Take a closer look

APAD-20D-041111-5190 I shot this image one day in my back yard, right after I got a new lens delivered. I was in a hurry, not paying much attention to what I was shooting, just getting the feel of the new lens.

When I viewed the image on my computer later, I found that there was a little more in the image than I had expected. Click on the image to view a larger size and you’ll see it.

It was pure luck that I captured this image. But I have to wonder: how many other images have I missed by not paying attention? How many have I missed by hurrying to get to whatever next “thing” I needed to do?

INS-10D-040610-4356 Here’s another example. While I wasn’t rushing to capture this image and move on, I still didn’t See everything that was there until I viewed the image on my computer. Even in the thumbnail here you can see the tiny paper wasp eggs, but I was more focused on the wasps themselves.

Again: how many images have I missed by focusing on one thing and not seeing the larger picture? Have I lost the proverbial diamonds in the rough by focusing only on the sparkly quartz?

I think there’s a lesson to be learned here, and it applies to more than just photography.

How many times have I rushed through my day and my life, not taking the time to stop and examine the things that are, or should be, important to me? How many times have I focused on one particular job or project, and lost track of the big picture?

Am I just looking, or am I Seeing?

The Bathroom Exercise

One of my all time favorite books for inspiration and creativity is Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. In it, he discusses principles of composition and visual design, and provides techniques and exercises for exploring untraditional concepts. He also talks about barriers to seeing, and how to observe, imagine and express your art in a personal and creative way.

One of the exercises in his book is called the bathroom exercise, and I recommend this in all my seminars for photographers (and other artists) learning to see instead of look.

Take your camera and lock yourself in your bathroom for at least 20 minutes. Take at least 20 photos of something unique. If you’re not struggling to find images by the end of the 20 minutes, stay a little longer.

The key to this exercise is not to get wall-quality images. It’s to look at familiar objects and begin to see them in unfamiliar ways.

For example, look at the chrome on the faucet. Really look at it and see it. What’s there? Do you see reflections? Are they distorted or clear?

Turn on the water and let it drip. Can you capture an image as the water has just dropped? Watch the drops for a moment. Are they regular? Can you anticipate the next one? Or are they random?

If there is a window in the bathroom, look at the screen. What do you see? If you throw some water on the screen, what does it look like now? If you look really close, can you see reflections from outside?

mirrorcandleWhen I first read about this exercise, my first reaction was "20 minutes in a small bathroom taking photos? How much can there be?"

But once you stop to think about it and actually start seeing instead of looking, you’ll find that there is a wealth of images, just waiting for you to discover them.

This candle image is an example from my first try with this exercise.

(All images on this blog can be clicked to enlarge)

Look for the unexpected

I do a lot of photo shoots were I know the type of image I’m expected to get. Sometimes they aren’t particularly exciting, but it’s what I need to do. A customer might want a particular look, people might want a standard group photo, or a business person might want a conservative headshot. Those are all well and good (and they pay bills!), but sometimes you have to look beyond the job to maintain your creativity.

For example, I recently was assigned to photograph Mardi Gras float krewes and float heads. This is the type of image they wanted:


But while I was walking around waiting for some of the krewes to get ready (750 women + lots of booze + party atmosphere = a considerable amount of time to coordinate), I saw something unexpected:


I guess he either had a hard night the night before, or was expecting a hard night tonight. Or both. I didn’t think anyone could ever sleep on a tractor seat.

Either way, it was something unexpected, and it broke me out of the mindset that I was only there for group photos. Not only did I take this photo because it caught my interest, it made me feel more creative (by taking a photo just for me), and I began to see the group photos in a more creative light.

Things like this remind me of why I became a photographer, and why I love it so much.

Stay creative. See, don’t just look.