Intuitive Master of Photography

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Bob Ryan is a specialist in analysis and the development of expert judgement. The Master Photographer builds upon his work in deep-learning and the activation of non-conscious  skills. I met him a few weeks back at the Frome Wessex Camera Club, where he is giving a talk. Somewhat coincidentally, Bob is the partner of fellow MA student, Alison Price.

Bob has developed the IMP (Intuitive Mastery of Photography) test. To summarise the ‘blurb’:

It measures the speed and quality of your image taking and analysis by comparing your snap judgement of an image with your more thoughtful analysis of that image against the ten key photographic constructs. The test measures the speed and quality of your image taking and analysis by comparing your snap judgement of an image with your more thoughtful analysis of that image against the ten key photographic constructs. The aim is to tell you whether you can rely upon your snap judgement to capture a high quality image or to judge an image. It will also tell you those elements of photographic expertise you need to develop to bring your skills to the highest possible level.

The essence of the approach is that we use only part of our brains, and there is an untapped ‘intuitive’ brain that we don’t acknowledge or access sufficiently. Bob’s ten photographic constructs range from technical items like exposure to use of colour and narrative. It is fair to say that the reaction in the Club ranged from intrigue to what the heck.

I decided to take the test. It uses 20 photographs, which you first rate quickly and intuitively, and then come back to analyse rationally against the 10 constructs. You also fill in a photographic self-definition questionnaire.

I will not go through all of the results, but just a few highlights.

  1. Compared with Bob’s dataset, I was assessed as a strong, technical competent photographer. I guess that does not surprise me.
  2. Again, not surprisingly, my declared approach tends to veer towards the rational – whether seen as an absolute or rated against peers.
  3. However, the test suggested I operated more intuitively when actually taking photographs than in the post-assessment, and that my ‘non-conscious’ competencies were high. In other words, constructs like composition and depth of field operate, for me, at an intuitive level.
  4. There was dissonance between my declared photograph preferences (e.g. narrative and creativity), and my intuitive use of constructs when making photographs, (e.g. impact, technical aspects). In fact, Bob went so far as to say that important issues (to me, at least) such as narrative, colour and light are not sufficiently influencing my intuitive judgement, and I am working those constructs too rationally.
  5. Bob’s suggestion was that I focus on these areas, using his EPF method (emotional engagement, deep practice and feedback).

I went back over the test, and matched the images used with my rankings, comparing results with the rest of the base. I think it’s fair to say there were some big differences. My intuitive (quick) ratings of images only correlated at 49% with the peer group, and when rationally analysed, at 62%. Maybe that is why I don’t engage in Camera Club competitions!

Let me pick a few images to illustrate. Bob asked me not to share the actual images as that might invalidate future tests.

My intuitive rating – 1st. Rational rating – 14th. Peer rating – 15.

My intuitive rating – 1st. Rational rating – 2nd. Peer rating – 7.

My intuitive rating – 13th. Rational rating – 10th. Peer rating – 6.

I will talk these results over with Bob, and also with a couple of other Club members who took the test. Certainly, food for thought.

With permission from Bob.


RYAN, Bob. 2016. The Master Photographer. 2017 Edition. Malmesbury: Bourchier Books.

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