System 1 or intuitive thinking is described as cue-dependent, fast thinking, unconscious and when activated generates automatic recall from the deeper-lying memory structures that the conscious mind cannot recover. Located across the brain are the complex, multi-layered array of experiences and knowledge which, taken together, create the life world of the individual. Memories, as they are formed, are emotionally tagged by any accompanying emotional response to the original sensory input, at the moment it is received. Given an emotional cue, these memories are recovered and compiled into the impulse that drives a correspondingly powerful emotional response to the problem at hand. However, this type of thinking is prone to the bias of inappropriate experience although if effectively trained can be surprisingly effective. It is also extremely rapid.
System 2 thinking, on the other hand is a front of brain activity and is conscious, rational, procedural and deliberative in nature. A conscious and effortful mode of thinking which is very slow but reliable.
This brief summary of the simplistic view of the cognitive processes provides some understanding of the problems generated and indeed created in the world of digital image post-processing. In previous posts, I have written about my search for being in objects in the natural world and my strategy of trying to access the non-conscious, intuitive system of awareness. If I am successful in accessing non-conscious thinking during my image-making then this I believe will lead to the revelation of the essence of the subject in my photography. However, digital post-processing is, in my experience, almost set up to promote system 2 thinking. It is procedural by nature, encouraged by software such as Lightroom, where much hinges on workflow methods and their consistent application. These products, systematically break down the elements of the photograph into its constituent components: white balance, exposure, focus, colour correction, cropping etc. and in all of this, the awareness of the essence of the image, revealed at the moment of capture can become invisible or withdrawn after systematic processing.
I do minimal post-processing of my images and re-take the shot rather than processing an image, such that it is unrecognisable from the original raw file. I believe in getting the image right at the point of capture and do all of my multiple exposure work in camera. I process my images as soon as I return from the field, in the hope that I can rekindle my thoughts, feelings, and emotions and also best represent the images I have taken. I also use music to re-activate some of those feelings as I work on my images. However, as I mentioned above, I think the real danger with post-processing is that I am unable to first recognise, and then second, inadvertently remove the reality or the essence I might have captured. In order to achieve the best outcome in my image-making, I need to consider how I might enter the appropriate non-conscious state in post-processing given that this activity is normally a deeply conscious and deliberative act. In my next period of practice, I plan to use music as a method for encouraging non-conscious thinking and activity both during my time in the field and in reviewing and selecting my best images.
Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking Fast and Slow. London, Penguin.