Learning to See

Rey had a great post (“Would you please repeat that?”) that discussed repeating patterns and how they are 1) all around us and 2) easy to find if you simply look for them.  As Rey said, “The trick is seeing them.” 

I am currently teaching a basic photography course and in yesterday’s class, I stressed that latter point in this way:

The word “Photography” comes from the Greek words for Painting and Light, and when we pick up a camera, we are intending to do just that: paint with light.  We attempt to collect and capture the light in such a way as to create an image.  But, the process really should begin BEFORE we pick up the camera – before we think about exposure settings and white balance, before we adjust the ISO, before our eye gets to within a meter of the viewfinder.  It really needs to begin by seeing

Freeport, ME window

Nikon D90, f9, 1/400s


A good photograph begins with the light.  Yes, the camera and it’s settings are important; yes how it’s composed is important.  But you must see the image first, you must see the light.  Otherwise, capturing a good image comes down to luck.

Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it” and seeing is the first part of the distinction between taking and making.  Pro photographer Rick Sammon has a favorite expression that I quote often: “Light illuminates, shadows define”.  It is the interplay of light and shadow that makes for an interesting image.  But sadly, we often travel through our days with our eyes open but without seeing

Urban descent

iPhone 3G


I gave my class their first assignment, and to their surprise, it didn’t involve a camera.  I asked them to make an effort to “see the light” as they went about their day – at home, on the road, at the market, the hairdresser.  Don’t just look at objects and scenes – look at the light that shines on them and reflects off of them.  Look at the shadows, the colors, the lines and shapes.  What do you find interesting, and then ask yourself why did that catch my eye?  We can train our eye to see differently, just as someone learning to appreciate wine can train their palate to assess the body and intensity of a particular wine.  Developing those essential skills is the same as the seeing skills that an emerging photographer needs to develop. 

Up in smoke

Nikon D90, f1.8, 1/20s

My children have grown up hearing my oft repeated phrase “There’s a picture in there”.  Frequently, while traveling by car, foot or other means, a scene or subject will catch my eye and I’ll pause to think about what potential there is for a great image.  If time (and traffic!) permit, I’ll stop, or make a note to come back, thinking about the current light and whether it’s optimal or if another time might be better.  That’s when I’ll say “There’s a picture in there”. 

My job as a photographer, is to make that picture to the best of my ability.  It begins by seeing.  What will you see today?                                                                   Posted by Ed

Morning star

Nikon D90, f13, 1/10s


About Ed Spadoni

www.2GuysPhoto.com "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
This entry was posted in Images, Inspiration, Learning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Learning to See

  1. 2guysphoto says:

    A great post, Ed. A lot of insight in here, and wisdom. As photographers, we feel compelled to grab our equipment and head out into the environment to attempt to capture something interesting, something beautiful. We focus our attention on a two dimensional rendition that appears on our LCD or inside a viewfinder, sometimes without stopping to actually consider the reality before our eyes. You can’t artistically capture on a medium that which you have not truly seen first.

    Posted by Rey

  2. Pingback: Pick a word and shoot it | 2 Guys Photo

  3. Pingback: File this under “Inspiration” | 2 Guys Photo

  4. Pingback: File this under “Inspiration” | 2 Guys Photo

  5. Pingback: It’s a Matter of Perspective | 2 Guys Photo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s