Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. 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 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.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

The Art of Seeing

I read a story once about how Ansel Adams was setting up one of his famous photographs while others were watching. He noticed something out of place in the view and walked a few yards into the scene and broke off a dead limb hanging from a tree. He supposedly said something to the effect, “That limb doesn’t belong in my photograph.”


Most of us probably would never have seen the obtrusive limb much less taken the time to remove it. But, with his trained eye, he was able to identify what was out of place and took measures to remedy the situation. It was a perfect example that defines the art of seeing.


In photography the art of seeing is one of the most important elements in composition. It’s not so much a matter of recognizing an obviously beautiful scene it is recognizing beauty within the marginal scene that is difficult.

A few years ago I snapped a rather quick photograph of some water plants rising out of the edge of a small lake. A soft greenish reflection spread across the surface of the lake around the plants that created a nice mood generating moment. I really didn’t think too much about it, I just quickly framed it and fired off a couple quick shots. In that same kind of molded moment, I snapped another similar image where the reflected light on the surface cast a yellowish glow amongst a tangle of tree limbs that had fallen into the water. Again, I didn’t think too much about it, just snapped a couple of quick shots.

Some weeks later someone was watching a video I made about that lake that included those two images and she commented, “How did you see that…how did you know that a few plants and some tree limbs would make such good photographs…I would have never seen that nor even thought about looking for something like that.”


 I found it difficult to answer the questions…and it came out something like this, “I just saw it…it was instinct.” Actually I did not think the images were all that great, but they were nice examples of seeing photographically.

As I began to reflect on how I managed to take those two photos I tried to think through the process of what I did. The first thing I remember is seeing the reflected light on the surface of the water. Then I saw the structure around it. By using a long lens, and panning across the surface of the lake looking in the direction of the plants and tree limbs, I was able to isolate those ordinary subjects against some exceptional light. When my eye saw the moment…I fired off the shots. It was that simple.

How I actually saw the moment(s) came from countless thousands of failed photographs trying to accomplish the same thing. All of those failures have contributed to improving the art of seeing to the point that it becomes almost instinctive. You just know it when you see it. The moments were not obvious…it required looking beyond the obvious and seeing what is not always easily seen.




Many times we allow the big picture to get in the way. The big picture represents the obvious, the subtle reflections and the tangles represent the not so obvious. Being able to do so takes practice and a willingness to break away from our preconceived ways of always wanting to do the same old thing the same old way.

Keith

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