The Photographic Seeing Exercise

In truth, photography is nothing to do with the gear you use, your mastery of exposure and any fancy post-processing. Photography is about seeing, pure and simple. There are an infinite number of images surrounding you at this very moment, if you can see them.

Improving your ability to see images is key to developing as a photographer. In fact it is this photographic seeing that is a large contributor to a photographer’s style: what you see and how you choose to capture it. Photographic seeing can be practiced.

Now I normally do this exercise with my students in courses, so there is the added push of having to bring resulting images to class next week to motivate, so you, working at home, will need to provide this push for yourself. Perhaps decide that each week you will put the best image up on your Facebook page for feedback, or on Flickr or your blog, show it to your husband or wife, or take it to the camera club. Whatever you need to do to motivate yourself, do it.

The exercise is in fact very simple. Pick a location that you are very familiar with, one where you would normally not consider taking photos, go there and keep shooting all sorts of different images until you think you have something. Then evaluate the images, paying attention to sections that work and not just the whole image. Then return to the same location and repeat.

Vision and perception is a muscle, like any other (figuratively) and so must be exercised to get stronger. I often point students to their local shopping strip, school and even rooms in their own home. In fact one of the most interesting I have ever set, and the results being so amazing that I now do this every course, is to get students to shoot in the smallest room of their home, which is usually the toilet. It pushes so many buttons: “what could I possibly shoot there”, “that’s disgusting”, “boring”, and so much more. Yet the photos that people bring back the following week are really amazing. In fact I sometimes push this further and make the assignment to only shoot within the toilet bowl. It is amazing just how creative you can be.

This exercise is really about restriction. By restricting your shooting to a well-known location it pushes the brain into a problem-solving mode of operation: “what can I do to get a good shot HERE?”

The extension of this exercise is to do this whenever you have some time to kill, such as waiting for an appointment or whatever. Use whatever camera you have with you, which for many will be their phone, and explore the space photographically in the time available.

Give it a try.


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