Learning to See
As photographers, we tend to see the world a bit differently to most. Learning how to see the world as a photographer is a skill that comes with experience. The more you learn about photography and the art of taking photos, the more you learn how to see, or visualise a particular event happening in front of you, as a photo.
Portrait photographers learn how to setup lighting to achieve a whole range of effects, and as their experience grows they spend less time setting up, as they have learnt to ‘see’ how the light works and how it is going to result in the photo they have anticipated, in their head. Landscape photographers learn to see things like the movement of the water on the beach and predict when to press the shutter based on when the lapping water is going to be in the best position for their shot.
Sport photographers learn to anticipate the play, they get to predict where the action is going to be next, and thus, have their camera at the ready for when that action occurs. They can predict where the ball is going, or what line a race-car is going to take through a bend. So this thread is for those that probably have not learned the skill of ‘seeing’ yet, and hopefully it will give you some food for thought, and help you along the way to anticipating and achieving a great photo, by seeing your scene as a photographer.
Firstly, the bane of digital photography: Digital photography has made it easy to snap off 200 photos, with the hope that one or two will be good, and they probably will be. But this method is time consuming (you have to go through 200 photos to find that one or two) and it doesn’t teach you to be a photographer, just a happy snapper, who gets lucky and probably has no idea why these one or two photos look better than the rest. Learn to slow down. Forget all the myriad of features your camera offers and get back to the basics of understanding ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Ignore all the other settings, buttons, and options. A good photo is not determined by how much exposure compensation you dialed in, a good photo is determined by the actual image. What the viewer gets to look at.
Look at other people’s photography. Look at it from a heap of different aspects. Don’t just take a glance and think ‘that’s nice’. Look at why it is nice. Where is the light coming from (above, below, the side, behind), look at the shadows, they give you hints as to light direction. Where are the elements of the photo positioned, in the centre, off centre? The more you look at photos you like, the more you will understand why you like them. Then when taking your own photos, consider all these.
One way to learn to see creatively is to look for a photo within a photo. So you stop on the side of the road to take a sunset photo. You get your camera out, hold it up, take the shot. Now stop. Look at the scene in front of you. Not just the sunset, but the fences, the cows, the trees. The back-lit cows might make a great photo. Learn to look at things in detail, not just the sweeping vista in front of you. Take a portrait of an elderly person, you might get the first shot, showing all the character in their face, but then explore with your eyes. They might have a lovely ruby ring on, with weather-beaten hands. Get then to rest their head in those hands, with the ring showing. See the idea? Don’t just look at the whole; explore the detail when you are shooting.
Learning to see as a photographer is also different depending on your chosen genre. A sport photographer doesn’t necessarily make a good macro photographer. The skill set to ‘seeing’ sport action moments is completely different to spotting an insect on a leaf in the garden, and then the way you take the sport photo is entirely different to how you photograph the insect. Not just different lenses, but composition and more. Learning to see is genre/subject specific.
Don’t be concerned about taking bad photos. A bad photo is a great learning tool. It can teach you what not to do next time. So when you are looking through your photos from a shoot, don’t just think “oh that one is bad’ and delete it. Study it, why is it bad? Learn from your mistakes. Spend a couple of minutes looking at the ‘bad’ photo and see what you did wrong. Knowing what doesn’t work, is as important as knowing what does.
Three basic guidelines to help you on your way:
- What is the main subject of the photograph?
- How do I highlight the main subject of the photograph?
- What do I leave out?
There are also several composition guidelines that can be applied to all photography to assist you:
- Learn about the ‘rule of thirds’.
- Leading lines (imaginary or real) that lead the viewer to your subject
- Symmetry and patterns.
- The background.
- Viewpoint (should you be higher up, lower down, closer, further away, more to the left)
The above dot points are just to start your thought processes on learning to see like a photographer. The more you study photography, the more you take photos, the more you will learn to see. No one ever has the vision to get the perfect photo every time. Don’t be discouraged by your ‘bad’ photos, use them as a learning tool.
You will not learn to see in a day, a week or a month, but you will learn and your photos will improve by day, week and month. Each and every day you apply yourself to seeing like a photographer will help your photography improve. People can be photographers for 60 years and still learn stuff about ‘seeing’. But with a bit of effort and lots of practice, we can all do it, and our photography is better off for it.
*any other member who wants to add to this, with ideas about 'seeing' are most welcome to*