In this article I want to make some very ‘woolly’ non-technical suggestions for ways to improve your photographic skills. If that sentence makes no sense I am not surprised but
hopefully as you read on through, my thoughts here will become clearer.
Photography is about what you see, what you want to see, what you want to create as a visual two-dimensional vision and how you'd like to present that to people who look at your images. There are some fairly simple technical concepts to learn and once they're mastered, your photographic output will be limited only by your ability to see a photograph in your mind and your imagination to create it.
When you are competent with your camera and itching to create stunning imagery, the next step is for you to learn to ‘see’ photographs. This is one of the secrets to good photography that nobody really tells you or teaches. As your interest in photography grows, this seeing 'skill' develops too. Personally, I am obsessed with photographs and my eye is constantly seeing potential photographs. These are the visions of the scenes my photographic eye sees as I go about my daily life and when I see something that I think I should capture and photograph, I make a mental note or I write down what I have seen for future reference.
The ‘seeing’ part is what starts the creation of any of my photographs and it is this ‘seeing’ that you have to develop. This is not something you can rush and it comes only with time as you develop your own style of photography and as you decide what you like and what you don’t like to photograph. This probably sounds a little woolly even now and I am struggling to really nail down the concept of ‘seeing’. Perhaps an example will make things clearer. You are out on a walk in the countryside and you come over the brow of a hill and facing you is a beautiful vista. If you notice that is has photographic potential then you are already ‘seeing’ but there is more to this than just identifying a scene. Once you have found a potential photograph, the key to really ‘seeing’ is to imagine the scene as a 2-dimensional photograph in your minds eye. Now you can decide if the scene will look that great and if there are other vantage points that will give you a better angle to create a more dramatic photograph. Understanding how you see and how that transfers to a photograph will help you decide what will work as an image and what won’t work.
Eventually you will have a hard time switching this ‘seeing’ off. You will find yourself looking at everything on two levels, one as part of your everyday activity and then what will become a sub-conscious action you will see if what you see before you has the potential for an image.
The golf image I have included alongside this article is one I created after thinking about how a golf picture could be a little different to the average 'golfer hitting a ball' image that's used all the time, so I 'imagined' many different scenarios around Golf. I eventually concentrated on the putting green and making that final putt to hole the ball. From that I arrived at a thought of shooting up as if inside the hole as the ball falls in. This image was created in my head long before I pressed the shutter. I had to 'see' it first.
It's very easy to 'see' an image after looking at lots of imagery by other photographers. Looking at work which impresses makes it easier to see those scenes when out and about. It's also very natural to want to have the elements of those images you liked in one's own work. Lots of photographers go out and take lots of photographs of scenes much like photographers before them and really create copies of that work. It's very hard to go out and find new persepectives and opinions on scenes because the imagery imprinted in our minds very often creeps in. However, this is one of the things that separates the good photographers from the great. A great photographer will be seeking a new vision, they will want to 'see' new things in the scenes they point their cameras at. For a photographer wanting to become one of the greats, the eye has to see new things and bring new photography back, to show things that haven't been seen. This is no small undertaking because there's not much new under the sun these days. However I salute those who strive to do so as this need to stretch the boundary is what keeps photography exciting.
Then There's Your Technical Eye.
What we've discussed above is about 'seeing' the scene you want to shoot, alongside that skill there's the ability to see the 'technical' scene too. Whatever's being considered for a photograph must also be considered as a photograph-shaped area of highlights and shadow, contrast, light and dark. This is how your camera will see the scene. It doesn't care what it's pointed at but it tries very hard to reproduce that scene depending upon how much light is being fired in through the lens and on to the sensor. When the photographer sets about making the photograph, they have to decide what's important, is it the highlights? Is it the shadow? Is the image contrast such that highlight and shadow don't make a lot of difference to the exposure? What about the shutter speed? If the effect requires blur, then the photographer has to imagine the scene using various imaginary shutter speeds to gauge the required effect and then put that in to action. Of course the beauty of digital photography is how the scene can be captured many times, in many different ways and a decision made as to what works when the images are reviewed on the back of the camera. There will be times though when speedy decisions have to be made and no time given to reviewing. Here's where the skilled 'seeing' photographer gains an advantage because they can make many decisions quickly based on thought and experience alone.
Perhaps this makes no sense at all to you and if not I completely understand. This ‘seeing’ concept is by far and away the least technical thing I have written about here however it's perhaps your most important asset as a creative person. This is how I create my photographs and it's the core of how I have developed a style as a photographer. What you see will decide what you commit to a photograph and whilst you have an interest in creating images you never stop developing your ‘eye’ for a photograph. Your work and style will change over time as your 'seeing' skill develops.
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