The Art Of Seeing

It goes without saying, if we are to improve our lot in this highly competitive world of photography, we definitely need to have an edge over our competitors. This can be done if we can learn how to 'see' creatively and take our image making one step further, and beyond the everyday snapshots. So let's take a look at a bit of psychology, shall we? And try to put it to good use.

When you look at an object, such as a tree, for instance, you see it for what it is. It is just a tree, whether it be an old Oak, Maple, Pine, spruce; it's still just a tree. We know it is because it has been labelled in our minds as such.
If it is an interesting looking tree, we might take a photo of it, then move on and not give it another thought.
Imagine, if you can, you are still an infant and you are not yet old enough to walk, but nevertheless able to crawl on your hands and knees, you see a tree for the first time. You don't know it's a tree at this stage because you are still too young and unable to comprehend.
Without fear, you approach this strange looking inanimate giant with the one big fat leg, a hundred arms and funny green hair.
Like all infants, the first thing you want to do is crawl up to it and touch it. To feel its hard woody skin, sift through its discarded leaves and wonder over their varying colours. Some still soft, others crumble and make sharp crackling sounds under the weight of your hands and knees.
A little further away you spy another tree and as you crawl up and examine its skin, you notice straight away it is different. Its skin is different. It's smoother and its hair is slightly different in colour. And, with inquisitiveness and a strong instinctive desire to see and learn new things, in your mind you accept, that although these objects look the same, after much scrutiny they are entirely different in the colours and texture of their bark and leaves.
The same could be said about any other object we come across. A soft multi-coloured beach ball, or a hard leathery skinned cricket ball. In our minds, they are still just balls, even though they are entirely different in their make-up, but as an infant, which one would you choose to play with?
The soft, brightly coloured beach ball can bounce really well, whereas, although the cricket ball is round, has an interesting leathery skin and stitching, it doesn't bounce quite as well and it is much smaller, but the child still recognises it as some kind of a ball, but now knows the intricate differences by being curious and by putting to work the senses of sight and touch.
Okay, now you're all grown up again and you have decided to decorate the living room, so you take off to the local paint retailer to buy some paint.
You quickly glance over the myriad of colours available in the colour brochures, until the one you like catches your eye. "Wow, I love that colour. Oh yes, I really like that!"
And with your inherent inquisitiveness, you touch it, feel it, give it a rub or two and say, "Yeah, that's the colour I want!"
And then, just as the store assistant thinks he has made another sale, you look down for the name of the colour.
Shock, horror! The name of the colour has the word blue in it, instead of mauve. You couldn't possibly settle for that. Then you leave the store totally bewildered and the poor assistant has missed out on the sale after all.
The message here is, we should be content to accept things for what they are and not for what is on the label.
When is all this going to become relevant, you ask? Or have some of you already grasped at what I'm getting at?
As infants, we didn't have labels on things. We couldn't read them anyway. We learned to recognise them by giving them a good going over using those God-given senses.
What must it have been like to see all those wondrous things for the first time? Limited only by our mobility.
As we have grown older, most of those discoveries we made became second nature to us and evoked little, or no more interest than perhaps a simple passing glance. Our surroundings, gifts and things we have purchased from time to time, no longer seem to hold the same value or interest as when they were new.
Our own homes and gardens have become mundane and we show more curiosity towards other neighbourhoods than our own. But have you ever noticed, when you go away from your home or surroundings for two or three weeks, how you return to find things are a little different? Like the sun's reflection on the hall mat, for instance. "Hey, funny, I've never noticed that there before."
Other little things will cause you to sit up and take notice, but sooner or later they all fall back into their own little hum-drum place in the general scheme of things.
We need to get back down on our hands and knees in order to look at things more closely again. We need to appreciate the hidden beauty and value in that which we have lost interest in.
If you live on the coast, you have probably photographed your local beach so many times, it doesn't mean much to you anymore.
We need to look beyond the overall picture.
Have you ever walked along the beach in the early light of dawn, before its sands have been disturbed by others?
Take a look behind you and see how the texture of your footprints is accentuated by that early light and how prominently they stand out in their smooth unruffled setting. But look too, at the unusual pattern formed by your shoe. Look at the shapes and textures you have uniquely created, then compare them with some of your other footprints. Ask yourself, which appeals to you best and why?
You can see the line of the high tide mark, as it snakes its meandering way down the length of the beach, with bits of flotsam that have been washed ashore during the night. You've seen it all before, but how strange it looks now in this eerie light. Notice how each little piece of litter seems to stand out, with its own individual character and uniqueness, even though they are either enmeshed in an entanglement of seaweed or partially covered with sand and other things like pieces of driftwood, a feather or two, that broken crab's claw, or perhaps some odd indescribable bits and pieces of man-made objects. They all create new and great interest as you stroll down the beach.
Look at the waves, as they wash back out to sea, leaving coloured cloud reflections in the wet sand.
Your imagination should be running wild and hopefully, these things will inflame or inspire you and suddenly send you off on a different tangent of exploration.
When you look at things around you, even the family car can possess in its body, sensual shapes and form, and weird reflections in its paintwork.
Have you noticed the little white hairs that protrude from the buds and stems of humble geraniums?
Here's a good exercise:
Devote one whole hour of your time to just wander around your garden. Try to close your mind and think only of what you are doing.
When you find something that attracts your interest, examine it thoroughly. If it's a flower, are its petals straight, or bent? Are they just a single colour, or multicoloured? Is its stem short or long? How does it differ from other flowers?
Ask all these questions in your mind.
Another exercise is to go out into your garden with a tennis ball or something, close your eyes and drop the ball, allowing it to roll two or three yards from where you are standing. Where the ball stops, mark off a one-metre square, then give yourself no less than an hour to quietly go over that little piece of garden. As you move through it, try to think only of what you are doing. Don't let other thoughts get in the way of your mission.
"So, what am I looking for?" You ask. You're not looking for any particular thing. You may find one or two items of interest, but the whole point of the exercise is designed to merely train your mind to see beyond what you see.
You normally see your backyard merely as a backyard, but now you can see what one square metre of it actually consists of.
Ultimately, the hope is that it will give you more options or ideas in your image making, so a landscape is not just a landscape. Like any other scene, there is an entire cosmos of photographic opportunities within that scene and to appreciate their potential, you must face the task with only that in mind. Thinking not of what you have to do at the office tomorrow, or all the things you have to do when you get back home. Devote all the time you have to the job at hand, with a totally relaxed attitude and you will discover new ground.
Don't just try new surroundings, try to adopt a different attitude to the way you see your own surroundings.
If you have become bored or tired of the way you have been taking photos lately, perhaps by doing these simple exercises, they will help you change your state of mind.
Forget the rules. Don't be afraid to try new ground. Keep those creative juices flowing.
Photography has no boundaries, so you must make every effort to expand your own, but above all, enjoy it and the rewards it brings.

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