Saturday, January 12, 2013

Learning to See

at Innovation Place where I work

We think we know how to see. After all, it comes naturally. But photography has shown me that I don't really know how to see very well. And it has helped me get just a little bit better at it.

Common advice to aspiring photographers is to take lots of photos and then pick the best.

guess whoWe're also supposed to adjust the exposure and color etc. to get the best possible photo. (Whether in the camera, or the darkroom, or nowadays, the computer.)

The weak point in this kind of advice is that it assumes you know what's better and what's worse.

There are some things that are obvious. You want your image to be sharp and in focus. Except there are always exceptions. There are some great artsy, blurred, out of focus shots. And what about depth of focus? How much of your image should be in focus? If only part of it should (or can) be in focus then which part should that be? The eyes? The foreground?

passing by
blurry, but I like the feel of it

When I first started using photo software I thought I just needed to learn what all the knobs and buttons did. But that's just the start. Knowing what the white balance control does won't tell you what the "best" setting is.  There are times when it's clear cut, when you just want to make white be white. But if you do that to a sunrise or sunset, you're going to destroy it because the light actually was colored and the whites actually weren't white.

I love reflections in water

I always enjoyed color, but I never paid much attention to the nuances. Now I've been forced to pay a lot closer attention, because I have to decide what the "best" color is, from a huge range of subtle variations.

We tend to like images that "pop", that have lots of contrast and saturated colors. But when you're adjusting those things, you have to decide how much is enough, and when it's too much. It's easy to go too far. Looking at some photo sites you'd think we live in a Kodak commercial. I fall into this trap all the time. Then again, sometimes you do it on purpose.

also at Innovation Place

But the interesting part is that learning to see in the context of photography has helped me to see better even when I'm not doing photography.

I see the warm light of sunrise and sunset. I see the blue of twilight. I notice the difference in the reflected light from the water depending on whether I'm looking toward the sun or away from it. I see the shades of green in the leaves and the shades of white in the show. I see the color of the sky. I see the lines and shapes, the textures and patterns.

I'm still not very good at it but I feel like I'm slowly learning to see.

the weir

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