1st In a series – 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.

I think that this is a journey that one takes as they learn about creative aspects in photography.  I believe that photography especially film photography, is a balance between Art and Science. Capturing a memorable, artistic, and pleasing photograph requires tangible components that are measurable like exposure, lighting, film and chemical selection and, equipment mixed with those that are less measurable; they are a healthy dose emotion from one’s heart and soul translated into execution into your camera.  At the end of the day to me photographs require emotion, execution and storytelling – this is what sets a photograph apart from a snapshot.

So where did this come from, why would my opinion be the right way?   Let me start by saying I am basing this series only on my personal experience and training which you can read on my about me page on my website.  But I say with the utmost emphasis this is not the right way it is my way, it is what has and works for me, I sincerely hope that some of it works for you too.  Of course, constructive comments are always welcome.

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

Let’s get started…

Photographic Vision:

We all see the same thing…. Well, maybe, maybe not, consider two photographers standing next two each other in front of a scene do you think it’s possible for them to take an identical photograph? The answer is simply no it’s impossible aside from the laws of physics and the space time continuum, 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

The concept here is in a lot of photographs there are photos within photos.

How do we see versus how the camera does; the human eyes sees pretty much the same way a 50mm lens does on a 135 (35mm) format camera and its equivalent focal length for other formats. This is commonly referred to as the normal lens, and of course focal lengths shorter that 50mm are called wide angle and longer called telephoto.

If you share the notion with me that photography is about creating vision not just capturing one, this is why photography is art in my opinion, here’s an exercise that I hope will 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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This page is dedicated to photographers of all skill levels. I will post links to other really cool photographers I know as well as recommended vendors as well as blog posts written mainly for photographers. The resources will be geared toward film and analog mostly but a lot of the content will apply to digital photographers as well.

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