Visual awareness, how do you develop your own ability to create artistic photographs? This is a subject that is oft discussed, written about, and yet no one has come across an effective method to share with budding photographers on how to "see photographically" either in the print or spoken word. As a photographic community, we have largely failed in communicating this mission of helping you to see creatively.This is usually what happens and we see something that attracts our attention or something that looks interesting to photograph and then we are stopped dead in our tracks or have that deer in the headlights look like, now what? We then go through the contortions, kind of like working through a technical maze and we hit the camera bag. Out come a contortion of lenses, which are zoomed in or out, moved up or down or side to side, and not satisfied we pull out every gadget and gizmo know to photography. If this is the case, then you have not learned "how to see." and you have failed to capture what attracted you to the scene in the first place. ? Photography is about light, of course, but it is also about vision, either real or perceived. Everyone's vision is different and we all see the world differently, but how do you translate your vision into the photograph you have pictured in your mind? That is the million dollar question and one you will struggle with your entire photographic endeavors now and in the future. So, where are images created and how do you develop your visual awareness? It has something to do with what you "see" not what you "look at." I call the what you look at photography, drive by photography which essential means you stop and take a snapshot, not putting in any thought or creativity into what the images is about and the meaning you are trying to portray with this image. You mistakenly think that you can Photoshop your way to outstanding photos and technology has been a huge curse to creative photography because we focus on the technology not on the vision or as Ansel Adams once said, "There is nothing worse that a brilliant image of fuzzy concept." Remember that photographs are created by us and we have a purpose in taking them and as such effective photographs are about human eyes and brain, heart and soul. For example, in the photograph above as soon as we pulled off the scenic overlook I immediately told Jamie, there is a photograph there. I saw a series of three leafless trees with such interesting patterns that I knew I wanted to create an image that in all truthfulness isn't that colorful but carries with it tons of visual design appeal. I knew I wanted a soft focus image to blur the background and to focus in on the most interesting branch pattern which meant using a longer telephoto lens. So I guess the first component of learning to see is to learn basic photographic techniques such as depth of field, etc. The next step is to SLOW DOWN!!!!! What in the heck is your hurry when photographing nature. The photo of the bloodroot flower that is not open is a case in point. It was a cloudy day, the flowers weren't open and there was a nice patch of bloodroot and as I scanned the flowers I noticed that one plant in particular was kind of different in that the leaf wasn't curled like normal and that the flowering stem was curved because this plant was coming up through a leaf that had restricted it from fully opening. Hence, by turning my attention to this particular plant was I able to isolate the subject, pick the right type of background, appropriate depth of field, and exposure and pre-visualized what the image would look like. So in a very real sense, this is more of a artistic representation, not a literal interpretation, of this flower, much in the mode of a Georgia O'Keefe flower.
The next image of bloodroot is also not a literal interpretation of the showy flower, which I have tons of images of. Rather, what attracted me to this image was the lavender color under the petals of one flower as it contrasted with the other "normal" flower and only by altering my perspective, ie. shooting from under the flower with sunlight streaming through the petals, was I able to achieve the image I was looking to get. Patience is also a virtue in this endeavor because in each case it took at least 30 minutes to get my camera and tripod set up and maneuvering the equipment to get the composition that was appealing.
The next step in learning to see is to look at, and I mean critically look at photography books and critique each image and ask yourself "why does this image work?" Is it the light, composition, subject, or a combination of each? You can also pick up a visual design book and learn about composition, use of color, light, etc. and become more proficient in understanding the concepts and principles used to create the image. Then visit art museums and galleries and look at art, all kinds, styles, all periods, and attempt to figure out what you like and what you are attracted to visually. Finally, practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for spending time in the field photographing and don't be afraid to experiment or try new approaches because they are a learning experience and you can learn from your mistakes. In the next few posts I will explore this concept of learning to see as it relates to visual design and composition. Until then, get out and enjoy the spring wildflowers while they are here for this fleeting moment.