Learning Your Photography ABCs (aka Learning to See)

Pigeons take flight in Times Square, New York

Pigeons take flight in Times Square, New York

Sometimes I feel like I could’ve been a good spy. I consider myself a pretty good observer and spies are excellent observers, silently watching everything that unfolds around them. I could totally do that.

Spies can also be ruthless assassins, though, and it’s then that I realize I’d be a horrible spy. Since I typically go out of my way not to kill tiny invaders of my house (of the arachnid sort), I’m probably not quite what the Agency is looking for.

I never became a spy, of course, but I did continue to be an astute spectator of life. And I think that’s a key trait any photographer would do well to refine.

We’re all aware there’s a bunch of activity going on around us, but how many of us actually see the things that make up everyday life?

It’s when we start to be fully aware of our environment – and everything in it – that we become better photographers. We learn to appreciate it all, from the more obvious things like a radiant sunset, to the more subtle, like tiny dew drops in the early morning.

I never would’ve seen these perfectly formed dew drops had I not been constantly scanning and taking in my environment.

Dew drops form a pattern on a leaf in Oregon

Dew drops form a pattern on a leaf in Oregon.

Learning to See

One thing you can train yourself to do is to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Not in the paranoid “Someone’s going to kill me” kind of way, but in the “I see beauty everywhere” kind of way.

You can practice this mindfulness anywhere, whether you’re standing in your bathroom brushing your teeth, riding the subway with a bunch of strangers or taking a walk in your familiar park.

Symmetrical trees at Washington Park in Denver, Colorado

I’ve visited this park almost every day for 2 years and just last week was the first time I noticed the symmetry in these trees.

There’s so much that is available for you to capture everywhere you go, you just need to find it and sometimes put in a little extra effort to seek it out.

Be An Observer of Life

It’s honing this ability to analyze, frame and picture possible images in your mind that will help you practice the art of making great images. You’ll learn to see attractive things you perhaps knew were there but didn’t really take notice of before.

You’ll learn to see beauty in surprising places and soon it’ll feel like there’s an endless amount of everyday things you could photograph and never get bored.

Nothing is too mundane to photograph. Even though your daily commute may seem boring and inconsequential to you now, if you were to capture your daily routine today and come upon this photograph 30-40 years from now, you’d likely be filled with memories of that time in your life.

Watch for Fleeting, Decisive Moments

Some of my favorite images I’ve captured I only managed to get because I was always paying attention, ready to put the camera to my eye when I felt it was right.

Moments before they were whisked away to their reception, I captured this image of my cousin and his new wife just after they were married. I love the happy, contented glow on her face. You can’t plan shots like this – you just have to be prepared for them.

Bride and Groom, newly married, ready to go to the reception.

Bride and Groom, newly married, ready to go to the reception.

The Challenge

Without even needing to carry a camera with you, you can learn to become a better photographer by learning to see.

This next week, do you best to pay attention to everything. Look around you and take it all in. Be in the moment. Be watchful and train yourself to see things you’ve never seen before. If something catches your eye, frame it in your mind and take a mental picture of what you see.

After a few days of being the quiet observer, put your new skills to the test by pulling out your camera and making images with your fresh perspective.

This lifelong exercise has no doubt helped shape me into the photographer I am today and will undoubtedly help you in your quest to improve your image-making abilities.

Share Your Work

After you’ve spent some time honing your skills as a world observer, take note of how you feel. Did you notice new beauty in your world? Did you capture anything you normally wouldn’tve seen?

Share your favorite image by commenting below and posting a link to your photo.

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2 Responses to Learning Your Photography ABCs (aka Learning to See)

  1. Bill September 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    After reading this one page I strolled for five minutes and saw so much that I have been missing. I will work on this for a few days. Will be fun.

    Thx. Bill

    • Kim September 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

      Isn’t it amazing how much we overlook day-to-day? I found that there are so many little things that would be great to capture but we’re just so used to seeing them that we don’t think about it until we consciously make the effort to notice. Glad you’ll have fun with it, Bill! :)