Finding your photographic eye
When my wife and I first met, we spent a week together in Vancouver. One of the things that made me realise that we were so well suited to each other was that we both loved taking photos. While walking around the downtown area, it took us about an hour to cover 30 meters because we both kept stopping to take pictures of various things that we found interesting along the way.
I also soon learned that she had a much better natural eye. Over the period of an hour I could take one hundred pictures and she would take ten, and all ten of hers were better than mine. She just sees shapes and angles that I miss.
How did I improve? I started seeing the world as a tourist to start with. What I mean by that is that I noticed, while on that trip, that Vancouver is a beautiful amazing city with endless photographic opportunities and all these people in business suits were walking around, completely oblivious to it. Then I thought about how I behaved when I wasn’t traveling. At the time, I lived in Auckland, New Zealand, and had a “grown up” job in the city. I realised that I probably also just walked around Auckland, also a very pretty city, and didn’t notice all the amazing visual delights around me. So I decided to change my attitude and behave a bit more like a tourist in whatever city I lived in (there have been a few!).
It’s easy when you live somewhere to forget to stop and take pictures of the roses, as it were. That got me thinking about photography or image-making in general. Visitors to any city tend to take things slower and it’s by stopping more and watching the world more that you can make better images and train your eye.
The thing that has always annoyed me and kept me in love with image-making at the same time, be it photography or video, is that the camera sees the world differently than how the eye sees it. From the first time I saw a beautiful scene and tried to take a picture of it and realised that the camera didn’t see it the way I did, I’ve been trying to narrow that gap. That for me is one of the great challenges of it all. How can you capture the beauty of a scene, the story of an event or the emotion for someone who wasn’t there? How can you create a video or image that helps people feel what you felt when you saw it?
Though that difference is also something that I love about it. I know whenever I go on a photowalk, or a photography workshop, for the next few weeks I see cool photographic opportunities everywhere I go.
For example, you’re walking down the street and you see one building reflected in the windows of another building. You know there’s a really cool shot there somewhere, but how to make it interesting? What lens do you use, what aperture do you shoot at, what composition is going to work best? Then in post, do you make it black and white, do you over saturate, do you shoot it for HDR?
Sometimes (let’s be honest, most of the time) it’s difficult to stop and watch the world while we’re busy getting to a 9 to 5 job while looking after a family and trying to keep on top of everything.
I love how I can walk down the street and see angles, shapes, colours and stories that most people may not notice. I mention the photowalk because I know nothing gets your brain buzzing about image capturing than doing it.
It’s like when you are thinking of buying a green car. Suddenly, for the next few days, you notice all the green cars that you pass. Now are there suddenly more green cars around you? No. It’s just that because green cars are front of mind for you, you’re noticing them more than you normally would.
So if you spend an afternoon or three days on a photowalk or workshop. For the next little while. Your brain is going to be “extra” wired to be on the look out for great shots.
I firmly believe photography makes us stop and take things slowly, and essentially, see the world instead of letting it pass us by. Because we are trying to see the world how a camera would see it, we are looking at things slightly differently. Now of course you can’t always look at the world at 35mm and f1.4, cause it would probably hurt after a while, but it’s cool seeing the potential.
Of course I am also a gear nerd and love looking at “specs” and fantasying about how awesome the footage that I could get out of the 8K camera with the $20K lens on it. But that’s not what keeps me falling in love with photography. It’s a bit of icing on the cake but seeing the world differently is what’s more challenging and exciting.
What about you? What keeps you interested in photography or video?
Lee Herbet is a visual storyteller.He is the founder of Capture.ink, which has helped some of the biggest brands in the world tell their stories.He runs workshops all over the globe sharing his knowledge on visual storytelling. He also writes for a number of online sites on the topics of video production and editing.