Category Archives: described

Describing Photos in Teamwork

This text is an afterthought to the description of  Darek’s windmill I wrote together with a friend.

We are always looking for new sighted people to describe the pictures on our blog to the blind and visually impaired photographers who took them and of course to all our other readers.  Most of our “picture describers”, as we call them are students from our workshops in Berlin or people who write professionally or as pastime. However, you don’t need to have a background in journalism, blogging or creative writing. In fact you don’t even need to be an expert on photography or visual arts. While knowledge and interests in these fields can be helpful, everyone can describe a picture. Processing and reflecting visual stimuli comes naturally to everyone who can see something, even if it’s just blurry shapes or light and shade. We do it all the time in our everyday lives and take it for granted without even noticing.

The Fear of the Empty Page

Since I write for this blog, I’ve talked to quite a few people, who said they are interested in our project but wouldn’t know how to describe a photograph to someone who can’t see it. Personally, I think the most difficult thing is to get started and simply try. It’s like writing an academic essay, prose, poetry or even a letter. We are afraid of the empty page, or nowadays the blank screen staring back at us. Once we’ve done the first step and simply started to write something, more words and sentences start to come naturally. Additionally, what we write in this first outburst doesn’t have to be perfect; it can always be changed, edited or even deleted.

The Process of Writing as Teamwork

For me,  writing blog posts and photo descriptions is actually easier than composing academic essays, because it gives me more creative freedom and there aren’t any guidelines, except those we set ourselves. Obviously we want readers to follow our thoughts and like our texts, so they have to be readable, structured and not full of mistakes. And I assume most of us want to write about something that matters to us and our followers.

Especially when writing academic papers, I try to get someone else to read and comment on my text. After reading them over and over again, we tend to overlook our own mistakes. Because we spend so much time developing them, the way we put our arguments on paper appears completely logical to us. Discussing our thoughts with another person often helps to express ourselves better and clearer. And finally we get to talk to another human being instead of sitting alone at our desk all day.

How does that help me to describe a Picture?

It only occurred to me recently, that describing a photograph could involve even more teamwork than editing academic texts, because the whole process of writing it can become a dialogue. It’s like having a jogging partner, if somebody else is involved and to some extend relies on your commitment, chances are you will be more likely to overcome your doubts or laziness or whatever it is that makes you hesitate, and actually do what you set out to do.

So one afternoon I sat a friend down to compose a description with me. We had talked about doing this for months, but never actually got around to doing it. This friend has no prior experience in creative or journalistic writing and only a casual interest in photography. He said his main reservations against writing a description on his own were, that he wasn’t sure how to compose a text people wanted to read and which aspects of the photo were relevant.

Questions over Questions

I still have some sight. Thus, I saw the general outline of the windmill, the blue sky and the green grass and I guessed there were trees. Starting from there I asked general questions to get a better understanding of the outlines of the photograph:

  • What are your first spontaneous reactions and associations?
  • What are the prominent objects?
  • How much space does the windmill take up?, Where in the picture is it?
  • Describe the mill in more detail: shapes, individual parts, colours, textures …
  • From which side are we looking at it
  • Can you see people? How many? Where are they in relation to each other and the mill?
  • What can you see of the people? What are they wearing? What are they looking at? What are they doing? (Body language, communication between them)
  • What else is there in the background? What kind of trees? Where are they in relation to the mill and the people?
  • Are there other details you wouldn’t notice at the first glance? Any objects captured by accident?

After a while I came up with lots of questions. One often led to another. I found the trick or secret was to give my friend prompts and suggestions he could use as a starting point. To find answers to some of the more specific questions like “What do the people wear” he had to look very closely. Sometimes he couldn’t see details very clearly and had to guess and speculate. The picture became almost a story. For example did the orange tiled roof belong to a visitor centre or just storage shed for equipment?

And what if I can’t see anything in the photo?

While being able to see the main objects in the photo helped me to start the dialogue, I think this method would also work for someone who is completely blind. You would just have to start with the very basics. Maybe after a while the blind person could tell the image he or she has in her or his mind so far, while the sighted person compares it to the photo and adjusts the description accordingly. Feel free to try it out and let us us know how it went.

