Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Looking vs. seeing, part of Foundations of Photography: Composition.
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Earlier I mentioned that seeing is not an easy thing to learn. Now that can be a somewhat confusing statement, since, thanks to your eyes, you spend all day long not bumping into things and not getting run over by cars and recognizing people you know and so on. But I would argue with that what you do most of the time during the day, as you move about your life, is looking, not seeing. See if this sounds familiar. You cannot find your house keys. You look on the kitchen table, you rifle the pockets of everything you've worn lately, you go outside and search the car, and you retrace your footsteps as best you can remember about your house, and after long minutes of frantic searching, you return to the kitchen table where you started, only to find that the keys have been sitting there all along.
Since you had already looked at the table, why didn't you find them right away? Because you merely looked at the table; you didn't see the table. We've discussed how 80% of your visual sense is made up by your brain, and what it makes up is based on memory and previous experience. This is why children often notice things that adults don't. They simply don't have enough experience for their brain to make stuff up. They have to actually see everything in front of them and work out exactly what it is they are experiencing. We're very fortunate that our brains work this way. Getting through the day would be much more difficult if we had to actually see every detail of a car to recognize it as a car, rather than simply being able to glance in the direction of the car and note its presence.
The problem is, while this is happening, it's very difficult to know that you're not actually seeing the things before you. After all, when you don't see the keys on the kitchen table, it's not like you see a conspicuous key-shaped hole in their place. No, instead you perceive what you think the table should look like, not what it really looks like, and so you have no indication that you're not seeing properly. This inability to perceive things as they really are is not a great trade for a photographer. It makes it harder for you to recognize good subject matter, especially if you're in a place that you're already very familiar with, and it makes it harder to see how to compose an interesting subject once you've spotted it.
In the rest of this chapter we're going to explore a few particulars of seeing and look at some exercises to help you improve your ability to actually see the world around you. First though, we're going to look at one of the most important limitations of your camera.
The course addresses how the camera differs from the eye and introduces composition fundamentals, such as balance and point of view. Ben also examines the importance of geometry, light, and color in composition, and looks at how composition can be improved with a variety of post-production techniques. Interspersed throughout the course are workshop sessions that capture the creative energy of a group of photography students; shooting assignments and exercises; and analyses of the work of photographers Paul Taggart and Connie Imboden.
- Looking versus seeing
- Understanding when and why to use black and white
- Analyzing lines
- Arranging the elements into lines and shapes
- Working with perspective and symmetry
- Changing focal length, camera position, and depth
- Dividing rectangular frames into thirds
- Weighting the corners in square pictures
- Composing photographs of people
- Composing landscape photos
- Working with light: direction, texture, and negative space
- How to shoot color
- Guiding the viewer's eye
- Controlling depth
- Improving composition in post-production