Behind the Camera: Seeing the Image

· Reading Time: 33 minutes

Welcome back for another installment of my monthly Behind the Camera feature.  In this feature I will typically answer a question that has come up during the month, or I will use it as a place to talk about something that has been on my mind during that time.  I’ll be quite honest here and let you know that I am writing this on the May 17th so that I can get ahead of the game.  By the end of this week, we will be closing on our new house and my time will be rather stretched for the next couple of months.  I didn’t want to let this one get away from me, so I figured I would just go ahead and get it taken care of early.  The downside to that is that I haven’t had the full month to really think about what I was going to talk about.  July’s installment will be easy since that will be my quarterly update on how things are progressing with being a full time photographer.  A little spoiler alert here, that will likely be a very short update due to a combination of quarantine and prepping the new house.  But things could change by July 1st so I’m not promising anything just yet.

Anyway, on to the task at hand.  What to discuss this month?  I batted around a few ideas and the top two came down to a rant on swamping our national and state parks as these locales are reopening gradually.  This is something that I am passionate about these days because it is just causing more and more closures instead of progressing the way that we are hoping for.  I also see that as being a very polarizing platform and I don’t want to make this entry a topic of any debate or have it turn political.  There is enough of that going around these days and I don’t want to stir that pot.  So, that leaves me with my second option, and one that I started to think about the other day while I was shooting an Infrared photograph for evaluation on a new filter and technique that went along with it.  What I came up with was talking about seeing a scene, or more to the point how I evaluate a scene to see if there is a photograph to be had.

There is actually quite a lot to this and I figured that it would possibly make a pretty good entry if I could flesh it out in print.  I know that many folks have commented on “my eye” as well as my use of elements in an image to tell the story.  These are not things that happen by accident and have progressed quite a bit over the course of the years.  It takes a lot of practice to be able to see as a camera would see, and that isn’t to say that I am perfect at it.  It is always a learning process and something that needs constant attention to in order to keep the skills up to date.  The good news is that you can practice this at any time, even without a camera.  The main trick is learning that how you see normally isn’t accurate at all, and your mind will filter everything that you see.  When you take a picture with a camera, you are capturing all of the elements in that scene whether you saw them or not.

I’ll wait while you re-read that last little bit cause I’m sure there is some head scratching going on at this point.

OK, now we are tracking, at least a little bit right?  What I am going to be talking about today is how to read a scene critically with a “photographer’s eye”.  This is probably the most seldom talked about aspects of photography and the one that will undoubtedly make the most impact on your photographs.  Sure, we have to learn the limitations of our equipment being a photographer.  It is well known that our eyes see a much wider dynamic range than a camera can capture.  We know about camera and subject movement that introduces blur.  These are all technical aspects that we must learn as photographers, but neither has anything to do with seeing a scene.  That part of the process is wholly human and open for interpretation.  It is the hardest and the easiest thing about photography all by itself and if you can work through this part of the process, the technical end can be taught very easily in most cases.

You would think that you would come across a scene and say to yourself “wow, that is really beautiful and it would make a good picture!”  We have all done that and come home to look at image on the computer, or wait for it to get back from developing only to be very disappointed because the camera didn’t capture what we actually saw.  In this picture, shot by Toni at Salem Lake, we can kind of see the issue.  I was already working on forming a composition with this scene because I really liked the light at the distant horizon.  It was a beautiful morning, but this picture doesn’t really capture what I saw.  It captured me, and that was the purpose behind her picture, but if you take me out of the equation, you will see what my eyes saw.  It is a pretty scene, but it would fail on its own as a photograph.  We have to understand how our eyes and mind work to understand what is going on here.  Our eyes will see everything in a scene, but our mind will process it in a way that eliminates the clutter and will focus on the one element that we are interested in.  In this case, your mind will focus on the light at the distant shore.  When looking at it, your mind is thinking about the situation and has the other senses to aid in that process.  You could hear the quiet with no other sounds than the water lapping against the docks and the occasional bird.  You could smell the aroma of morning and the lake.  You could feel the wet cold of the air.  You couldn’t really taste anything but all of these four senses would add to the sense of sight for a complete picture of what you were actually seeing.  With the visual end filtered with the other senses, we are less likely to see the docks in the foreground with the disorganization, or see the vast negative space in the upper half of the image (again, if you take me out of the picture).  If we tried to capture that image at that moment we saw that light in the distance, the picture would not hold true to the scene.

This is what happens with a photograph.  You are removing four of the five senses from the image.  Our minds no longer have the context of the scene which puts photographs at a disadvantage over our own eyes.  Without the context of a scene, our eyes will start to look for clues within the image to find out what is going on.  That is where we will start to see things like the foreground that has no rhyme or reason to it.  We will see patches of bright light at the corners where there wasn’t anything in our mental picture because it was filtered out.  We will see negative or empty space that wasn’t there before.  In short, we will start to pick apart an image and each aspect that doesn’t support the image that we had in mind detracts from it.  In the worst case, you won’t even be able to see what drew you to the scene in the first place because it gets lost in all of the other clues.  In the best case, you just have a very boring image of something that would be very pretty to look at.  This is where the “photographer’s eye” comes into play.  I do hate that term because it attempts to suggest that a photographer is somehow better at seeing than anyone else.  It is just a skill that anyone can develop similar to driving, or cooking.

The Jetty

Here is an example of the image that resulted from this particular morning.  It is not a stellar image by any stretch, but it is a good illustration for this entry.  You can see that it was from about the same area as the one that Toni shot of me and most of the elements are still there.  The difference is the composition.  Granted, the purpose for her image was completely different than the purpose of mine.  For what she was after, it was a great image, but if you take the editorial end out and remove me, it was a confusing image.  The one that I shot is organized so that the visual reaction of the scene is enough to overpower the need for the other senses.  All you have here is a visual adaptation of the morning, and you are looking for those visual clues.  You can see that the water is still, so there isn’t much, if any breeze.  You can see from the cool color temperature that there would appear to be a slight chill to the air, but the sun would quickly warm things.  There is no movement, and it is the beginning of the day so there would likely be no sounds to mention.  Unless you licked the picture (not recommended), there is still no taste involved.  If you have been to a lake before, you would probably start to recall the smells by looking at this image.  You have the sense of place at this point.

The organization is very important here to tell that story.  I have chosen to place the horizon in the upper third of the frame for the purpose of minimizing the blue sky overhead.  I’m fine with having negative space in an image, but I don’t want it there for no reason.  Since there wasn’t anything going on in the sky with the exception of the color, I opted to minimize its visual importance.  That way the focus was on the color of the sky which was what I loved about the scene.  The next step in this composition was figuring out how to balance the image and show depth.  Remember, we see in 3D, but our cameras can’t and require visual clues to establish depth in a scene.  The reflection in the water would only carry this image so far and without clouds in the sky or ripples in the water, I was faced with that same negative space in the foreground of the image.  I could put the shoreline in, but that would be just a simple horizontal aspect which would be a visual blockade to keep your eyes from traveling through the image.  My best bet was to include the dock, but I needed to do it in an organized way.  I walked over to the right a little bit so that the dock took on a diagonal appearance in the frame which is always a good thing.  I chose to have it terminate right at the divot in the trees across the lake which was where the largest amount of color was.  In essence, I wanted to guide the eyes to that point which was my absolute focus of the image.

My next hurdle was figuring out how to balance the image.  There was an overall sense of blue which took over too much of the top and bottom of the image that left the horizon line as the only contrasting color.  That was going to make for a boring and off balance image.  By including the boats nosed up on the shore as my foreground, I was able to add a visual anchor to the image, and I was even catching a little reflection of the warm light in the distance.  I now had that color balance with the overall blue shades of the scene with the warm glow on the two boats.  I made sure that the shore wasn’t completely horizontal so that it had a bit of a rise to the left that carried the eyes into the frame from the lower right where they would enter because of that prominent boat with the warm glow.  The eyes would then move up and to the left until the motor of the boat to the left jumped them over to the dock.  From there they move up and to the right, util they find the divot in the trees.  Now the eyes are exploring the coastline and the color that I was interested in.  As they explore, they find the blue in the sky at the top which gets gradually darker causing your eyes to look for details again.  They go right back to that lower right hand boat where the eyes start over once again.  everything in this scene supports the next element.  I have removed the clutter that confuses the scene and then organized a path through the image that allows you get lost in it for a time.

On the topic of organization, that can really play a big part in having that “photographer’s eye.”  As humans of average height (except for Toni at 4ft 13), we are all used to seeing things from eye level.  It is boring and something that many folks with a camera tend to forget.  In my workshops, I will always talk about camera position in all directions and dimensions in order to create an interesting image.  Part of seeing the image is knowing where to put the camera in order to capture an organized scene that has all elements supporting the purpose rather than assuming that the viewer’s mind will be able to filter out the clutter and focus on what your mind is already focusing on.  Remember, the viewer doesn’t have that ability to see a scene the way that you did while you were standing right there.  You have to tell the viewer what to look at, and in many cases, how to look at it.


This is a scene that I talk about in my intro to the art of photography class that I have taught in the past.  It is a great illustration of what I am talking about here.  In my decay photography I often find scenes like this.  There is a great subject that catches my eye and I think that I would like to photograph this.  This is an image that many would shoot of this car because they thought it was cool.  One click and off they go thinking about how wonderful the picture will be.  When they get home, they now have the time to look at it and decide that the focus of the image isn’t what they thought that it was.  The actual car that was the focus gets lost in the chaos of the scene. I knew that this wouldn’t work as a photograph when I shot it on my cell phone, but it was the scene that captured my attention and imagination.  Driving by, all I saw was the Maverick in the middle next to that tree.  I knew that there was a picture to be had here, but I had no idea how to properly capture it.  That was going to be the hard part.  I had to see it like the camera would.  I had to eliminate the extraneous details.  The point of this in the classroom instruction was to point out that you had to fill the frame with what you like, and eliminate what you don’t.

In order to do that, we have to really sit back and ask ourselves two questions.  The first one is what do I like about the scene, or what supports the purpose of the image?  Obviously I like the Maverick.  I like the tree to the side, and you can just make out from this image there is a sapling growing from the front bumper that I like as well.  The mood of the scene is a good plus as well and I wanted to capture that aspect in the photograph as well.  OK, great!  I have the easiest part taken care of.  I know what I like, but that still doesn’t tell me how I want to capture the scene.  That is where the more important question comes into play.  What don’t I like about the scene?  It has been said many times that photography is much more about what isn’t in the frame than what is.  This is what they are talking about when that comes up.  When you remove the elements that don’t support the main purpose of a scene, then you are left with only elements that add to the overall composition.  In this case, I definitely didn’t like the two RV’s situated on either side of the frame.  The later model Ford didn’t do anything for the composition either.  The sky, while it had great clouds for diffusing light and adding to the atmosphere, it caused a large expanse of bright light that I wanted to avoid.  Now I had a much better understanding of how I wanted to capture this scene.  I had my cast in mind, I just needed to figure out how to organize it all.

Resting Rebel“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

My first attempt at this subject was the most direct way of doing that.  I moved to the side so that none of the “clutter” in the image would show up.  I reduced the elements down to the two main players that I liked.  I had the tree and the car.  I couldn’t get the sapling growing out from the bumper at this angle and I missed the distinctive front end.  I did gain a framing element of the large horizontal branch above which was nice.  I still had to understand how a camera saw as compared to my own eyes.  In my mind, the car was the focus and that was all that my mind cared about.  That made it very easy to look at, but I knew that a photograph would add so many more elements to the scene.  I had two tricks that worked in my favor here to keep the viewer’s eyes in the same place that my mind was looking.  The best trick was that light gray door.  Your eyes will always be drawn to the brightest part of an image.  I knew that the eyes would rest on that door which was very good.  The earthy colors of the car tended to blend into the surroundings which was not a good thing without that door being used an an anchor.  I knew that the eyes would start there, and move around the car.  The visual escape route from the car was the tree that I really liked as well, so I was fine having the eyes move onto that element.  There was a danger in that compositional choice though as the eyes were now on a fast track to the top of the frame and ultimately out of the picture.  The second trick that I utilized was the inclusion of that prominent horizontal branch that pulled the eyes to the right just as they neared the edge of the frame.  From here, they moved to the right until they came into contact with the smaller tree along the right third which would bring them back down to the car again.  I had my path set up that kept the eyes where I wanted them, but I wasn’t happy with all of the negative space to the upper right of the frame.  This was dangerous because there was a lot of real estate in the image that really didn’t support the mission of the image.  Not wanting to create a boring image that folks would lose interest in, I looked for another composition that did  a better job of filling the frame with what I liked.

Quiet Defiance“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

I had a really hard time working this scene because the easy angles were boring and only showed the back of the car.  The front of the car was the part that had caught my attention with the sapling and the the general character of the car.  The only problem was if I shot from the front of the car, I was going to have at least one of the RV’s in the frame.  If I tried to mask that RV, I would have a lot of sky that would pull the view from the car.  My only option was to go with the latter.  I got positioned in a way that I was not going to see the late model car to the left or that associated RV.  Then I fine tuned the left and right until I had the large tree roughly along the right third of the frame so that it wouldn’t bisect the image.  Now I started to look at my fore and aft positioning to get the right perspective on the car.  I wanted to emphasize the front end without making it look cartoony as I wanted that to be the biggest part of the visual weight.  From there, I finally worked on the altitude of the camera.  I was able to get the camera low enough to block the vast majority of the RV to the rear without shooting so low that the car lost its character.  If you look at the image just over the hood, you can still see the top corner of the RV, but the perspective on the car was spot on which was most important.

I had the composition, but what I was worried about here was that the expanse of bright sky in the upper left was going to pull the eyes out of the frame.  Remember, the eyes will seek out the brightest part of a frame, and if they tracked to the bright part here, they were going to leave from that upper left corner.  I had a few things going for me here though which were going to help me.  First of all, I had a trio of good sized trees along the left edge of the frame which kept the eyes from exiting on that side.  I also had a horizontal branch on the large tree that would block the escape that way.  The wider angle of the shot also included a lot of trees and branches that covered the sky and provided some visual interest there which reduced the overall brightness of that corner.  The earthy colors of the car were not doing me any favors here though and the gray door wasn’t as prominent in the scene as the other composition, so I couldn’t rely on that element to keep the eyes on the car.

It wasn’t until I got home and processed this image that the last bit of the puzzle presented itself.  I had a spot on composition, but the attention still wasn’t where I wanted it to be.  My eyes were still being drawn out of the image and away from the car.  I decided that I would have much better control of the scene in B&W since I could brighten the car enough to compensate for the bright corner.  I did the conversion and did a lot of dodging on the car to brighten it up, while I burned in the sky to bring it down.  By adding micro contrasts to the car I accentuated the textures there which ultimately made the fender and wheel more interesting that the sky.  Now I had the attention on the car and it all started to fall into place.  I made sure that the bend in the bumper was nice and bright which carried the attention around to the front of the car so now you could see the headlights and the grill.  That sapling was also finally visible as well coming from the bumper.  The final part of this was to burn in the RV in the background so that it blended in with the background and wasn’t a distraction.  The end result was that I now had all three of the aspects that I wanted in the image with two of the three primary things eliminated from the scene and the third, being the sky, mitigated by the abundance of trees in that corner.  I had the image that my mind had seen driving by, and I was able to present it as a two dimensional photograph that made sense while using just one of the senses.

Proud Fordson“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad

Let’s look at this in the opposite direction to see just how much impact camera position has on a scene.  Here you see a relatively simple image of an old tractor.  There is a pleasing upward curve from the lower left to the upper right which pulls the eyes through the image, but there is enough points of visual interest that the eyes stay in the frame.  The low perspective adds to the drama of the scene, but why did I choose this composition?  Was it my first thought?  Hardly!  This scene really worked my nerves as a matter of fact.  I tried it several different ways over the course of a few hours that morning.  I couldn’t get anything to work with it at all.  I loved the tractor and how it looked, but there was so much clutter that I wasn’t able to get a composition that actually fit what I saw in a way that would direct somebody else to see it in the same way.  I had actually almost given up on this scene until right at the end of my morning on this property.  After hearing the stories of this tractor, I was committed to capturing it with my camera and I had to get very creative to do it.

This is the scene that I was greeted with.  You can now see the problems that I was facing here.  You can’t even really see the tractor in this picture because of all that is going on.  That was the problem I was having.  Obviously, I saw the tractor as a great subject because that was what I was looking for.  I was on a farm and I was looking for details to shoot.  My mind was conditioned to overlook the uninteresting aspects of the scenes that my eyes were seeing.  I just couldn’t rely on the viewer of the image to see the scene in the same way.  They would be looking at it cold without any background.  Their eyes would be looking through the image to find clues as to what I was trying to convey through the image.  Take a close look at this last image.  Be honest with yourself, look around.  You will find that your eyes see my camera first probably, but that white carport pulls your eyes right past the tractor.  The galvanized steel railing then gets your attention because it is the next brightest object which leads your eyes to the right and then they jump to the fence behind and the diagonal of the roof.  Your eyes are now on the fast track out of the frame to that upper right corner.  This is the type of image that I see posted on social media all too often and the viewer’s eyes never even see the subject that the photographer was trying to capture.  It is a real shame too, because there are so many great subjects that were never given the chance to shine in an image that I see over and over again.

I had to figure out how to make the tractor stand out in this scene and to take the main attention for the viewer.  I had to include enough context to tell the story as well.  Sure, I could get into Photoshop and make a composite and put the tractor in the middle of any scene that I wanted, but that is not the kind of photograph that I am after.  I wanted to tell the story of this tractor right where it was.  The first thing that I was going to need was light on the tractor because it had been in the shade most of the morning and that was hurting it.  Once I had light, I needed to make sure that the attention stayed right there.  You can see from the location image that I put the camera down very low.  This served two purposes.  First of all it changed the perspective from that standard everyone sees from this height and I dropped it down to Toni height so it made the subject more interesting for those of us that aren’t used to such a low point of view.  Secondly, this accomplished the same thing that the previous shot of the Maverick benefited from.  I was able to use the tractor to mask the clutter behind it.

By adjusting the focal length of the lens, I was able to enlarge the tractor relative to the background to get that final masking complete.  You can see here just how low the camera was.  This had been a long process to compose lasting about 20 minutes of fiddling with the position of the camera before I had it right.  There are just times that an exposure of a fraction of a second represents a half hour or more of work which is never fully appreciated by those viewing it.  This is what it is to see as a photographer though.  It really isn’t that hard to do, you just have to let the scene dictate what is important and what isn’t because you are presenting an image to somebody that has no idea of “how” you saw a particular scene.  It is all about simplifying it down to those important elements and composing a photograph that directs the eyes to what is important.

In the case of this image, by getting so low to the ground, I was able to eliminate every distraction with the exception of that galvanized gate and the stump.  I could have cropped in closer to the tractor and used the stump as the left side of the frame, but that was getting in a little too close and removing part of the story.  It would have also cut the top of the tree which would have made the image feel very confined.  To keep the tree, I would have had to get in closer and shoot with a wider focal length.  That would have caused the perspective distortion to be too much on the tractor and would have ruined the image.  This was the best compromise, and I decided to embrace the railings.  Instead of having them pull the eyes out of the scene, I burned in the railings closest to the right side of the frame.  That changed the visual direction your eyes would take, and how that is either an entry point, or a place where the eyes will get close to the edge, but then search out a brighter portion which will bring them back into the frame.  It is now a supporting element that helps to tell the story.  I have my room to breathe in the image and the warm light from the sun adds that perfect color balance to the scene.


One last scene I would like to talk about is this one from Banner Elk last Fall.  I want to talk about lighting as I have just hinted at it over the previous sections.  Lighting is the most important part of seeing photographically.  our eyes are amazing creations.  They have a dynamic range of more than 20 stops of light, and can adjust white balance on the fly.  In short, our eyes will always see much more than a camera is able to capture and with colors that routinely can’t show up in a basic photograph.  The quality of light is what will make your image sing, and you have to learn to harness the light which means saying no to great subjects because the light is wrong for it.  In this particular case, I had driven by this structure many times over.  I did live just down the road when I was in college.  It never really jumped out at me back then, but even as a photographer, I have driven by it several times without it really jumping out to me as a photograph.  The problems that I had here was that it was very close to the road, there was a power pole that was extremely close to it, and that speed limit sign.  Just a lot of clutter that really didn’t help to tell the story.  For 11 months of the year, there was not a lot of color here either with the trees being either bare (showing more of the clutter beyond) or full of green which was rather boring.  There wasn’t nothing really fantastic about this scene.  In fact, I had driven by it earlier in the morning when I had first gotten to Banner Elk and it was still dark.  I didn’t even see it at that point so there was no interest in it at all then.  I went by a second time still searching for images and I saw it under cloudy skies and in the rain.  Still nothing that I liked about it, but I did see the colorful tree behind it.  The power pole and speed limit sign killed it for me and the light wasn’t inspiring much either.  The third time that morning that I drove by everything had changed.  The rain had just stopped (you can see from the wet roadway) and the sun was now bathing the scene in this wonderful warm light that brought out the natural colors of the scene in a way that I had never seen them before.  After countless times of looking at this scene I was finally compelled to stop for a picture of it.

Now the questions had to start.  What about the scene did I like?  I liked the structure of course as it fit in with my rural decay subjects quite nicely.  I loved the red tree in the background, and I liked the white clouds in the blue sky above.  What didn’t I like?  That list is long and difficult to deal with.  I didn’t care for the driveway, the road, the power pole, the associated power lines, the speed limit sign, the traffic, and the harsh shadows.  Wow, what a list!  But, in order to capture an image that conveyed what I liked about the scene I was going to have to organize the elements in a way that all supported each other while eliminating or minimizing the other elements.  I was also going to have to do this taking care to capture the light that was hitting it at this current moment.  I had to work fast as the clouds were constantly on the move and they were covering the sun every so often with different degrees of opacity.

True Colors“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

I ended up going into the driveway just at the road for the best angle on the building.  I was able to get some strong diagonals with the roof line which I liked.  By cropping in close I could avoid the power pole, power line, and the speed limit sigh.  I still had the road in the background though, so I had to time the exposure without any traffic passing by.  I had a problem with the upper right of the frame as the green trees in the background were in deep shadows which I didn’t like at all.  I needed to be able to bring detail out in that portion to keep it from being empty space.  I was fine with negative space, but needed to avoid it being empty shadow.  I had the red tree, but only a portion of it as it was mostly blocked by my main subject.  That was fine since red has to be used carefully in images and I already had a lot of red tones in the roof with the evaporating moisture adding to that saturation.  The blue sky was there to provide the color balance to the image since there was a lot of warm tones present.

I had my composition and it was easier than I thought, but that wasn’t the hard part here.  I had to time this image so that the traffic wasn’t there, the breeze wasn’t moving the trees too much, and most importantly, the light was soft enough not to bunch up my shadows, but not bright enough to blow out the highlights while still providing the essential warm glow of the direct sunlight.  I don’t remember how many frames I shot trying to get these elements to line up just right but it was a bunch.  Maybe 20 or more.  I had to swap out my battery in the middle of it all, I do remember that.  When I am shooting so many images of the same scene some might think that is silly and wasteful, but what is going on is I am reading the light.  Every time I think that the light is as good as it is going to be I will shoot a frame.  I will usually have a bunch of nearly there images to go through and I choose the one that is the closest to how I envisioned the scene.  It is a long process and one that is quite redundant, but in the end it will usually result in that small aspect that makes the difference between a good photograph an a great one.  At least that is the hope.

The light is always the most important part of an image and that is the hardest part of being a photographer.  In comparison, it is easy to find the composition once you know how to look at a scene.  With lighting, you really don’t have any control over it, you are totally at the mercy of the sun’s position in the sky and the cloud cover.  As a photographer, you have to be able to react to that light and the direction it is coming from.  that is why I pick and choose my days that I go out based on the quality of light that I am expecting.  I then know that I will have to react to that changing light throughout my time in the field.  With this last image, there had not been a picture here the previous times that I had seen it, but as the light changed the potential changed.

As I am driving around for whatever reason I am always looking at potential subjects and thinking about what light would make them look their best.  I might even stop in less than perfect light to see how compositions might look.  I am sometimes lucky and find a composition that works with the existing light, but I am always evaluating what different light might do for a scene.  By getting in the habit of doing that every time I am out of the house, and looking for the image within the scene I have taught myself to look at the world as a photographer.

I know that I said I had reached the last image that I was going to talk about, but here is a parting one for you.  This is a great example of seeing an image within a scene.  I have passed by this old shop a number of times and have always liked the car sitting out front, but needed to find a way to make the image work.  Now imagine this in the middle of Summer with all of the vegetation grown up around it.  The car is barely visible.  This was the best time of the year to capture this scene as the vegetation was still green, but not nearly as lush as it would be in a few short weeks.  The overall scene surly fits in my definition of decay and such would be a good picture, but there is a problem with what is important with the scene.  The car was my favorite part, but by including the building which I also liked, the visual weight shifted and the building became the primary focus.  It wasn’t as interesting as the car though and that was a problem.  Also, there was a lot of clutter around that overly complicated the scene and again pulled the attention away from what I liked about the scene.  I had to see the image within the scene in order to convey what I was seeing with my eyes.

Inspection Due

By careful composing, I was able to make the car the primary point of interest here while the building became a supporting element to the scene.  It provided a sense of location that the car needed.  The sign in the upper right added a little bit of humor to the scene  since it still says “Official Inspection Station” but it also provides a great framing element to keep the eyes in the scene when combined with the tree on the right.  The foliage to the left serve to keep the eyes in the frame to the other side and the bottom.  The difficult thing was the top of the frame.  By adding an ND Grad here, I was able to darken the sky and even a little bit of the building to help keep the eyes in the frame.  The strong dark line of the roof that is nearly horizontal also helps keep the eyes planted in the larger area below that line.  The red paint on the car is the most effective part of the image as it draws the eyes to the car even though there is very little of the original shape left to distinguish it at first glance.  That red gets you there, and then you start to look around and you can tell what it is you are looking at, and then you look at the background and you get the rest of the story.  The composition here made all of the difference when it came to conveying what it was that my eyes and mind had seen here.


I do hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit about my photographic process when it comes to translating what my eyes see into what the camera sees.  The whole purpose of that translation is to direct you how to see the image that I create so that you can be there with me as I am seeing the scene in real life.  It might sound overly dramatic, and it just might be, but the last thing that I want to do is to create an image that is easily scrolled past and forgotten.  My purpose with every one of my images is to create something that somebody will want to put on their wall to be enjoyed time and again.  I can’t expect that anyone would want to look at a picture multiple times when the purpose of the picture isn’t clear.  That is why I have taught myself how to see photographically, and continue to hone that skill.  It is a skill that anyone can learn as long as you understand the differences in how a camera sees versus how our eyes see.

I encourage you to take that extra moment in the photographs that you make whether on your cell phone or with a dedicated camera.  Always ask those two questions, what do you like about the scene, and what you don’t like about it.  Compose accordingly and fill the frame with what you like.  Pay attention to clutter in the way of your subjects and leave no question as to why you made the image.  Use light to keep it interesting and to set the mood.  With these things in place, you will immediately be happier with your own images.

If you are interested in learning more about this in actual practice, I talk it about it at length in all of my workshops so consider attending one of those as I have several different ones that I do during the course of the year.  While I am passionate about my own images, I am equally passionate about helping other photographers realize their own goals with their own images.

Thanks for joining me again this month, and look forward to July 1st as being my next to last quarterly update of being a full time photographer.
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