A photo is like a person, you have to spend time with it to get to know it

I wouldn’t have noticed the little people on my own and if we wouldn’t have talked about it in such detail, we both would have flicked over the picture quite quickly. After spending some time with the picture it became more to us than just a nice shot of a windmill in the countryside on a bright summers day. We speculated where the mill is, who the people are and how they know each other.

Nowadays we see hundreds and thousands of pictures in the news and in social media. While it is great that almost everybody can take and share photos nowadays, sometimes I think this mass distribution lowers our appreciation of them. So, if you want to spend some more time and thought on an individual photo, describe a picture for our blog and maybe even do it with a friend.

 

 

 

Windmill of Memory by Darek

Windmill in front of blue sky

Although it is less of a problem since our phones automatically add the location to our pictures, we all know the problem: You take hundreds of pictures and when you need space on your camera you just transfer all of them into the same folder on your computer. When you go through them months or even years later, you just can’t remember where and when they were taken. This becomes even more of a problem, if you can’t see what’s in the pictures. The best thing for blind and visually impaired photographers to do would be to give their photos precise names immediately after they took them or at least to put them into folders with meaningful names. Pleas let us know, if you developed a good filing system that works for you.

This photo of a windmill was taken in 2011 during Darek’s summer holiday on an island called Rügen, located in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of Germany. It’s a popular holiday destination and maybe someone even recognizes the windmill. Or maybe even Darek himself remembers, when he reads the picture description.

Description

This description is the result of a question –and –answer type dialogue. The notes resulting from this talk were only later rewritten as text.

The photo looks as if it was taken on a bright summer’s day, because the upper half of the background shows a very clear blue sky. Approximately three fourths of the foreground is occupied by a windmill in the centre of the picture. Its house is made of dark grey stone or timber. Four sails are fastened on an axle located on the upper part of the house near the apex of the roof. The Sails stand in the air forming a capital X. They resemble ladders or trellis fences used in gardens and are made of a material in a lighter colour than the house. The dark grey shadow of one of the sails crosses the house from the top left to the bottom right, reproducing the trellis pattern on the wall. This seems to be the back of the windmill, since there are no windows on this side. The windmill stands on timber stilts built on top of a stone foundation. In relation to the people in the photo, the stilts may be approximately four metre high. It looks as if there are steps up into the windmill on the far side.

There is a roof with bright orange tiles behind and on the right side of the windmill at the height of the stilts. The roof is all there is to see of this outhouse which could be a shed or a visitor centre. There is a sliding door in this extra building.

There are four people in the photo, but the main focus is the windmill. Close to the left of the windmill is a group of three persons. The young woman in the middle wears a sleeveless shirt with a flower pattern and white shorts. She has short blond hair and leans slightly to the man on her right, while simultaneously looking at the windmill. The man to her right has dark hair and wears an orange shirt. He looks sideways at the woman and holds an object in one hand. The object could be a white cane. On the left of the woman stands a young man in a dark shirt. He looks straight at her. Maybe the woman is explaining something to the two men. Their lower bodies are partly covered by a wooden fence and the stone foundation of the windmill.

There is another blondish woman at the left edge of the picture a short distance away from the group. She wears a light coloured short-sleved shirt and a white sweater is thrown over her shoulder. This second woman rests her elbows on the wooden fence and looks away from the mill over the outhouse into an adjacent green field.

The stone foundation of the windmill is built on a semi-green area where wild grass and weeds grow between some rocks. On the right of the mill grow two scraggy and rather thin evergreen trees, perhaps pine trees. They are approximately the same height as the main house and if their two stems weren’t visible one might think they are one tree. In a greater distance are more trees with green leaves growing in the background behind the roof of the extra house and left of the mill. A long pole like a streetlamp is sticking out into the blue sky between the mill and the trees on the right and a floodlight on a pole leans into the photo from the very right. It looks un-proportionately high and slightly out of place.

The photo is a spontaneous snap of a windmill on a beautiful summer’s day. The people seem to enjoy themselves. Maybe they are on a day trip.

