The job of the photographer is first to see, to be observant. Our job is to see the scene but also the possibilities! Seeing is the first step to better compositions and stronger photographs!

You can’t compose a photograph with elements you don’t even see in the first place; it’s one of the great struggles of photographers. But seeing is something that can be learned intentionally!

In this second video in the series of three,  I explore 3 ways you can begin to learn seeing photographically in stronger ways, so your compositions can  become more intentional and more captivating. Take a few minutes to watch this video and then I’d love to hear your questions about how we perceive, or see photographically – I’d love to hear from. What stands in the way of you seeing more creatively?  What’s your big challenge or frustration?

For the Love of the Photograph,
David duChemin

Comments

  1. Hi David and thanks for these 2 great videos! I have been photographing “intuitively” (by that I mean in a lazy sense of stumbling upon what is exciting and what I’m drawn to, rather than actively looking for it). Doing this I’ve gotten some shots I’m proud of and happy with, but now it’s clear to me I need to take the questions you posed in these videos and go hunting. I’ve kind of known that’s what’s missing, but your videos brought this into clarity and provided me the questions/tools to get going, and for that I’m very grateful and excited to get started afresh. Thanks! Such high value from you!!

  2. Hey, David,

    A little late to the game, but this is an important topic. A few decades ago I took a workshop from Chris Rainier. I complained that I had a hard time deciding how to capture a scene that I wanted to photograph (I didn’t know how to do what you discuss in this video).

    Chris suggested that on my way home I should pick up a pack of tracing paper, take ten or 15 prints that I strongly responded to from photography masters, and trace the elements of the image. Look for line, placement, borders, etc., then see what common elements appeared in most of the images. I tried this and learned a lot about what I see and how I see. And while this might be hard to do on a computer screen, we should all have books of photographs we could trace, shouldn’t we?

    This was a revealing project for me and helped my photography immensely. I recommend it. In fact, I should do it again.

    1. Hey Bob, thanks for chiming in! Yes, I agree with the tracing, though I’ve always just suggested a red sharpie on images you could mark up, your own prints, magazines, etc. Tracing it certainly makes the whole thing much less destructive!

  3. Hi David

    As usual, really good stuff and great tips for better photos. I believe that knowing how to use your camera, to take “the gear” it out of the equation when shooting is important (of course it comes from tons of practice), as it leaves you the mental bandwidth to focus on the image.

    When shooting there are basically two distinct scenarios 1) you have plenty of time at the scene to move around, try different compositions, experiment with the light etc. and 2) you only have a very short time to make the shot – it could be the action passes in a few seconds, the light changes by the minute (like sunset) etc.

    I would like to hear your perspective on scenario 2) (maybe an idea for a new video?), as I find the mental preparation in this scenario very important, as you need to pre-suppose things like composition and lighting, and only have a few seconds to focus on the most important thing in the scene, that being a person, animal, landscape etc.

    As always, thank you for great inspiration

    1. Hi Peter – You’re absolutely right. Sometimes we just don’t have all the time we’d like. I think learning to anticipate possibilities is key, and that takes some time to learn to do well. I’m often thinking, How can I put these together, what would I do if a person walked into the frame, what will this scene look like if the sun comes out? Questions like that prime the pump, at least for me, and get me much closer to ready, or to being receptive. They make me much more observant as well.

  4. 2 thumbs up for the video. This information is so needed, it’s like the missing piece of the puzzle. Thank you for bringing it to us in such a concise and excellent way.

  5. David I don’t usually comment on these platforms but after reading of you books a few years back (I actually have read it twice) I really tried to stop thinking about the gear and really looking and thinking about what I wanted my photos to convey. These two videos have pushed me even further. I’ll never make a living at photography but that’s not the reason I photograph. Mainly I am trying to reflect just a sliver of the incredible beauty of the world we live in.
    This is a daunting challenge but I am learning everyday. I find your photos and philosophy incredibly inspiring. Thank you.

  6. I just came back from teaching a “What Makes a Winning Image” for our local camera club. Today’s session was an introduction and look at the ‘Wow’ factor of the image. Next month’s focus is composition. May I use these two videos in that session?

    Your videos and books have been very important. Thank you for your work, your inspiration and your commitment.

    kathryn

    1. Sure thing, Kathryn. Go for it! Just let people know where to find me if they want more. 🙂

  7. I’ve been following your work for years, David, but this is a really timely series for me. I photograph real estate full time (which ends up being little more than product photography), and often find myself struggling when going out to shoot for myself, to re-center and remember what makes interesting photographs. I fall into the rut of photographing subjects (bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, etc.), so it can be hard to make the transition of seeing light, line, and moment, and searching for those elements rather than a “subject” per se.

    But I’m heading to Kenya and Tanzania next week for my first visit to Africa, these reminders are exactly what I need right now to try and avoid the trap of getting a bunch of “record shots,” and elevate the images into something more meaningful. Thank you, as always.

