Learning to See the World Photographically: Developing your Photographer “Eye”

photo_workshop_studentHow does a new photographer learn how to see the world photographically? The difference between a beginner photographer and a more experienced shooter is the ability to see the creative potential in even the most common of scenes. Being able to readily recognize photographic possibilities is what having a  photographers “eye” is all about. New photographers often get caught up in the technology and tend to shoot without a well established visual point of view. It is hard to resist the urge to simply put the camera to your eye and to snap away. This method is random and the results usually consist of many uninteresting  photos interrupted with the occasional “lucky” shot.

Becoming a skillful photographer that is able to consistently create quality images is matter of practice.  Along with practicing camera operations you have to commit effort into developing your photographic perspective – the photographers “eye”.  Listed below are a six tips and techniques for refining your visual approach that should guide your progress.
 
Observe carefully
Creating a photograph begins well before you raise the camera and press the shutter button.  Good photography begins with careful observation.  Closely look at the world around you to find potential subjects and scenes.  Evaluate design features, lighting arrangements and the dynamic features of action and emotion.  Ask and answer ” What about this scene is visually compelling?”  Determine what about the scene would interest a viewer and think about how you want to present it photographically. Use that observation to choose camera position, focal length and the composition of your shot.  To see photographically you have to look carefully
Slow your rollIMG_7502
The ease of operation and the level of automation makes it easy to get into a rapid-fire mode with digital cameras.  Along with observation I suggest some deliberation. Slow down your process.  Take the time to consider all of your creative options before you make the shot.  Scrutinize your viewfinder and your composition well before you push the trigger.  Include only the visually compelling elements and remove the extraneous. One way to really slow your shooting is to use a tripod.  The time and effort needed to set up camera position is useful for reviewing the qualities of your image. Be deliberate in your metering, focusing and exposure settings selections.  Put the time into getting your camerawork done well, to produce top quality photography.
Quality versus Quantity
Everybody needs an editor, especially us photographers.  Be a little more selective in your subjects and scenes. Develop a patient approach to photography and wait for the moments to unfold.  I was fortunate to have the economics of film to govern my volume of shooting as a young photographer.  Every blown frame or sheet of film cost money and time and I quickly learned to become a judicious shooter.  Donating dollars to Kodak and burning hours in the darkroom on an abundance of dull photos was a very potent learning experience that I wish the modern digital photographer could have. It is much more satisfying creatively to produce a few high quality images then hard drives full of mediocre photos. Put your effort in to making fewer, better photos.
Rinse and repeat
The directive to rinse and repeat is a classic advertising pitch that relates to learning photography.  One of the best ways to develop your eye is to photograph the same subject over and over.  Approach the subject at different times, from unique angles and with changes in lighting conditions. It can be a place in your own backyard, a point you pass on a regular walk or a family member that can patiently and often be a portrait subject. Challenge yourself to make a unique version of the subject every time you shoot it.  The objective is to examine and capture all the visual possibilities. Work out all the creative controls and options you have to present the familiar in unique ways.
Work with a single lensPoint and shoot digital camera
Having a camera bag full of gear and an arsenal of lenses to shoot with can sometimes complicate the photography process.  A very useful exercise is to limit your photo sessions to working with a single lens.  Prime lenses are ideal for this because they are limited to single focal length.  Using a fixed focal length forces you to move around and toward your subject, seeking the best perspective.  If you only own zoom lenses only you can imitate the prime lens by working with a single fixed zoom position (use a rubber band or gaffers tape to prevent the zoom action.) Working with one lens length is about training your eye and developing an understanding of how each length of lens presents your scene.  Simplify your gear choice and concentrate on the perspective and design of your photography.
Understand your optics
Learn about how optical choices change the look of your photography.  Understanding the relationship between focus distance, aperture and focal length is required to make predictable results with your photos. Knowledge of lens operation and the creative options they offer is the difference between occasionally getting a lucky shot or consistently making the photo you intended.  Optics are critical to capturing your point of view and they are the mechanical interpreters of your personal vision.
Learning to see the world photographically is a matter of effort and practice. Identifying the visual potential of subjects and scenes and then understanding how you present them to a viewer photographically is a skill. Next time you give your camera a workout  use these suggestions to develop your own photographic “eye”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients. Based in New Hampshire he provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan is a photo educator and  presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England.  For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.

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