplexed by the intricacies of web page code. My thanks to John LeMasney and Angel Brady for their help with that. I am also grateful to Rider University for its grants in support of my research and writing in this new field of photographic psychology.

This book is evolving. I continue to add new articles and photos. So please stop by again to see how things are progressing. I hope you enjoy Photographic Psychology, and I welcome email for your feedback.

- John Suler

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche