Blue Hour Photo Workshops

Photography is a constant travel to new places

See Beyond the Subject

Many people’s reaction to a rainy day sounds something like this: «Oh, it’s a nasty day; everything is going to get wet on my way to work.» But to a child, a rainy day means puddles to jump in, raindrops to catch, and the possibility of rainbows. And to a photographer, those puddles, raindrops and stormy skies with rainbows can mean great photographs, if you are looking at things for their positive potential.

If you believe there is beauty and interesting stuff around you, you will see it, more and more, as you open yourself up. You just need a willingness to explore and find what’s extraordinary in the ordinary things around you. It doesn’t matter what the subject is: A flower blossom, an abalone shell, a lichen-covered tree. Your goal is to get past what the thing is, and look at it for any visual delight it might offer.

It’s human nature to want to define what something is—a flower, a piece of granite, a type of tree. But more important for you as a photographer, you need to get beyond what it is and see it more deeply. Ask yourself things like, «what does bark look like up close?» or «what are the colours in this piece of rock and what would it look like wet?»

You can train yourself to see beyond the subject by asking how you feel about what you are seeing. What does it express to you? Are you drawn to the subject for its texture? Its shape? Is the light expressing a certain mood? Is the scene funny, or sad? When you get in touch with what you feel, you draw from a deeper well of vision and will find ways to photograph your subject that express this. If you don’t have any feelings about your subject, this, too, will be reflected in your pictures. They may end up being static, lacking expression and possibly lacking a focal point.

The inside of your house may not be interesting to photograph, but it’s a great place to begin learning to see more deeply. Go into your kitchen and notice the chrome reflections and design of kitchen items, their colours and shapes. If you want to make picture, great. If not, use the exercise as a way to begin seeing the things around you. Or, take a walk outside and look at a tree. Notice the texture, the pattern, and the shape of the tree. Walk around it and notice how the light changes its attributes, bringing out texture, form and shape. Or visit your garden or a neighbour’s yard and look at the variety of design in plants and flowers.

The only rule when doing an exercise like this is to leave you assumptions and expectations behind, opening yourself up to seeing what’s really there. Go beyond you left brain, which tells you, «it’s only a rusty old engine and listen instead to the right brain, which says, «look at all those wonderful patterns in rusty texture. The more you move into the right side of your brain, the more you’ll see.

There are so many wonderful pictures to be made when you look at the world with curiosity. Just imagine now how many photographic opportunities there are waiting for you within close range of your home. The potential is endless.



  Mary wrote @

I need this right now. We just arrived back in Utah, which is dull for me and my photography. I will try even harder to see what I can see.

  Tiny wrote @

This is so true, Otto. The more you practice, the more you “see”. Beautiful inspiration!

  Elen Grey | Deep in B-ville Writing Over the Garage wrote @

Well said, Otto. A good reminder to step away from the left brain. 🙂

  paula graham wrote @

Very true…you can train yourself to look in a different way. Another great post.

  shoreacres wrote @

Most of the time, I appreciate your posts for their suggestions about what I could do. But this one’s a delight because it’s an affirmation of what I already do — at least, to a degree.

One of our finest naturalists, John Burroughs, would have agreed with you. In his journals, he wrote, “There is no literature or art without love and contemplation… Honey is the nectar plus the bee; and a poem, or other work of art, is fact and observation plus the man… Our best growth is attained when we match knowledge with love, insight with reverence, understanding with sympathy and enjoyment; else the machine becomes more and more, and the man less and less.”

That “machine” easily could be the camera!

  Otto von Münchow wrote @

Thank you for the John Burroughs quote. It’s indeed very relevant for this discussion and spot on when it comes to what the machine can become.

  rangewriter wrote @

“Leave your assumptions behind.” Such wonderful advice on so many levels and with so many applications!

  Otto von Münchow wrote @

I am glad you think so. Thank you, Linda.

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