My husband thinks I’m crazy and I’ll tell you why…
When driving down a long empty highway somewhere in the heart of New England, I opened my mouth and made a comment.
“I know this is going to sound stupid,” I said, “but don’t you think the sky looks… bigger… here?!”
That was two years ago now and he still hasn’t let me forget it. However, I still stand by that statement. The sky did look bigger, more open, higher somehow. I can’t describe it, but I could see it. And this is something that happens a lot to me. Not necessarily the sky looking bigger but it might be an amazing light that streams across the fields as I’m driving to work one evening. Or there might be this incredible shadow falling across the pavement as I walk to the post office. It might even be a really cool reflection I notice in a muddy puddle as I walk through town.
I’d like to say I immediately started noticing all this the moment I first picked up a camera, all those years ago now, but you know that that wouldn’t be true. In total honesty, I probably didn’t really start noticing until after I’d shot my first few weddings and I began learning how to see.
Photography is the art of “painting with light” and when you read all the articles and magazines, one of the key things an amateur photographer will pick up on is the advice to see or follow the light. It’s great advice and, now being able to do this, I totally get it, but when you’re first starting out, how the hell do you do it?!
Well, first off, allow me to let you into a little secret. The art of “seeing” is a never-ending exercise. And the quicker you realise that the far less frustrating learning to see will become! You see(!), as photographers and artists, your work should be growing and changing continuously. Every new experience you encounter will affect how you look at things which will, in turn, allow your style to change and develop. So yeah, this is an ever-changing, ever-developing skill ?
The second thing to know is this: the skill of seeing is something that can totally be learned by anyone! But just as you would learn how to read or write or work out an algebra equation, you have to put in the practise and study before it starts to happen.
Thirdly, and most importantly, notice my word choice in this whole exercise. Seeing. Not looking. Because there is a difference. We look at thousands of images around us every single day – whether they are on the internet, on the TV, billboards on our way to work, magazines and books and logos on people’s t-shirts. And yet, how much of that do you pay attention to? How many of those images do you actually see? Am I making my point? I hope so!
So, with those three things in mind here is how I learnt (and am still learning) to see.
Before you even use your eyes, you first need to work on clearing your mind.
If you’re in the wrong frame of mind – angry, stressed, unhappy, thinking about what groceries you need to buy for dinner – then seeing with fresh eyes will be virtually impossible.
Don’t be in a rush to see.
Take your time, look around when you’re sitting in a coffee shop and people-watch. Watch the customers queueing, the baristas doing their thing, people passing by the windows and cars driving along the road. Sit quietly in the park watching everything going on around you. Take the time to look up and down as well as left and right. Allow your eyes to touch every surface, savour every colour, open wide in shadowy areas and squint in bright sunlight.
And finally, seeing is not just a visual experience.
Utilise your other senses. Listen to the sounds of quiet conversation, the birds, the traffic, the rustling trees. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, the wind on your face, even the feel of the rain on your eyelids. And let’s not forget smell too. It all plays a part in really seeing what’s around you.
Do these three things and do them frequently. Practise every moment you get, as often and as long as possible. And I promise you, in time you will start to see exactly as a photographer sees. And it really is the most amazing and beautiful experience.