Significant seeing

I would suggest that every photographer has a basic desire to get past the act of cursory looking and begin to see what is significant to them. The subject matter and genre make no difference. If you want your pictures to be personal and authentic you must seek out what is significant to your eye. It is all well and good to say you want to progress to seeing rather than looking, but how?

As a starting position, understand the commonly held ideas on the barriers to authentic seeing. We are all bombarded with visual noise, particularly from social media and TV. The whole social media world is shouting at us: looking at my picture, notice me (buy this product). All we have to do is click through Facebook and Instagram to become aware of this unhelpful syndrome. I must say that many of the pictures on Instagram are highly contrived and are there as click bait for likes.

Begin with the end in mind

So, is there a problem being influenced by pictures that are highly contrived and stylised? Well, that depends on what you want your pictures to look like now and in the future. Many people will have heard me say “begin with the end in mind” borrowing from Dr Stephen Covey. If you want to make pictures that scream “look at me” this may a suitable approach.

There are those whose sole reason for taking pictures is to “win competitions”. There is nothing wrong in wanting to win competitions as long as you realise you are creating pictures in a competition style. This competition style may not wholly express your individual personality and leave untapped an authentic seeing style of your own.

My own philosophy is to make pictures that are significant and authentic to me. I’m not trying to make pictures that mimic the style or vision of anybody else. This is a completely opposite approach to the “win competitions” tactic. The outcome of my philosophy is to create my own work with a vision that is more abstracted, unconventional and personally authentic.

The authentic photographic moment

One key area of overcoming blocks to authentic seeing is the ability to be in the photographic moment. When you are in the moment your attention is 100% geared to concentrating on expressing the Attraction of the significant and dominant subject you have chosen to photograph. When you are in the photographic moment very little else is discernable apart from concentrating on the strongest Composition to support your chosen subject.

How To See Photographically
26 Nov – 2 Dec 2018 
Andalusia – Southern Spain
  • Discover your ability to see photographically
  • Suitable for Colour and Mono Photographers
  • Extra Free 1 day Introduction Workshop worth £99
  • Free copy of the Workshop Manual worth £25
  • Accommodation included – no single room supplement
How to use your camera controls as second nature

Here is a critical piece of information – you cannot concentrate wholly on selecting, framing and arranging subject matter if you are unsure of how to use your camera controls as second nature. You need to be unconsciously competent when making instant decisions about camera controls.

Those who faff around with camera controls are not concentrating on looking and framing. They are only fully demonstrating they have not spent sufficient time in the Learning-zone. The learning zone is the time you spend practising specific camera skills such as focus, exposure compensation and depth of field for example, critically, when it is not vital to get it right in one frame.

 “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”

Dorothea Lange

Hot hint

When you are not distracted by something such as driving take the time to observe your surroundings. In your mind’s eye, search out significant picture subjects, think through all the alternative ways of framing your chosen subject. By selecting and composing pictures without a camera you are training yourself to be a real photographer, not a camera operator. The more often you do this visualising exercise without a camera the better you will be at selecting and framing pictures when you are in the authentic photographic moment.

Dorothea Lange Exhibition 
The Barbican until 2 Sept 

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is the first UK retrospective of American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Lange was a powerful woman of unparalleled vigour and resilience. Using her camera as a political tool to shine a light on cruel injustices, Lange went on to become a founding figure of documentary photography.

This is a huge exhibition of mainly vintage prints made by Dorothea Lange. I have been once but had to leave when the gallery closed at 6 pm. Give yourself plenty of time to understand the echoes of the 1930’s and 40’s that are still very relevant today.

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