100 Simple Practices: Look, Do You See?
Can you sense a photograph without actually shooting it? Raj Lalwani urges you to open your eyes to the world around you, even when your camera is away.
Most people assume that photography is all about pointing the camera and capturing an image. Actually, it is a lot more than that. The art of making pictures actually begins much before you pick up the camera. After all, what do you see when you see the world? Is your vision and perspective the same as someone else’s?
Learning to see is the most crucial step towards becoming a better photographer. A few simple exercises in your daily life will help you develop that vision.
1. Read About Photography
Many great photographers have published their musings on the subject. Autobiographies, shoot diaries, artist statements and blogs—these writings help bring some perspective. They open up a world wherein you can understand the way a photographer thinks, and his ideas and opinions.
Besides photographers, there have been other people who have written on the medium too, including American writer Susan Sontag (On Photography) and singer Jim Morrison (Notes on Vision).
2. Frame the World
Exercising your vision is a good idea, even when you are not carrying your camera. Try to identify frames around you. Do you see? If you see a lovely moment in front of you, identify the fact that it would make a great frame and store it in your memory. Ironically, you may ‘see’ more frames when the camera is not around, as compared to the time you are actually shooting.
3. See a Lot of Photographs
The easiest way to learn how to shoot is to look at photographs. Study the works of the masters and keep looking up more contemporary work on the internet. The point is to absorb different ways of seeing—not so that you can imitate them, but for being able to appreciate a variety of styles and perspectives.
4. Observe the Sun’s Position
Even if you have forgotten your camera, you should not stop seeing. Observe the sun’s position at different times of day to understand how the play of light changes the mood of a place.
5. ‘Guesstimate’ Exposure
There is a famous camera advertisement with the tagline, “I gaze at the sunset with the woman I love and I think f/8 at 1/250.” Of course, if you are constantly thinking on these lines, it is best not to tell your friends or loved ones—they may not entirely appreciate it!
6. Be Open to Other Art Forms
A mistake that most photo enthusiasts make is that they only study photography. You should enjoy other art forms too, as they can help you imagine and visualise certain frames. Seek inspiration from poems, books or even from dance recitals, Ravi Shankar’s sitar work or cinema!
7. Identify Stories as You Pass Them
You may be in a hurry and may not have time to shoot, but keep spotting potential photographs and photo stories when you pass them. When you have time, you can revisit the place and capture what you had in mind.
8. Be Curious
In fact, not just curious… each one of us should be like a child. Kids are always eager to learn and observe things more closely, because everything is new for them. Ask questions, think of possibilities and find out more about the world around you.
9. Befriend Diverse Individuals
Try to hang out with people who have diverse interests. The exchange of ideas will broaden your vision. Also, this may open up some great opportunities. For instance, if you have a friend who works in a mall or café, he may help you get permissions to shoot there!
10. Study People Around You
She looks up when she is in deep thought. Her fist is clenched when she is restless and once you know her, you can almost predict when she is going to smile. Studying gestures and body language is the first step towards being a great portrait photographer.
11. Keep Walking
It is said that the great street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson would walk for six hours everyday, at the end of which, he would be delighted if he shot one great picture. There is no better way to explore any place.
12. Keep Your Ears Open
It is not just about seeing. All your senses should be heightened. After all, sensing a photograph is all about sensing life. For example, do not use earphones to shut out the chaos as the sound may help you predict any action.
13. Keep Scouting for Locations
So you have a meeting in one part of town, a coffee date in another and a party to attend elsewhere? Observe every place and imagine what it would be like, at a different time of day, or even in a different season.
14. Make a Scrapbook of Ideas
All of us think of stunning ideas all the time. We just do not remember them. Make a bank of ideas and note down anything that appeals to your senses. It could be a photograph you enjoy, an inspirational quote or a random idea you wish to develop. Reading and reviewing ideas always helps you think of more!
15. Carry a Notebook
The art of writing is something that every photographer must consider. Putting your thoughts down on paper—whether they are about photography or not—helps you gain clarity.
16. Meet Other Photographers
Photography is usually a solitary exercise, but this is not always true. Share, interact, inspire—you can meet photographic peers once in a while, or approach senior photographers. Even a simple conversation has great nuggets of learning that you must note down.
17. Have a Sense of Humour
Photography is serious business, but it is a good idea to find humour in adverse situations. This will make you positive, improve your perseverance and also help you spot light-hearted contrasts that you may otherwise ignore.
18. Keep Thinking
What does photography mean to you? How should you break past a creative boundary? How should you execute that brilliant idea? Keep your mind racing with such thoughts, especially when you are travelling or not doing anything else.
19. Do Not Think
Of course, there are times when you should just relax and concentrate on having fun. Even before an actual shoot, you should not think so much that you overstress yourself. Sometimes, the charm of photography is in its spontaneity.
20. Explore All Genres
You may aim to be a fashion photographer or a wildlife photographer, but it is important that you do not close your mind towards other genres. There is something to learn, appreciate, enjoy and savour in every kind of photography.
21. Be Aware of All Around You
You may be reading this magazine right now, but do you know what is going to happen in your neighbourhood a couple of hours later? Keep abreast of the latest news and go through any local listings of social and cultural events. You never know what photo opportunity you may find!
22. Experience Life
It is not just about photography. Instead of keeping your camera to your face all the time, it may be worthwhile to keep it aside, sometimes. Do not see everything through the viewfinder. Feel the moment. Live it, cherish it. Not only will this make you a better person, it will also reflect in your images.
23. Have a Zest for Travel
Travelling to new places and meeting people is not just about photographing them. It opens up your mind to the magical diversity that the world has to offer. Travel has the power to educate, illuminate, delight and humble.
24. Use Your Individuality
We may often look at a master’s images and lament that we may never be able to shoot like them. But then, why do you need to? All of us are special. We think in a particular way, and depending on where we work, we have first-hand access to certain subjects. Always make pictures that are truly your own.
25. Fall in Love
If you do not love and enjoy what you are shooting, you will never do a good job of it. The idea of being in love with someone is all about being able to relate to them. Love makes you want to appreciate everything around. You start noticing beauty in the ordinary, and that is the first step to creating extraordinary photographs.
Great writing is not just about the words. Music has more to it than just the right notes. Similarly, photography is not just about shooting. Learning the ability to see is a never-ending process, and that is probably what makes photography so fascinating.
Getting Out of a Creative Block
If you are stuck in a rut, try these simple tips to get the ideas flowing.
- Listen to Music: Music is almost always the best way to inspire yourself when nothing seems to work.
- Give Yourself Weekly Assignments: Select a topic that is simple, but focused and concentrate only on photographing that.
- Travel: Everything seems new when we travel, and almost every subject becomes a potential photo opportunity.
- Take a Break: If none of this works, keep your camera aside for some time. Engage yourself in some other hobby for awhile. Come back and shoot once you are refreshed.
- Watch Movies: We have compiled a list of movies every photographer must see. You can find them here!
Continue reading the story in the next section: Basics of Creative Control.