    1. You’re welcome, Martin. Have a fantastic adventure! I’m jealous. I won’t be back to Kenya until January. This was my first year without being there for a dozen years and I have missed it terribly. You’re going to have such a great experience!

  8. Hi David
    I have enjoyed some of your courses and many of these videos. A major limiting factor so many us have problems with is that we are time poor!
    This limits our experimentation and slows down achieving the levels of comfort we need.
    Therefore another tip would be time management
    Kind regards
    Joel

    1. Hey Joel,

      I’m not David, obviously, but I have a resource to point you to that’s helped me with my time and priority management.

      The book ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown has been an enormous help not only in rethinking my approach to time, but also my interactions with others in my business and personal lives. If you’d like to get an idea of what she’s about before investing the time to read a whole book, she does have a few Ted talks that you can watch or listen to.

      She may not be for you, but I figured I’d make the recommendation since she helped me out so much and has helped out many people I’ve spoken with.

    2. It’s true, learning to use our limited time is important, though I think there’s only so much we can do to shorten the time needed for experimentation – that’s just a non-negotiable in the creative process. Might be helpful for people to look at how they use other time and find ways to create larger, un-interupted blocks in which they can be creative.

  9. Nice video, I have always been able to see, especially the light, it can make an ordinary scene look quite spectacular. Unfortunately I find some of the best picture I notice are often when driving and there is nowhere to pull of safely and get the shot. It’s so frustrating.

  10. Thanks, David…so far I understand everything you explain…I agree completely…I love to hear…but…will I ever reach this kind of open mind and intuitive photographing?? one good sign: during last week I deleted about 2500 of my 3000 pictures I’ve made during the three last years, because I recognized they didn’t show any personality at all. Others will follow…and I will hold the line! 😉 I never thought that being seriously involved in photography is so much psychology and personal evolution!

    1. You will, Rike! This is like learning a language and those that get comfortable and fluent do so after a long time of focused practice. Some people are better at languages than others, but most of us just take time. Look how far you’ve already come!

      1. thanks David, for giving confidence! thats completely right, and very worthful to be reminded again and again. I love this way of exploring myself with my camera, with the powerful help of your courses!

  11. Great videos David. There is a quote from Elliot Erwitt that i thought was great.

    Photography is an Art of observation.
    It has little to do with the things you see
    and everything to do with The Way You
    See Them!

  12. Hi David.
    Really enjoyed the video and it delivered that cold sharp shook that reminds me of the first dive in the Irish sea on a cold December morning, lots to think about. I guess my biggest thing is not taking/making the time and trying to rush things.
    I had recently been researching some photographers for a course at college. Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Roger who as you will know where co founders of “Magnum Photos” and also Robert Frank, who i read this week passed away at the age of 94. So along with your videos and books i am on the way to enlightenment.
    So again many thanks and i look forward to the next instalment.

    1. Thanks, Duncan. It’s a long wonderful journey. Take it slow and keep your eyes, mind, and heart open.

  13. Hi David-
    Well Put! So many people feel that mastering the camera is all it takes. Having the ‘Tools’ down is great, but until you can link ‘Materials’ your efforts are in vain.

    My biggest advance in understanding the human eye vs. the camera came working with HDRI. It was fun to work with but I think it strengthened my other picture taking also.

    I had the habit of ‘shoot many and show few’ and when I started to understand ‘Materials’ I got into analysis paralysis. The happy medium is between those two points.

  14. Thanks, David. Your videos always give me a shot in the arm. I have followed you off and on for years to help kick my butt. You’re a good teacher, so articulate!

    Something that holds me back: photography is something I love but don’t do everyday. Because of that I live with the reality that I may not always capture what I hope to.

    I shoot using manual mode and am somewhat slow. I haven’t used shutter priority or aperture priority settings much at all. I’d probably be better off using those settings because of my gear slowness but when I have used them I find myself disappointed. I’d kind of love to hear if you use these settings and how often you actually use them? Maybe I should get over my prejudice against them.

    1. Hi Kathy – I’ve used Manual or some version of AV or TV at various points. Honestly, do what works. There is no badge of honour for shooting in Manual if you’re missing shots or getting in your own way. I went back to manual mode because my current cameras (Fuji mirrorless) are much easier (for me) to use in Manual than previous DSLR bodies. But with both Nikon and Canon DSLRs I used Aperture mode most often, adjusting the exposure with EV compensation. No matter what, it’s important that you be able to tell the camera what to do, and that it gets out of the way as best as possible for you. If you can’t use the camera enough that manual mode becomes second nature to you, there’s no shame at all in using what does work. Better to enjoy making the photographs and be able to create what you want to, than that you can say you only use M. 🙂

  15. David,
    You are coming right in on my current question-to-self: how can I go from mid-level to awesome? I just viewed a national competition in a gallery locally, in which I was included, and I really saw pretty much all mid-range photography. Even the prize winners seemed to me pretty much in the same league as everyone else.

    This is a level I used to aspire to, but now I look around and see where I actually am and know I need to kick it up another notch. Your carefully considered thoughts are right on target: visual literacy, active seeing, intentional shooting.

