Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Looking for the Unseen

Occasionally I will have someone comment about an image I’ve taken and say something like this,

“How did you see that?”

Most of the time I struggle with an explanation and stammer through with a lot of… ‘uhs’ and ‘wells’ and ‘you see it’s sort of…blah blah blah.’ But that got me to thinking about that question. Just how do you see the unseen when it comes to photography? The more I think about it, it is more about how to look for the unseen than actually seeing it.

Looking for the unseen, as it pertains to photography, is first understanding the nature of light and how it affects your subject, and then understanding how your camera will react to that light.  Many times it is not a matter of actually seeing anything, it is a matter of knowing how the camera and lens combination will capture that moment and then taking advantage of those characteristics.

John Shaw who is an accomplished professional landscape and nature photographer and author made a comment one time about an image he took. The image involved one of those layered distant rolling hills scenes with fog separating the various hill layers. What he did was to meter off one of the distant hills to allow his camera’s metering to assign a middle tone value to that layer. Then, he simply let the rest of the image exposure fall where it would. His comment went like this. 

“Was that the way the scene actually looked? Probably not…but it was the way I wanted to capture it.”

What he captured was not what he saw visually. That concept is difficult for novice photographers to grab hold of. For some reason they have been indoctrinated into believing that they must capture what they see exactly the way they see it when in reality, photography involves as much artistic expression as it does technical prowess. Artistic expression is where most novice photographers drop the ball. They tend to spend too much time just trying to understand the whistles and bells on their camera and not nearly enough time…learning how to see. Artistic expression is all about looking for the unseen. In other words, looking beyond what is routinely visual and recognizing how light becomes the paint you as the artist will use to complete your work of art.

This concept is difficult to teach, but one of the best ways to learn about ‘looking for the unseen’ is to study art. Take an art class, draw a scene on paper no matter how crude, learn about color and texture….texture is what manipulates light…it bounces it around…softens it, hardens it, applies ridges and rolls, warm and subtle or cold and strong. These are 'light' events that are not so much seen, but are experienced visually. 

Photography is creating a visual experience for your viewer. When you are able to capture what they would not ordinarily see and bring it to life…then you will have finally arrived at understanding how to see photographically. There is an instinctive nature to accomplishing this, but it requires a subtle yet significant shift in the way you look at the world. When you watch the world from an ordinary viewpoint, your images will reflect the ordinary. When you watch the world expecting to discover extraordinary moments of light,'ll better understand what I mean when it happens.


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