The artistic view – Sculpture Keflavik Airport, Iceland in the rain, see the locating shot below. Fujinon 18-135mm lens.


In this post

How to See the Photographic Attraction, Not the World as it is

In-camera Mono to Assist Seeing the Attraction


How to See the Photographic Attraction, Not the World as it is


Mankind has been making pictures for a long time, probably at least 30,000 – 40,000 years may be a conservative estimate. What was the motivation of cave dwellers to make a relief (generally) of their left hand on a cave ceiling? Besides, with no written evidence to provide the answer, it’s difficult to peer into the mind of a being so long ago.


However, the basics remain the same for a cave person, modern-day artist or photographer. All figurative representation is based on a connection to the real world, through observation. The more practised you are at being observant, the better. Your second nature will be able to intuitively select and record subjects which you find attractive. Unfortunately, observation skills do require to be practised to become proficient.


Practised observation for a photographer is not looking at the world as it is, but seeing it as a photograph. This has been the holy grail for photographers since the beginning of the medium. The photographer Garry Winogrand once said, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed”. The camera and lens have a way of making its look. Principally through a single light collector that does not have a computer blending and interpreting two images into one as we humans do.

The world as it is – Keflavik Airport – choice of viewpoint, focal length and timing are critical to recording the attraction and essence.


Artists don’t look at the world as it is

In the past, I have used a quotation from Painter Claude Monet saying “The subject is something secondary, what I want to reproduce, is what lies between the subject and myself.” This sums up very well the relationship between the artist and the picture where observation, vision and style come into play. What is more, the artist of any genre has to bring an element of their personality to the creative process. Besides, without an element of personality from the photographer, all pictures would look as though they were taken by anybody.


What If I Try…?

Another strand to this line of thought is what the perceptive photographer Walker Evans points out “the eye traffics in feelings and not thought”.  This is very much advanced by the feelings of anticipation, imagination, patience and creativity. A feeling can create an inkling of “what if I try…?” The right to permit yourself to at least try something a little different or completely off the wall is always there. How often do you permit yourself to use it?


American photographers Walker Evans and Elliott Erwitt are both heroes of mine they were both working between the 1930s and 1980s. Where would the humour be in Elliot Erwitt’s life-time of pictures without the “what-if” possibility? Or on the other hand, the ground-breaking pictures of the New York Subway taken with a hidden camera by Walker Evans in 1938?


“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Elliott Erwitt – Magnum Photographer from 1954

Reducing it down to the Attraction

As Erwitt points out in the quote above, it is not what, but how and why you see that is important. The attraction or essence of a subject may be different depending on who is doing the looking. Moreover, there are no right and wrong answers. Besides this, you are who you are. Additionally, your pictures will reflect your personality when you allow yourself to be an individual and follow your pathway. Those who follow the crowd will be judged with the crowd.

I have written more on the Essence, Attraction and Composition here.

Hot Hint – In-camera Mono to Assist Seeing the Attraction

To aid the process of reducing down to the attraction or essence, try looking at the picture in mono in the viewfinder while you are in the process of composing the picture. I suggest you try Raw mono in-camera this helps you to see and design a picture with more dominant strength.


The benefits of looking in mono are:

  1. It is an abstraction from the real world
  2. The distraction of a dominant strong colour is removed
  3. The assessment of visual weight is easier
  4. The composition is based on the arrangement of basic shapes rather than subjects
  5. Arranging visual balance is made more straightforward.


To facilitate the benefits of looking in mono, all digital camera systems can preview a picture in mono-tones in the viewfinder. If you are not sure where this setting is on your camera, RTFM – read the friendly manual. By setting your camera to shoot in Raw and mono allows creative choice. Alternatively, at the post-processing stage whether the picture will be colour or mono.


Taking in Jpeg file format does NOT give that later choice. However, using the Raw file format assumes you have the desire, skill and software to post-process your pictures. With this in mind, it is always a claim of the Fujifilm Jpeg files that come straight from the camera with attractive colour. Therefore, further post-processing work is not required. As a fellow FRPS friend of mine once said, “why use Raw? when the Fuji camera does a better job”. Without going into a long aside, that will depend on what you want the picture to look like.

Transferable skills

We all have transferable skills whether we know it or not. Additionally, a transferable skill is an ability or expertise used in a role or occupation. As an example, the five why’s problem-solving method can be transferred from business to the home or individual setting. Besides, by asking “why” up to five times in a sequence of answers will usually get to the root of the problem or issue. It may identify the source of the problem is closer to home than we initially thought.


When something looks just right

Photographically, most of us know when something looks just right to us. Say, you are in the process of hanging a picture on the wall. The negotiation has been completed with top management she has approved the picture to be hung (my little joke). Now all you have to do is attach the picture to the wall but without putting a nail through a water pipe or an electricity cable.


The most important aspect from a visual point of view is the size and colour of the new picture. If it is to be compared to the size and colour of any existing pictures on that wall. Your job is to make a visually pleasing arrangement of all the pictures. It seems to me, to be a case of choosing the location that balances out the visual weights of all the pictures. The more pictures there are, the more difficult it may be. However, this task would be more straightforward if all the pictures are black and white and framed in a consistent style.


I have written more about composition, visual balance and weight in The ABC of CameraWork Manual.


Practised observation is not looking at the world as it is, but seeing it as a photograph.

Give yourself a chance by simplifying the picture in the viewfinder by setting the camera to Raw mono pictures even if you intend to publish them as colour images. 

If you can hang a picture on the wall in a balanced position transfer that skill to composing a picture in the viewfinder.