Photography and the Art Of Seeing

As a photographer how many times have I heard the words ‘crikey, where did you spot THAT?’ Sooo many. So I thought it was time for a blog on the art of looking. We most of spend our days, heads down, storming through life just to get through the day without ever looking at what’s around us. Did you spot the colours of that butterfly that flitted past you? Did you see the patterns in that rusty old door or peeling paint? Did you miss the sunset? Did you ever look in a puddle at the reflections? Years ago I studied art. Drawing, painting, textiles, sculpture. My art teacher, Val, took us out into the yard one day and gave us a project. She had us sketch every detail of one square foot of the car park surface. That taught me a lot. The textures of the little stones and gravel, the muddy bit that was smooth and dark, the dead fly that had met its end on my bit of car park. I saw details I’d never noticed before.

Bottle and light idea

I was only an average artist, but as a photographer, this was great training. I learned the art of looking and seeing. My partner caught me trying out some experiments on a piece of still life and said ‘haven’t you got that upside down?’ I replied that if you always look at something from the same angle, you’ll always see the same thing. It’s true of everything. Walk around your subject. Bend down, lie down and look from a different perspective. Get on a ladder and look from above. Look in a mirror or via a reflection in a pool/lake/river. What would it look life in different light? What would it look like at night? what if you get closer/further away? Turn around. What can you see that you’d missed because you were focusing in a different direction? If you want to take good shots that show your take on the world, first learn to see the world in your own way, then start shooting.

Tree and shadow

The couple of photos I’ve put with this are illustrations of what I’m talking about. The first is a bottle I filled with coloured water. I put the water in so the bottle would bring colour into the room when light shone through the window. Then I noticed one night what happened where the light hit the wall. This picture shows you my idea. I haven’t yet taken the final image of this, but I have several ideas to try just because I noticed this effect of light. The second is simple enough. I was on holiday, went to a pub for a drink and sat outside. I looked up into the tree in the pub’s garden. What interesting shadows were cast in the evening light! So, I got out my ever-present camera and started shooting. Cultivate the art of looking, and your photography can only benefit.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BarefootAdrianne
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 14:58:49

    Very well said. I read somewhere that “Countless, unseen details are often the only difference between mediocre and magnificent.”


  2. jonvagg
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 15:20:58

    I know exactly what you mean. In the days when I did rock-climbing, I could quite easily get halfway up a rock face and pause to look at a square foot of it, the contours and dimples and subtle changes in colour. Needless to say I also found myself rudely interrupted in my contemplation because I found myself looking up at sky and clouds, having fallen off and been held by the rope and my belayer.

    There are of course easier ways to find intriguing and artistic detail, as you’ve shown…


  3. chriscaff
    Aug 04, 2010 @ 15:30:36

    LOL. I’m not a climber, but have conquered my fear of hights in one sense…if I take a camera on a plane and keep it in front of my eyes, especially on take-off and landing I can now cope with flying. I’ll keep looking, but prefer to be somewhere safe as once the camera is in front of my eyes I may well fall off a cliff…without the benefit of a rope and belayer.


  4. randy wornhole
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 11:47:30

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. Many people go off into the countryside to see a nice view, but you only need to open your eyes and look around you to see beauty in everything…the way laght reflects off a surface, the movement of a crisp packet blowing in the wind, dancing to the rythm of nature. Take time to notice the beauty in everything….its what Andy Wahol tried to get across in some of his work :o)


  5. chriscaff
    Aug 05, 2010 @ 13:17:36

    Thanks Randy. There is beauty everywhere, if only people would LOOK!


  6. greysqrl
    Nov 23, 2010 @ 14:04:31

    I love that reflective photograph. I’ve been playing with light related photography this week to try to learn more about that subject. It’s definitely interesting to see how light can totally change an object.


  7. Derrick
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 16:15:53

    Great post! And once you start seeing, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Or at least, that’s been the catch for me. 😉


    • chriscaff
      Nov 25, 2010 @ 16:28:23

      Thanks Derrick! I know exactly what you mean. I’m impossible with a camera in my hand…and I’m nearly as bad if I spot a shot when the camera ISN’T there!


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