John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

A Fresh Eye and the Mañana Principle

the mañana principle

It’s a well known fact in psychology that if a stimulus persists in the environment, eventually you no longer react to it. For example, the buzzing of a nearby fan might at first feel annoying, but after a while you no longer even hear it. The same phenomenon holds true for visual stimuli. You have some beautiful works of art in your home that you don’t even notice any more.

This is called “habituation.”

It can significantly affect your eye as you work on a photo in an image editing program. Did you ever spend a great deal of time adjusting the tones and colors of a shot, until you reached a point where you weren’t even sure any more whether the image looked good or not? Are those colors too saturated now? Did I reduce the contrast too much? You may have overdone it, or underdone it, and not even know the difference.

The eye adapts and becomes dull. Even when creating a highly manipulated or surreal image, you eventually get used to the exaggerations. It begins to look normal. Like watching a movie that is supercharged with special effects. You start off thinking “wow” and end up accepting it all as a rather ho-hum reality.

If you think you did too much or too little on an image, if you aren’t sure anymore if it looks good or bad, you need to freshen your eye. Do something else for a while. Get up from the computer. It might take a few minutes or a few hours, but if you come back later you might be able to see the image with a rejuvenated point of view.

I often find that the best respite from the habituated eye is a good night’s sleep.

Sleep helps reset the brain. Like restarting your computer, it clears out the extraneous glitches and clutter left over from the mental and perceptual programs that you were running during the day. The next morning, with a cup of coffee in hand as you open that questionable image, you’ll see it as if you were looking at it for the first time. Much to your delight, it may appear perfect. Or you may find yourself mumbling, “What WAS I thinking!”

And so, if you think you might be suffering from a bad case of habituation, apply this Mañana Principle. Sleep on it and take a fresh look at that image tomorrow.

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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche