Learning to See

In Video podcast, Vision Is Better by David18 Comments

Good morning. It’s Thursday, July 06, and how this week just crept by while I wasn’t looking, I have no idea. But I do have another episode of Vision is Better for you, and with it a chance to win a signed copy of The Soul of the Camera. I hope you’re having a great summer (for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!) and a happy belated July 04 to my friends in the US of A to our south.

I’m off next week to see family in Ontario for a few days, back to spend a weekend in Calgary at an event for which there are still a few spaces – The Soul of the Camera, an evening lecture on July 21st, and a book-signing on July 22 at 10am. If you’re in or around Calgary, come say hello!

After that I’m off to Tonga to freedive with humpback whales and their calves and to fulfill a lifelong dream, and then it’s Spirit Bears in BC’s beautiful Great Bear Rainforest. It’s been almost 2 months since I got on a plane – the longest break I’ve had in years – but I do miss having my camera in my hands and being in front of something majestic!


  1. I like this video and thanks, as always, for sharing your heart, mind and experiences. : )

  2. My biggest challenge when it comes to composition is risk. I photograph events that occur once a year for my friends (horse riding on boxing day and a charity cross country event on new years day). I want to try new compositions but they have to line up and work in that single moment – this scares me. I constantly want to go back to the same composition that got me a “safe” shot last time. This applies to getting closer, lower, higher, tighter, more abstract – I find myself torn between the safe and the potential.

    I have tried to use one inexpensive gear purchase to jump to taking more risk. I have added a remote shutter release for my old camera that will nail the safe moment when I take the risk.

    Thank you for your continued generosity.

  3. My biggest question on composition is how do i combine a visually appealing image with a story telling image. Often the story telling ones are not always pleasing to the eye and the visually most attractive ones are often not telling the story about the subject. So how to combine both and get a story telling image that is visually pleasing?

    Keep up the great work and all the best!


  4. I am really looking forward to seeing the results of your photoshoot with humpback whales, I am sure it will be an incredible experience.

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  6. Some say that a good composition is about simplification, and ruthlessly stripping away extra elements from the image. I’ve found that this tends to make visually compelling, but often meaningless images. On the other hand, additional elements besides the main subject seem to go a long way toward context and telling the story behind the image, but can also make the image cluttered and confusing. One of the things I struggle with is how much to include in the image, and how to achieve a good balance. What are your thoughts on this subject?

  7. My biggest composition challenge is chaos. I am a birth photographer. Those first moments of baby being born are (in hospitals) a rushed frenzy of people, limbs, equipment, blankets and whatever else.
    (In homes births tend to be much calmer and far fewer people equipment in the room)
    My struggle is getting even a second to compose my photo before the moment is already gone or some nurse has put herself in my frame or pushed me aside and so I find myself struggling to know where to stand, how close to be (and not be in the way in case of an emergency). I know the photos I want but the swirling chaos surrounding me has me at at loss on how to achieve them.

  8. Great episode! Although I’ve been taking pictures for some time, I’ve only recently began trying to make better photographs, and I seem to run into a wall when working with people outside of a portrait session. If I try to include people in a setting or scene, I feel like I lose the ability to compose. After overcoming the nerves of approaching people, watching for the moment or an interesting expression, and trying to keep an eye on the background, my photographs always come out lacking in composition. So far, this is my greatest challenge. Thank you for all of the work you do!

  9. What is my biggest composition challenge? Knowing that only half of my image is what I present and the other half of my image is the background and experiences that each person brings to it. And, wrapped around that, like a cancer around a nerve, are the cultural and societal norms that are taken for granted. Other than that—no problem! 😉

  10. We all create our own reality in our own heads, and translating that reality or vision into an image that we can communicate to other people can be a challenge. But an even bigger challenge is being able to see how other people might see the same thing. Being sensitive to the reality that exists for other people, i.e. in a street scene, how do the people you are photographing see the scene, what is their reality? That can give you almost endless possibilities to try to capture.

  11. Wonderful! A reminder to go deeper. I should watch this before I pick up a camera. I long to capture what is deeper in people but I can’t get most to hang around for hours or necessarily let me try again another time. How on earth do I get deeper with people?

    1. Author

      HI Janet – I think that’s a personal/relational question – we all relate differently to others. My gut says just go deeper. Ask more personal questions. Be more vulnerable with them. Be way more observant with them. Some people are really good at this – I struggle with it – but the more time I take (it doesn’t have to be hours) – the more patient I am – the more I put people at ease – the more honest the interactions and the better the portraits. If this were easy, or if there were a formula, it wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? 🙂

  12. As an artist, we are encouraged to digest the work of other artists in order to refine our own vision. We see what others are doing and potentially gain insight or inspiration from them (or we gain insight into what NOT to do!). 🙂

    Compositionally, how do we separate our own artistic vision from what we have gathered from others? Whether it be style, location, mood…my struggle is in seeking something fresh…something ME.

    Appreciate all your work, David.

  13. I spend a lot of time reading about composition and find myself not “out there” shooting and experimenting with composition. So, my question is; at what point do you put the books down
    and just learn by doing?

    I don’t want to become an “armchair” photographer – but I also want to learn.

    Thanks David – love this series.

    1. Author

      At what point? Probably at the point you’re asking that question, Michael. 🙂 But I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive – it’s not all books or all cameras. But if it’s ever more books than it is being out there with the camera, there’s probably an imbalance. And I think there’s another question: what kind of books? There are good teachers on composition and some, well, not so much. And then there are books OF photographs – way better for learning composition, in my opinion, is to study photographs, not rules and ideas, etc. But when in doubt, go out with the camera. You’ll learn from your own work if you honestly study it, and play, and risk, and get good critique, than yet another book about “thirds” 🙂

  14. I am so glad I found this website. I’ve only watched 3 of your videos so far but have already learned so much and you have really made me stop and think.

    1. It is this hunger and desire that drives my passion to not just photograph but create, explore, exploit a scene and location for the first time or repeated visit throughout the season and times of day as I’m alway growing and learning and most importantly, looking and discovering

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