Introduction: Photography Essentials: How to See

Good photography is as much, if not more, about having a good eye as it is about having good equipment. If you know how to see, you can take a good photos with almost any type of camera.

But seeing takes practice, more practice for some that others, and time and patience. This Instructable offers some tips and tricks for the amateur and hobby photographer for learning to look at things in different ways, to help capture unique and interesting shots, both in the field and in basic photo editing.

Learning How to See can reveal the world in a whole new light, literally and figuratively. I truly believe that more you look, the more you'll see, and the more amazing the world will be!

Step 1: Make Some Time

Learning to see can take time and patience. We're used to seeing a lot of stimulating images on our digital devices, things moving and changing within seconds. Seeing for the purposes of photography can be a much, much slower process. There are subtle nuances of light and shadow, textures, and hues that aren't obvious immediately but reveal themselves over time. And that requires - time.

So find yourself a nice spot and settle in. Outdoors is a good place to start, although you can certainly park yourself anywhere and just take in your surroundings. I tend to enjoy nature photography, and love to watch all the things that begin to emerge from a square foot of foliage or forest.

Whatever your choice - get comfy and start looking, and after a few moments you should start to notice a few things.

Step 2: Find a Focus

As you look, you may begin to see some things that stand out above the others. In the case of the garden patch, the Caladium leaves provide a visual treat, reflecting light in interesting ways from their broad leaves. I picked one out and took some shots from the side, from straight overhead and along the edge of the leaf.

For these shots, I used the 250mm telephone on my Canon T2i. Nothing fancy here, just a demonstration of the many faces of a Caladium leaf . You can do the same thing with a cell phone camera, or small point and shoot.

But the point is, most subjects have many faces!

Step 3: Change Your Point of View

As I looked, I noticed water droplets on some of the leaf edges and began exploring different views of those: edge on, from the tip of the leaf, and so on. Take lots of photos to get a feel for the different views. Some will be more appealing than others. It's a subjective process, and the idea here is just to hone your seeing skills.

Focus on a near edge. Focus on a far edge. Move around, for different points of view. Stand up, crouch down, look under and over. Move around and change your perspective. It can be an enlightening experience.

As a matter of fact, learning to see, and the practice of nuanced seeing, can be something of a meditative experience. You're taken out of yourself and into another place of subtlety and detail that you may never have been aware of before. Go with the flow of the scenes that open before you.

Step 4: Lean In

When you find a point of view you like, take it in. As you lean in to it, and drill down into the scene before you, things might appear in your lens that weren't obvious to the naked eye. In photographing some pentas in the little garden patch, when I zoomed into one view, I noticed an insect I didn't see when looking at the flower directly. I moved around, zoomed in further, and now had a totally different photo of the nymph of an assassin bug.

Step 5: Be Patient

While photographing the flowers, this lizard appeared, scurrying up an irrigation pipe next to the garden patch. Not much to see at first glance, but as I kept watching, it kept moving, and now, with that long lens blurring the background and bringing the lizard in close, I had a mini dragon tale.

Perched on the side of the sprinkler, the lizard is just a lizard. But as it moved to the top of the sprinkler, the sun hit its back and now I could hints of yellow in its coloring, stripes along its side, the long scaly toes, the pop of its eyes and, finally, the bright orange dewlap flung out in display.

It took about ten or fifteen minutes for the scene to unfold,and in the process, I found myself fully noticing and appreciating the lizard; in short, fully seeing it.

Step 6: Consider the Details

Minor details matter. In these two fairly nondescript shots of the lizard (same lizard by the way - totally different impression viewed from the side of the sprinkler), the one where it's leaning further out and its throat is fully exposed makes, to me at least, a more interesting visual story.

Increasingly brightness via photo editing later makes an even more interesting image out of it.

More on photo editing in the next few steps.

Step 7: Seeing in Photo Editing: Cropping

Learning to really see the scenes before you, through your camera lens, is just one form of refined looking for getting good photos. The other is learning to see in the photo editing process. The only real editing I do most of the time is minor, adjusting contrast and brightness, and cropping - basic old fashioned darkroom stuff - via a simple digital photo editor like Microsoft Picture Manager.

But that requires a different kind of seeing to help balance and highlight subject views in a way that tells the story you want to tell.

In the case of these two images, a minor crop brings the unopened buds of the penta into more prominent view, by shifting the whole scene more to the left, but leaving the buds off center, for a more subtle effect.

Step 8: Photo Editing: Finding the Focal Point

Knowing when to center and when to off-set an image is another form of seeing, and like most, just as subjective. One of our Eureka Factory members absolutely hates off center images. I rather like them. Like all seeing, it's a matter of personal taste - so sample a few views.

In the case of this little impatiens blossom, my original shot put the flower off center a bit, with a nice out-of-focus backdrop. But playing with it in the photo editor, I found I liked it equally well centered and cropped in more closely.

The exact same photo reveals different things by the way its cropped. The closer shot shows the single droplet of water near the center of the flower better, and the moisture on the leaves.

Step 9: Photo Editing: Adjusting Brightness and Contrast

Back to the assassin bug nymph, cropping that shot closer and increasing brightness (or lightening, as the case may be) takes the bug from an ancillary part of the image to the main attraction. Now you can see the tiny black wings on the nymph, and appreciate its size better, with respect to the individual flowers on the penta.

TInker! But try not to save over your original image if you want to keep tinkering. I'd recommend saving under a new file name as soon as you start to play with an image, so you don't lose your original.

Step 10: Keep Looking!

Now just lather, rinse and repeat! Wherever you are, indoors or out, practice looking and really seeing what's around you. Don't rush the process - just hang out, and watch, and you'll be amazed at the things you start to see, and the joy there is chronicling the details of a multifaceted world with your camera.

Happy Seeing!

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