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  • Writer's pictureMike Kitson

Photography & Psychology


Within my professional life as a leadership and management developer and coach I have long held a deep interest into the psychology of what and why we do things, and how psychology types and traits both inform and affect who we are and how we act. This deep interest has led me to become qualified to administer and coach on many different psychological questionnaire and instruments as well as being trained within certain disciplines including Transactional Analysis (as a trainee psychotherapist) and Neuro Linguistic Programming, NLP, (as a Master Practitioner and Trainer). Whilst I have always viewed this learning as being vital to my professional life, I have not really thought about implications such things might have for photography and photographers; at least not until very recently.

One of the positives of lockdown and of being furloughed from much of my normal work has been the opportunity to really consider my photography and, like many people, to take some on-line courses and workshops. Whilst many of these have been of a more technical nature, one recently finished one, with Margaret Soraya has been focussed on “Finding My Voice” as a photographer. During the discussions and inputs from Margaret there were quite a few mentions of why we might, or might not, be doing things and what, inside us might prevent us from finding our voice.

In my language these were different examples of psychological elements, a few of which I present here.


What I am writing here is purely based upon my own experience and learning and is my own interpretation. The only case study I have is myself! Experience teaches us that humans are extremely complicated and diverse, and nothing written here (or for that matter within any psychology textbook) should be taken as gospel – it’s all a rule of thumb and a guide only.

Meta Programmes

NLP teaches us that we create our map of the world through a set of filters that are shaped by many elements such as:

  • Our history

  • Our beliefs of what is true

  • Values

  • Culture

  • Upbringing

The resulting filters are referred to as Meta-Programmes – Shelle Rose Charvet calls these doors, through which we interact with the world – ‘each door has a particular shape and the power to let only certain things in or out’ (“Words That Change Minds”). Different authors have identified tens, if not hundreds of these filters – I’m only going to mention a very few here, the ones I have immediately identified as having something to do with photography


How do you know that your image is a good one or not?

An Internal person has their standards inside of them and will use them for comparison and judgement. They just know what makes a good image, irrespective of what others might say. Whereas an External person needs other people to provide the standards and direction. They need feedback and external standards to judge their work against.


Macro photography or panoramic? Grand design or detail? Which do you prefer?

Whilst many of us want to try all different types of photography we will all have preferences. Is your preference for the Specific detail that you can get to in a macro image or for the overview or General big picture? The differences I mention here is massive and there are always gradations between the two – for example some photographers would prefer to make ‘intimate landscapes’ showing detail of, say, a forest, rather than a large landscape of the wood itself.


How has your photography changed over the years?

A photographer with a Sameness meta-programme is likely to be taking the same sort of image as they did a number of years ago. They may have got technically better, but they still prefer landscapes or nature/wildlife over any other sort of image and have no plan or reason to alter that. There is a high chance that they are still using the same brand of camera as they did years ago. Contrast that with the Difference photographer – they will have changed their equipment many times over the years (or at least have desperately wanted to), they will also want to change the types of images they make, or at least not preference one over another.


‘Rules’ of photography – for guidance or obedience?

An Options photographer wants to have choices and alternatives; they are unlikely to just want to take one sort of image as this is too limiting. They will also use the accepted norms of photography as a starting point as opposed to the destination. On the other hand, a Procedures orientated photographer will want to learn and then follow the rules of composition, exposure etc. For them there is a ‘right’ way for a photograph to be. The judging guidelines laid down by bodies such as the PAGB constitute the gospel for image making.


How do you ‘read’ images? Or how do you choose your next camera?

What happens inside you as you look at an image? Do you get a ‘Feeling’? Does it generate an emotional response within you? Or do you find yourself Thinking about the technical details of how the photographer took the image? Similarly, this meta-programme kicks in when we need to decide about our next camera or piece of equipment. Do you just know that you want it, or have you worked out all the technical details that are needed in this next piece of kit?


Of course, all of these need to be taken with a large pinch of salt – these are generalisations and, as I mentioned above, purely based upon my own experience and looking at myself. Will they make you a better photographer? Probably not! But they might help you to understand your own motivations as a photographer and why you like what you like.

All of these tools are there to help us understand things better – they help us to ask questions of ourselves and to recognise the fantastic diversity around us. For me these are fascinating areas and one that I both use within my teaching and coaching and an area that I will start to explore more of here. Especially the use of the Enneagram personality typing system and its implications for photographers.

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Mike Kitson
Photographer & Questioneer
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