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In Order To Be A Good Photographer, You Have To Learn How To See

Good evening, folks. For tonight’s installment, I thought I would talk about one of the most important pieces of advice that I have picked up from other online photography sources and videos that I don’t believe gets mentioned enough. In order to be a good photographer, you have to learn how to see. What does this mean? What kind of cryptic message could he be telling us, you ask? It’s plain and simple. The art of photography, like any visual art, begins in your mind. Through your eyes, you see something that captures your attention and you try to record that image as you see it in your mind on a digital sensor or cellulose film. So what does it take? Here are a few pointers that I can offer that have clicked with me:

1. Photograph what interests you and try to find an interesting perspective. Obviously, the root of all art that begins with the artist involves his or her interest in what they are trying to achieve. If you are going out to record photographic art trying to record what others may like, instead of what you like, may not be the best point to start your photographic adventure. Of course, if you are a paid photographer on a gig, then you don’t have a choice but to be interested in what the customer wants, but this piece of the advice pertains more to people like myself that are doing this as a passionate hobby. So, once you focus on something that you find interesting, point the camera at it. But, wait, don’t start clicking away without considering good composition and some kind of artistic technique. Try looking at it in a different perspective. Try dropping to one knee. Try getting closer than you normally would and focus on a particular detail that you like. Try giving something better composition by including some of its surroundings, if it makes sense. Try finding a higher point of view. You get the picture, right??? (pun intended)

2. Don’t be too mindful of your equipment. In today’s technologically advanced world, cameras continue to get more and more sophisticated and dumb themselves down. Pretty soon you’ll be able to send your camera out to a favorite destination and tell it to bring you back photographs and you won’t even have to get off your couch. Now, what fun would that be? None!! It would suck. If you are still trying to get used to that new camera, by all means use the Auto feature, but pay attention to what the camera is doing and why it is selecting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture that it is. The more you understand how all those things work, the quicker you’ll get off Auto and start being the boss of your camera, instead of it being the boss. Once you’re off Auto, CONGRATULATIONS!!! Mess around with the settings to find your vision.

3. Remember that your biggest obstacle is your camera. Whoa, whoa, whoa!! What the hell does that mean?? Didn’t I just say that your camera is your best friend? Well, yes, but it is also your biggest hinderance. This is regardless of how fancy of a camera you have or even if you have a simple pocket point and shoot. The human eye is a marvelous thing. Just consider that through them, your brain is able to process and interpret all the light coming in and bouncing off of everything in your visual path. Now, consider that just like a camera, your eyes have to adjust the ISO setting, shutter speed and aperture to properly meter what’s in front of you. It can go from extreme detail vision where you are using a very large aperture and everything else gets blended, then a split second later, you look up to a beautiful expanding landscape and everything has to be in focus with a very large depth of field. Well, unfortunately, your camera can’t work as wonderfully as your eye. So, we have to be the ones to understand how to make the camera replicate what we just saw. We have to meter correctly, set the aperture correctly and select the appropriate shutter speed and ISO setting that will replicate that vision in your mind on a digital copy saved on your memory card. Damn, that’s hard stuff!!!

4. Remember that just like your eyes squint in extremely bright sunlight, you camera does too. Unfortunately, most of us head outdoors when the weather is beautiful and the sun is high and bright in the sky. This has got to be the worst time of day to bring the camera out to play. Although there are techniques that can be employed to minimize the effect of really bright sunlight on our subjects, most of them involve bringing out light diffusers of different kinds, also called scrims, that act as a filter to spread the harsh light into a softbox effect of sorts. Not everyone would like to walk around with one of those, but to each his own. The best time of day to photograph are the two hours as the sun rises and the two hours just before it sets. In between that, look for the shade, use a lens hood and avoid pointing the lens towards the direction of the intense light source.

5. And finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Would you expect to buy a tennis racket and have your first game go up against Pete Sampras? Nope. Would you expect to buy a flute and have your first few notes be played with the London Symphony??? Wrong again!! So, why would you think that just cause you’ve bought yourself a fancy camera, you’re ready to take top quality images that would grace the cover of National Geographic??? All photographers that have those gigs have them because they practiced intensely. They didn’t just get lucky. They got out there and got sooooo familiar with their tool, that they learned how to make it an extension of their own vision. That is a true artist with a camera, folks.

So, do I follow all these all the time? Nope. It’s a lot to think about all the time. Most of the time, I’m just hoping and praying that I was able to do one or two of these while heading out with my camera. I keep them in the back of my head and try to remind myself of all this before I snap a picture. But, even with all this, I still bring home a lot of duds. The good news is that they can be deleted fairly easily. Some images are just so darn horrible, that I delete them immediately upon looking at the play back on the LCD screen. Others have potential only to not meet the chopping block once they upload to my computer. But, if you’ve invested in a nice DSLR, chances are that you have a nicely sized memory card to play with, if not multiples. Fill them up, champ!! There’s no sense in coming home with empty space on the memory card. Who knows? Maybe one of those per-chance images ends up being the winner!!

For today’s images, I take up back to my outing at Filoli Gardens a few weeks back. On the grounds, there is a lovely gift shop that has the homiest of feel to it, so it captured my attention. It almost reminded me of being in a Smith & Hawken mixed with a country general store. Although I didn’t spend too much time (or money) in there, it was very enjoyable and a worthwhile stop when visiting the grounds. Enjoy and Good Night!!!

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