The Art Of Seeing Pt 1

Photon:  a particle representing a quantum of light or other electromagnetic radiation.
Smith:  denoting a person skilled in creating something with a specified material.

I’ve had a passion about photography for almost all my life.  When I was 7 or 8 I sometimes had the privilege of using my parents camera, just a plastic snapshot camera using 127 cartridges.  And then I’d flip through the Sears and Penny’s catalogs drooling over the little darkroom kit they sold (which I now giggle over).

Every facet grasped my mind.  Finding great shots, finding the right angle for a portrait, highlights versus shadows, how to get those amazing shallow depth-of-field shots, along with the scientific components in the darkroom.

Every time I received my finished prints and negatives from the drug store lab, I pore over them.  Compare them to the amazing images in any periodical that had pictures, especially National Geographic and the photography magazines of the day.  What did that photographer see and how did he use it?  How do I make my pictures look closer to that?

Once I had my own camera and my father built me a tiny darkroom under the stairway I worked almost solely in black and white.  I took pictures.  I got a bulk film loader and then I took A LOT of pictures.  I reached the point where I could look at a scene and “see” it in B&W.

I’m sure it happened gradually, but it felt like overnight I was able to look around me and visualize final prints of a particular subject and not just from where I was standing.  I’d stand there and say, “well, if I went 20 paces left and got on belly then it’d look like this, or I could come back in 3 hours and climb those stairs…”  Sometimes I didn’t get it right, but mostly I did.  I just took it for granted, in fact I sometimes had a tough time understanding how someone standing next to me didn’t see what I saw.

Throughout the many endeavors in my life I’ve always enjoyed “teaching.”  That’s in quotes because I don’t like teaching teaching, I like helping someone grow however that takes form.  But I’ve never had the interest in teaching anyone “photography 101.”  And especially now with thousands of online videos showing you how to use the functions of your camera, I have no desire to talk dials and buttons.  I’ll talk at length on f/stops in practice, but how do you turn the dial to change them…not me.

This past summer something different happened.

A friend approached me wanting lessons.  I cringed.  “I don’t do intro to photography type stuff…”  He replied, “Good.   I want to see like you see.”

WOW.  The hair on my neck stood up.  And then my brain went in to freeze mode.  How do I articulate what I merely just do as a practice?  I told him I was interested but had to think about how to do it.

After some discussions I gave him an assignment to go shoot 2 or 3 locations.  Afterwards we went on a few walk-abouts to stand in a certain place and describe what each of us saw and how we might approach capturing it.  At the end of that first walk, he saw something I didn’t and went home with a truly captivating image.

We all see the world around us differently, through our own experiences and beliefs.  And that is what makes art.

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