How to See a Photograph

March 9, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 8 Comments | |
How to See a Photograph Image

The recent explosion of compact digital cameras and mobile phones incorporating high megapixel cameras has meant that photography has become within easy reach of a considerable percentage of the population.Millions of shutters are pressed each day but I wonder how much thought is given to the content of each image produced?

The majority of camera owners will simply record a scene to which they had given no more than a cursory glance. In spite of the capability of digital camera users to play back, review and improve upon previous attempts, I suspect that those who say how much easier it is to take a good picture with a digital camera are, in the main, referring to quantity not quality.

My own philosophy is that film and digital photography should be treated in exactly the same way when it comes to using our vision to create an image. But where do we start with our quest to create a masterpiece as opposed to a simple pictorial record so often referred to as a 'snap'? How do we learn to see rather than just look?

How to See a Photograph

All too often the process is rushed. Little or no time is given to really studying the scene in front of us.A 'that'll do' approach is adopted and a rapid switch to another viewpoint becomes the norm. Instead, time spent observing all the different elements that make up a scene will lay the foundations for better picture-making. Learning to appreciate what we are seeing is vital.

The urge to cram in as much as possible into the frame is common practice and a less is more approach generally proves to be a better route. On many occasions I've been approached by a passer-by offering well-meant advice 'You can get a fantastic photograph from the top of so and so hill. You can't fail to take a good shot!'. Not wishing to appear rude as I'm always grateful they've taken the trouble to be friendly and helpful but inwardly muse to myself that, a) it probably isn't and, b) I can!

How to See a Photograph

'Seeing' images is something we can train ourselves to improve at and isn't just an ability with which the gifted few were born. I recall the very moment that the art of seeing became much clearer through my own eyes. I had painstakingly and systematically analysed the work of a few photographers whose work inspired me. The sudden realisation that it was the simplicity of their images that made them stand out from those of less successful artists, opened up a whole new world. This simplicity was not as a result of chance but was arrived at they gave much thought as to how they would photograph their chosen subject matter.

Entry Tags

photos, photo, photograph, light, lighting, compose, looking, look, simplicity, seeing, simple, see, How to See a Photograph, observe

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Your Comments

8 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Tim

Good start. For me, the art comes from waving the viewfinder around and seeing how it looks - not the scene, but how the viewfinder looks. That is the 2D result that other people will see, not the 3D objects in front of you. If it’s harmonious, shoot it.

2:20 pm - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#2 Randy

really nice shot. the art is the angle you can take.

3:40 pm - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#3 Ian Haseltine - Real Estate Photography

Great post! I love the topic. I have studied photography for years, but the relation of composition and “what is a good photograph?” seems to get lost on the masses of shutterbugs all around us. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

11:20 pm - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#4 Mandeno Moments

I like the first image, of the bridge: it’s dynamic and holds your eye. I also like the unconventional nature of it, which gives a fresh perspective on the familiar.

Another way to ‘see’ (visualise) a photograph before you press the shutter is to close one eye and switch to 2D: what looks good in 3D may look awful in 2D. Don’t move your head around while you have one eye closed, because your brain will compensate and you’ll be back to 3D, even though you have one eye closed. This is similar to what Tim described above.

I’ve just started experimenting with using frames, eg a slide mount, to try out various compositions before picking up the camera. This seems to be a good mental discipline.

A black frame is usually best unless you’re shooting at night. My cameras shoot in 4:3, so I have frames for 4:3, 3:2, 1:1, & 16:9, all made from black plastic.

7:31 am - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#5 Saul Raikis

Very Nice. What I love about photography is, that it gives one a chance to freeze a moment in time. When you look back, it gives you some sort of clarity, and to some of us makes us want (or need) to do it again.

3:53 pm - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#6 Johnny Napoles

This article is amazing, im currently enrolled in high school, and we’re required to complete a graduation project. I chose to do mine on photography, and im going to try and explain some of the things you spoke about, and what caught my eye was the picture of the bridge. Its hard to explain to people when I say the point of my project is to educate, to show the few people who will see it the right way to see a photograph. I’m glad I found your site, if possible please send me a message to my email, I would love to have the opportunity to ask you questions in the future about photography, and send visual messages to the people.

3:54 pm - Thursday, March 25, 2010

#7 heather Meakin

I am new to the world of photography , it is amazing how you develop a “3rd Eye” when ever you are out and about even without your camera, you SEE the world with much more clarity,

3:00 pm - Sunday, April 25, 2010

#8 heather Meakin


8:56 pm - Monday, April 26, 2010