Robin Stanbridge Photography | Learning How to See in Photography and Getting those Creative Juices Flowing part 1

Learning How to See in Photography and Getting those Creative Juices Flowing part 1

January 08, 2016  •  2 Comments

The box, our camera, can open and close its hole to let in light and to take a photograph but only you know what you want to photograph and how you want to photograph it. The problem is that you have got to transpose the 3 dimensional view that you see with your eyes and mind and turn it into a 2 dimensional image, a photograph, which the camera produces. It's quite hard to do but you can learn how to do it. Learning how to see in photography will change the way you look at the world and ultimately improve your photography.


To begin with ask yourself how many times have you taken a photo and at the time, or just after, you thought it was great but a few months later you looked at the image and thought what a load of rubbish, or it’s not as good as you thought, I know I have numerous times. The reasons for this is that when you took the photo you weren't just looking at the view in 3D but you had the excitement of being there, you had the occasion, you had the smells and you had the sounds. In a nutshell you had emotional stimulus whilst taking the image. Months later this emotional stimulus that you had has gone and all you are left with is a 2D image. Without this stimulus you will look at the image in a totally different way and spot the mistakes within the image. This is one of the reasons I do not post process any image that I take for at least a few months. I give my mind time to calm down and study my photos with a fresh attitude. This doesn't just happen with holiday photos, it happens with any photo. It also happens when you are showing your photos to someone else especially if they did not go on holiday with you or are not as interested in the subject matter as you are. They also did not have the emotional stimulus that you had when you took the photo. Most people will not say anything when you are showing them your images but if they start looking away, looking at their watch or yawning take it as a hint. I remember the great slide shows I used to show my family, it was the perfect way to put them all to sleep!!! But I digress. When viewing a great vista most people try and cram it all into the photograph and the vista will either be small in the image, there will be too much in the image and it will be messy or the vista will be lost. You have to recognise and accept the limitations the camera imposes on your eyes and mind. Artists have it easy in that they just paint or draw what they want in a scene to create a great painting or drawing. You with your camera, have got to try and pick out the part of the scene that makes the vista look great. You have to decide what this part is and how to make it look good in an image. Remember, most of the time, less is more in photography so not only do you have to think about what you leave in a photo but also what you leave out. Camera manufacturers state that a 50mm lens’ field of view, on a full frame camera, is about the same as the view our eyes see, but our eyes scan the area in front of us so quick our field of view appears larger. To help with this, one thing you could do is try and find is an old slide holder and look at the scene you want to photograph through this. You can move this around until you find the image you like. You can also move it backwards and forwards simulating a wide angle or telephoto lens. The more you do this then the more you will recognise what type of lens you need to take the image you want. You are trying to see what your camera can see without using your camera. If you do this with your camera you are tempted to take a photo before you find your perfect shot. Also the lens attached might not be the one you really want to use but as it is attached you’ll take the photo anyway and move on missing the "competition winning image". Some people use two large “L” shaped pieces of card but I find the slide holder smaller, if it's plastic, less susceptible to damage and lighter. The first thing when actually taking a photo is slow down, look through the viewfinder or the live view screen and check, check and check again. Whilst checking ask yourself if you can improve the image whether it's the focusing, composition, lighting etc. I know this is hard for Wildlife Photography because it all happens at once but there are times you can do this. Another way to help you is that before you take a photo, in fact before you even go to the place that you want to take a photo, have a few images in your mind that you want to take. This will help eliminate some of the emotional stimulus because you know what you want. You can get help with this by looking at other people's photos of the area you’re going to, in books or on the Internet etc., more about this below. Don't just copy these photos, as that image has I been done, ask yourself how you can improve them and then go and try and take that image, by doing this you are stamping your photographic style on the photos you take . I say “try” because as you know wildlife does its own thing but being prepared is not just for scouts, it sets you on your way to getting the type of photos you want rather than getting excited and taking mediocre snaps of everything.


I mentioned earlier about viewing other people's photos. A way to aid you in learning to see is for you to start to read a photograph from right to left, YES right to left, as this is the opposite way we read and it will slow you down and forces you to take more notice of all the images “hidden” details. If you do not believe me try this exercise. Read a paragraph of this photography Blog normally and then read the same paragraph from right to left. When reading normally you will have skipped, missed or passed over some of the words but by reading it from right to left you will have read each word. You should do this when looking through the viewfinder or live view screen before taking a photograph or looking through the viewing slide, mentioned above, prior to picking up your camera. It is surprising how much more you will see and notice within the scene by doing this. Now you have slowed down and started reading images from right to left look at lots of photos, especially ones that a lot of people like, whether it's on Facebook, other social media sites or ones that have won competitions. Whilst you are examining them work out why they work and other photos that people dislike don't.


Another way is to join a camera club. There are several clubs all around the country and there will be one near you. Research the clubs near you using the Internet and go and visit the club before you join to see if it is suitable for you as not all clubs are the same, trust me. If you are a woman then please do not be scared about attending a club meeting, you will be surprised how many women are members. The days of “seedy old men” at camera clubs are long gone but if you know of any clubs like that then my telephone number is, SORRY I digress again!!!! Usually the club will allow visitors to attend two or three meetings before you have to join and part with your money. Pick a meeting when there is a speaker talking about a subject you are interested in and a meeting when there is a competition on. By doing this you will see and meet its members and you will see what their images are like. When you join enter the camera club competitions and listen to the judges’ comments about yours and all the other entrants’ images. Do this regularly and at the beginning you will need to bite your tongue when the judge comments on your work, I know I did. Also take some of the comments with a pinch of salt, but you will notice that most judges will want certain things to happen to improve the image. These “things” could be focusing, composition, space, blown highlights, too light, too dark, angles etc. Whilst viewing the images, think about what’s good and bad about them, keep it to yourself, but listen to see if the judge agrees with you. You will be surprised how quickly you can spot these and your views start to coincide with the judge’s view. They will not always coincide as there are some strange judges out there with strange views.  


Carolyn Ford(non-registered)
What a great post! Very thoughtful and so on point! Some aspects that I need to add to my photography especially since I love macro photography!
Steve Williams(non-registered)
I agree about viewing other people's work - both amateur and professionals. As a landscape photographer I always study the pictures in the annual Landscape Photographer of the Year books and I try to glean the pointers to improve my own images - early starts seems to be one of them! I also follow some people on Flickr. That's why I look at this site too, to help improve my wildlife work.

I worry when I agree too much with the judges. Yes, I will agree when we see technical mistakes such as poor exposure, focusing and the dreaded wonky horizon. However I sometimes feels that the local judges are too influenced by the tricks and styles of a few well-known regional exhibitors and are not open to new ideas. For example de-saturation by using Layers is becoming a bit of a cliche as is HDR of urban grunge. One or two are okay but the technical wizardry should not be sole accomplishment of a photographer.
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