    I love your idea of going through my favorite images and sorting a select cut into piles according to “method of composition,” to see what my go-to, not to say obsessive, visual lenses are. I think I will do that and make a video with an audio track talking about the meaning of each. I wonder where that will take me?

    Thanks again for this right-on-time series of videos. I know you must be selling something really interesting—a class? A book? You’ve got me …

    Sandy

    1. All of your essays and videos are directly in line with where I am (or trying to get to) in my photography. My local camera club was a great source of learning when I was starting out. But in the last few years, the judges we bring in for critiques, and some of our more outspoken members, seem obsessed with the technical side of photography. While I acknowledge it’s important to know my tools well enough to accomplish my vision, it seems easy for some photographers to forget the goal isn’t documentation, but art. If I never hear the words “tack sharp” again, it would be heaven.
      I often look at a favorite Edward Hopper print (The Long Leg) in my office, and imagine what the latest judge would have said: “the horizon is in the middle; nothing is sharp; maybe I’d take a little off the left, it doesn’t really add anything; needs a little more detail in the sail-it looks blown out in some areas; the sky is boring-a few clouds would help.” You all have heard these things. When I look at the image, what I’m thinking is what a beautiful, peaceful day on the water. I can feel the wind & spray, smell the salt, and can’t think of a single place I’d rather be. And I am amazed, as always with Hopper, that it is accomplished with so few elements and so few colors – lack of distraction at its best.
      Thank you for all you do to help keep the art in photography and help me get there.

      1. “If I never hear the words “tack sharp” again, it would be heaven.” Yes! 🙂 It’s adventures in missing the point, isn’t it? 🙂 I love The Long Leg, and think you’re right, he’d get some flack at the camera club. But isn’t that always the way? The impressionists got flack at the salon, too. The people that criticized, hell, we don’t even know them by name anymore.

    2. Thanks Sandy. Yes, on Sunday I’ll be re-opening my composition course on a very limited basis. It’s easily my best course, I do hope you’ll consider it if it looks like it’ll be helpful to you. Hard for me to know how to reply to the question you’re asking yourself, not sure it’s even my place, but I know my own work turned up a notch in terms of visual impact when I began to take visual design / composition more seriously. Sounds like you’re on a mission and on track. I love it! 🙂

  16. David, I cannot seem to find the first video in this series. I do not see it on your main website, and the most recent video on your YouTube channel says it is 1 year old. Can you provide the link here? Thanks!

      1. Thanks for that, Craig! Not sure why it didn’t occur to me to link this in the main body.

  17. Thanks, David.
    I think you have identified the problem I have had for years and offered a very good approach to “learning to see”. You mention learning all the components that make a “good photo” until it becomes intuitive.
    My wife is totally convinced that the ability to see photographically is something you are born with. She is very much a novice photographer but is much better than I am “composition wise”.
    So, is it something that some people have to “learn” and something other people just have?
    An excellent baker and instructor has said that you will eventually develop “Baker’s hands” which are essential to good and consistent results. Interestingly, he feels you get them by practice, practice and practice with all the parameters involved in sophisticated baking.
    That seems highly analogous to your recommendations in the video.
    Great video directed at my biggest “problem” with photography.

  18. Thanks, David! OK, gear I don’t care about – I’m happy with my Canon M5 mirrorless and Tamron lenses. Composition could use some improvement, though I mainly shoot nature closeups, so I’m looking at tiny scenes where there’s not much happening, but I can control my own light, for the most part. What I struggle most with, though, is the editing process.

    As we speak, I’m so backed up with thousands of files waiting for editing, but the thought of weeding thru the backlog is so overwhelming, I don’t even know where to start! Most photographers would advise to batch process in Lightroom, but I feel like each shot requires its own process, as I’m likely just choosing the best of multiples (checking for sharpness, etc), and ignoring the rest for each subject. Plus, I don’t have Lightroom and have no desire to subscribe (I’ve been using a freestanding version of Photoshop Elements). Then I have to wonder, WTF am I even gonna do with all of the edited shots, anyway! There’s not really a market for selling prints, is there? Any thoughts about powering thru massive amounts of editing with an unknown end result in mind? Is that even a real question?? 😁

    1. Here’s my gut reply, Lori: you’re overthinking this. You have thousands of images waiting for you. So? 🙂 Just take them one at a time. Perhaps do a tighter edit. Thousands? Even the master photographers of the last century didn’t die with thousands of final images. Maybe go through with the intention of finding the one hundred images that really excite you. Put them in a folder and work on them. One at a time. And then if you finish that, go back and do a second edit on the larger collection and see if there are another 100 that are so good they are worth the effort. Many of us seem to think we’re expected to have thousands, but who says? Forget the market. Forget it all, except for what gives you joy. Find 100 images that do that and work on them. Most important is that you enjoy this and have the freedom to do it well, and happily. Your paralysis isn’t serving you. 🙂 I don’t know if that helps, but my gut tells me it might.

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