 

Rabbit Update

The other day one of my students asked me how to take a photo the audience would adore. Before I could think, I smirked: “With a kitten”. Everyone laughed but it’s true. For most people photos of cute animals are irresistible. Maria sent us another adorable rabbit pic:

white rabbit in the snow with eyes closedDescribed by Katrin Heidorn:

This horizontal format picture is striking in its simplicity. It displays just three colours: white, green and brown. And a little bit of black. We see a white rabbit under  a conifer on a wintery lawn that is partly covered with snow. The bottom of the tree is covered by twigs and fills the upper left part of the picture. The rabbit is sitting slightly left of the center. Its head turns to the right. It has ducked close to the tree and to the ground. Its ears are set back to the body. The lawn close to the tree is brownish and free from snow. Tufts of grass can be seen all around the sheltered spot under the tree. The  fluffy white fur of the rabbit stands out against the dark tree and the brown of the grass. The whole picture makes you think of a painting even more than of a photograph. Not just because of the composition and the colours. Mostly because everything looks like it was painted with a thin brush. The pins of the twigs, the blades of grass and above all the head and the ears of the rabbit. A simple black stroke for the almost closed eyes. Two brown strokes for the nose and a couple of strokes for the delicate brown ears finished by a thin black line. It could be the work of a painter of the 17th century. It would also be a perfect poster. A very outstanding photograph.

Bear in a garden, by Maria

This is the last English Photo Narration originally published on  our main German blog. Actually this should have been our first post on our brand new blog. A bear! Symbol of strength and beauty. Our totem teddy.

Our friend Maria sent it and wrote:

Karsten
You might want to get your German describers to do this picture.
They might like to see a shot of a real black bear.
My sister lives on the outskirts of Vancouver at the bottom of a
ski hill and a wild stream. There is a lot of wildlife there and bears often
come into her back garden. One time a bear came, sat in the middle
of the garden and went to sleep for awhile  🙂  She had to wait for it to
wake up and leave before she could go out.
She said this one is a very healthy black bear.
I can only see the trees and pink flowers in front. I can’t see the bear
in the centre or any details on it, too dark.
Maria

A black bear in a garden

Photo Narration by Katrin:

Dear Maria,

I just finished reading an article on animals vanishing from our daily life. Your picture is a wonderful proof that this is not true for everyone.
What we see is at first sight a nice picturesque garden scene: a wooden arch, painted neatly in white with lots of red flowers on both sides.
The arch is exactly in the middle of the edgewise picture. It is covered with greenery. Clematis climbs up on the left and drops its tendrils down from the middle. A cypress is growing close to its right hand side. In the foreground there is a piece of cosy lawn and in the back of the arch we see several big ferns and a lot of twigs that block the way. It looks like the entrance to a herbal grotto.
That is obviously where he came from: the bear. He is on his four paws and hasn’t quite got to the arch yet. Still, he already fills more than half of its width. He is not tall, but very stout. His coat is shiny and thick, all black, except of one bright patch on his chest. Which is hardly visible between his strong forelegs. He holds his head up and looks straight into the camera.
His eyes are sitting close to each other in his big black face. They are surprisingly small for the huge body.The strong snout is covered with white hair. He must be a rather old and respectable bear.
The black ears are perfectly shaped and upright. They make him look like the perfect pet bear.
He does not move, as far as I can see. Maybe he stopped on his way towards the lawn. As if he was hesitating to cross under the arch. He looks like an actor ready to enter the scene. What if he does? We do see his back. He is not sitting down and that powerful body can take him anywhere in less than a second. As we don’t see more of the garden, it is hard to judge the distance between us and the bear. In fact, it seems to me that the picture was taken with a zoom. Which I think is a good idea. I prefer to think the photographer was safe behind a window when she took it.
It is a very close encounter all the same.
Katrin
And Maria commented:

Thank you katrin.

Beyond the arch is a large ravine and a big creek that flows down from the mountain.That is where the bears come from. And yes you guessed correctly, my sister took the photo from the living room window across from the lawn and garden. He would be about 30 meters from the house. I like your description. It tells me surprising things I never knew were in the photo. It’s also very humorous.

Maria