The Camera Only Sees What We See
Know how to see
Or to put it another way, if you the photographer don’t see something neither will the camera.This is best illustrated by example:
You have a coffee mug that you like and think that it would make a good subject for a photo. You then set said coffee mug in light that isn’t horrible and take a few photos. The best that can be said about the resulting photographs is that they do not offend but it is painfully obvious that there is nothing about them that would make the viewer look at them twice.
The reason for this is that you have presented the viewer with an image of a coffee mug but you haven’t shown them what it is about the coffee mug that you like and it is a fair bet that you haven’t really thought about what it is about the coffee mug that draws you to it.
Now go back to the coffee mug and really look at it. There could be many reasons for its appeal, the way the handle attaches, the overall shape, a particular detail of the pattern, the color etc. Pick out the characteristics that appeal to you.
Now photograph the mug again focusing on the specific thing or things that you like about it. If it is the color, set it against the colors complimentary, if it is the shape keep in mind the negative space that the mug doesn’t occupy, if it is the way the handle joins the body of the mug macro may be the way to go. In other words you will not get a good photograph without some analysis as to what appeals to you and, more importantly, why.
This thinking doesn’t just apply to specific objects but it is also important when a scene with a lot of different elements is the subject, say a typical landscape. It is not enough to think, ‘nice landscape’ point the camera and compose the shot making sure not to offend the almighty rule of thirds. Though this approach may produce an adequate shot it certainly won’t produce a memorable one. Think of all the landscape photographs that you have seen that were OK but completely forgettable – that was because the photographer hadn’t thought beyond ‘Nice Landscape’, they hadn’t put into words in their own mind exactly what it was about the landscape that appealed to them.
It should be easy to see how this thinking extends to every potential photograph. If you do not decide, very specifically, about what it is about a subject or scene that appeals you won’t get a good result. As a photographer, I am showing the viewer something of myself, the way I see the world and a generic landscape or coffee mug isn’t going to say much.On the other hand a shaft of light catching the top of a hill that causes me to catch my breath or a close up of a coffee mug handle that to me feels just right can say a whole lot – and this makes for an engaging photograph.
The photograph at the top of this post is of a very old and well used wire brush. It was the differences in the length and angles of the wire ‘bristles’ that I found interesting – this is what I wanted to show the viewer.
By Steve Johnson