Learning to ‘See’ Again Might be What You Need as a Photographer


As a technology geek, I can understand how easy it is to get caught up in the numbers and specs of your favorite gadgets and devices. We always want the newest and the fastest, standing on the flimsy rationale of making our lives “better” in any number of ways. For photographers, this rationale is a distraction at best, a monolith of an obstacle at worst.

If you are unhappy with or uninspired by the photographs you are currently producing, the answer is not to upgrade your gear; that will only serve to lighten your pockets, while providing no solutions to the problem at hand. So, if your ultimate goal is to create photos that you (and your audience) truly enjoy, photos that grab the attention of all who would view them, photos that inspire more than a passing glance, then learning to “see” may just be the shot in the arm that you need as a photographer.

Sight Beyond Sight

Most of us are so accustomed to looking at our everyday environment that it all manages to become very ordinary. We’re used to the same buildings, trees, sidewalks, fences and other structures being there every day and we tend to fail to see these things. Nearly everything we see possesses some degree of aesthetic appeal and is worth photographing. The key is to pay enough attention to a particular subject so that you can see more than what everyone else sees when they encounter it. Give a thorough visual examination to whatever it is you are looking at; find its particular charm, look for interesting flaws. One technique that I have personally carried over from macro photography is to look at all the parts that make up the whole. Instead of standing back and getting a shot of the whole car, move in and have a look at the hood ornament or the taillights or even the stitching of the upholstery. No matter what the subject is, give it the royal treatment and maximize its potential.

Seeing Starts at Home

Many photographers, when looking for inspiration, fall into the trap of thinking they have to travel to encounter anything worth photographing. While trekking the globe with a camera is an opportunity any photographer would jump at, it’s not a requirement for great photography. In fact, there are likely to be a wealth of fascinating subjects right under your nose. Again, it’s about truly seeing what is around you. When was the last time you took a stroll through your neighborhood or town just as the sun was rising? Or late at night? Or after it rained? Each of these situations is sure to provide you with a wide range of photographic opportunities.

Seeing the Extraordinary

Loosely speaking, just about anyone can become reasonably proficient at the technical aspects of photography; learn the rules of aperture and shutter speed and you’ll get a good exposure, learn the rule of thirds and you’ll get a good composition, press the shutter to take a good picture. But some rules are made to be broken. When you begin to apply a unique interpretation of the rules to your unique way of seeing the world around you, you will find yourself doing what all photographers aspire to do: making photographs.

None of this will happen overnight. Art takes time. Be patient with yourself and accept the pace at which you learn and develop. But rest assured, learning to see the extraordinary in the ordinary will expand your world and open up photographic possibilities in ways you couldn’t have previously imagined.


4 Responses to “Learning to ‘See’ Again Might be What You Need as a Photographer”

  1. Excellent post! Seeing is essential in any area of visual art. Understanding what you see is the basis of a great shot and, as you note Jason, viewing subjects in different ways can clue you in. Two tricks that help me see are making a "frame" with my finders to capture the area I want to photograph. This gives me an idea of the shot's composition. Another is to use a small mirror ( very carefully) up to the eye and view the subject backwards or upside down. This simplifies the subject in terms of form and values. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Making photographs .... I like that..!!

  3. Great article! Love the phrase "Making Photographs" May it catch on! I scooped this article on http://www.scoop.it/t/photography-today

  4. Thanks for the great feedback, and the scoop!

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