Learning How Your Camera Sees

This is the first post of a series of photography techniques that I am writing in hope that it will be of some value to photographers at any level to consider. 

There are a lot of resources that you’ll find on cameras from every era known to mankind, however in my experience there isn’t much on documenting a photographic journey.  I hope to focus on the journey of what I like to call learning to see photographically.

Learning to see photographically is a journey that one takes as they learn about creative aspects in photography.  I think photography especially film photography, is a balance between Art and Science. Creating a memorable, artistic, and pleasing photograph requires tangible components that are measurable like exposure, lighting, film and chemicals. When combined with things that are less measurable such as a dose emotion from one’s heart and soul translated into your camera.  The best photographs require emotion, execution and storytelling – this is what sets a photograph apart from a snapshot.

I plan on writing about these topics and of course more as I progress through the series

  • Photographic Vision
  • Elements of Design
  • Composition
  • Learning to See and Assess the Quality of Light
  • Challenging yourself

Photographic Vision

We all see the same things don’t we? Maybe – maybe not, consider two photographers standing next two each other in front of a scene. It it possible for them to take two identical photographs? The answer is simply no it’s impossible aside from the laws of physics, there is the human factor. 

  • As a photographer I may see a certain aspect of the scene
  • I may predict how that scene will evolve and I may want to show you that moment
  • I may want to show you the moment before the moment happens
    • Imagine shooting a wedding ceremony and the couple kissing for the first time as a married couple, what is the height of emotion the kiss or the moment just before the kiss happens?
  • I may want to include a wider view of the scene to tell a story of what led up to it
  • I may want to focus on a particular component of the scene because I believe it’s most impactful

How the Camera Sees

The human eye sees pretty much the same way a 50mm lens does on a 135 (35mm) format camera or its equivalent focal length for other formats. This is commonly referred to as the normal lens. Focal lengths shorter that 50mm are called wide angle and longer called telephoto.

I believe photography becomes art when you create a vision, not just capture one. Below is an exercise that I hope will help illustrate this for you.

  1. Pick your favourite lens if it as zoom, make sure you leave it on the same focal length during this exercise.
  2. Choose a subject an inanimate one works best, if you’re shooting a person they will need to stay in place a hold their pose as best as possible.
  3. From whatever the distance needed place your subject in the frame so it falls right in the middle; make sure there’s room all around your subject.
  4. While looking through the viewfinder make your first capture.
  5. Now walk 5 paces toward your subject and keep them in focus and make your second capture
  6. Repeat this until your lens can no longer focus on your subject.
  7. Without changing your lens’ focal length if you’re using a zoom walk back to your starting point.
  8. Now repeat, except do it on your knees, then do it on your belly.
  9. Of course now do this again with every lens in your collection!


A few things will become quite obvious as a result, the composition of the first image captured will include not only your subject but a bunch of other stuff that in a lot of cases will distract from your subject. The images you captured on your knees will likely have resulted in a much more intimate portrait of a small child.  Perhaps you captured a much more dramatic sunset or waterfall with depth and perspective that separates a snapshot from a photograph. While on your belly you captured a really cool composition of a surrounding park or architecture through the legs of your subject.  And the most valuable result of this you learned how your camera sees.

I hope you find this exercise helpful and welcome any comments and questions you might have.

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