Left brain right brain theory is as old as the hills. While it may easily be disproved by modern neuro-science that the two sides of the brain work differently (they are able to learn to do what the other side does), the two opposite ends of the thinking / behaving spectrum are as valid today as they ever were.
I think we can learn from people who worked at both ends of the spectrum. I would like to hope that we can meet somewhere in the middle.. There is room enough for both approaches, as well as ample proof that it is possible to work between the two.
Ansel Adams was the quintessential thinking (left brained photographer). We don't need to look very hard for evidence of this. He invented the Zone System as a method for controlling the tonal range of a negative matching its preconceived black and white points that were measured with a light meter. He controlled his negatives with extreme precision. He spent his life experimenting with different papers, developers, graphs and printing.
I am sure that Ansel was able to access his creative side very easily, as there are numerous accounts of him switching off a lot of the thinking side when working very quickly, as is illustrated in the account of him taking the famous Moonrise photograph.
Simply, Ansel had a lot of equipment at his disposal, he worked very hard to ensure he had perfect negatives that were easy to print. He spent his whole life thinking and practicing photography.
Edward Weston is at the opposite end of the spectrum in my humble opinion. He worked usually with one camera, one lens, one film, one paper and one developer. While he did change film a couple of times in his career, and papers a couple of times, he generally stayed with one combination for many years.
His main method was to work with an 8 x 10 view camera, and contact print onto Platinum / Palladium paper or later with regular chloro-bromide papers.
In the end his favorite developer was pyro and his favorite paper was Azo. He only ever contact printed.
Essentially he actively reduced the technical choices and worked within a limited framework. A typical feeling approach to photography and art.
His technique clearly shows him working very hard on ideas. Even the photograph below gives us an interesting insight into his thinking and work methods. Pepper No. 30 is just that, he took thirty of them, not of one pepper either.. He would buy them one at a time, study it, and photograph it, then eat it.. He started peppers a few years before, and even tried a second time before leaving them for another long period. In his last effort he spent four days with peppers and took over 30 images. Source link
Within the history of photography I would put these two master photographers as equals. They both made stunning prints. The prints even had the same qualities, rich blacks, sensual tones and glowing highlights with beautiful details. Yet they both worked so differently within the same medium.
I think we can learn from this, that there is more than one way of doing something. That we should spend time learning how the other side thinks and photographs. I believe I am in the feeling end, so I actively work at the other thinking end to improve my knowledge and work practices. I spent years learning how to control the contrast range of my negatives through a modified zone system. Yet I still find myself adding extra exposure half way through the exposure process. Something that confounds myself, yet in learning to trust my instincts and intuition turns out to be regularly right.
So now, as I dump lenses and cameras and work in a very simplified system. I feel more like Edward Weston. Removing choices. Getting to know one very tight way of working so well, that I don't have to think about it at all. One favorite lens... In all of this constriction I find freedom, just like Edward did.
I urge you to figure out which end of the spectrum you are in. And actively work on the other end and see where it leads you.
For more of my writing about thinking and feeling photography, catch the Autumn issue of Better Photography which is due out in Feb 2015.