What? Learning to see? Isn’t seeing something that just happens when we enter the world and open our eyes? Well, that depends on what we mean by seeing. We use the word “see” to mean so many things … Do you see (do you understand)? I can’t see that happening (that eventuality doesn’t seem likely). Can you believe Lisa is seeing (dating) Matthew? I’ll see your ten and raise you twenty (poker talk). See here, little lady (I am the mom and you must obey)!
In everyday conversation, what we mean by seeing is the process by which light enters our eyes, strikes our retinas, sends signals to our brains via the optic nerves, which our brains interpret and turn into information we use to navigate our world. It’s a priceless, miraculous process that we do all day every day, and mostly take totally for granted.
And then there’s seeing as it relates to photography. Studying and practicing the photographic art requires that we learn to see the world in a different, more thoughtful way. It was the documentary photographer Dorothea Lange who said "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera". To learn to really see, we must ask ourselves, what makes a scene or subject (and hopefully, the resulting photo) interesting to look at? What is inherent in it that catches our eyes and engages our minds? And what does it have in common with other scenes or subjects that also engage us, sometimes unexpectedly? Many times, the answer lies in visual elements like color, line, pattern, repetition, texture, and contrast, to name a few. Learning to see these elements and include them effectively in our photos makes us better photographers and artists.
The abstract photo above captures a section of a large red metal clad column, a part of a new building at a junior college. Lines and repetition create an interesting geometric pattern. The rich red color, and way the light plays with it to create shades of orange, bronze, rose, and mauve, are appealing and move our eyes around the photo to take it all in. The result is a photo that is eye catching and enjoyable for the viewer.
Thoughtful analysis of the elements of our subject matter should become a part of our process, both before we begin to shoot, and as we later review and self-critique our photos. With mindfulness and practice, including and optimizing interesting visual elements can become second nature, and a skill that will enhance the quality and interest of our photos. And as an added bonus, we just may find our appreciation of the world around us enhanced ... we will have learned to "see" without a camera.
So that's it for now ... Please feel free to leave me a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts about seeing the world through your lens, your favorite visual elements, how photography has changed your world view, and any other comments you may have.
Wishing you happy shooting, and a satisfying photographic journey!