Seeing

That is, noticing, and noting what you see, and what pleases your eye.

A good way to practice this is to go for a walk.

Going for a walk does not require you go to any particular spectacular place. It could be around the block, in a park, down a city street, in the town forest, or on a beach.

It doesn’t require any particular gear beyond what it takes to be comfortable walking outside. You really don't even need a camera and perhaps its better at first that you don't bring one with you.

The idea is to get in the habit of walking regularly, and on your walks concentrate on seeing the world around you in a new way.

Once a day is fine. Or once a week if that's all you can manage. Quantity is not so important as is quality.

How far you go is not important. Interesting visual things can appear with a few steps. Really the more you dawdle and look about the better. Slow down and notice what's immediately around you. Otherwise the world passes by in a blur.

Start to notice visual categories. Notice lines. Notice shapes. Notice colors. Is the day bright and sunny or is the light flat? How is the sunshine, or moonshine, or weather affecting what I am seeing?

On your walk, pick a single visual topic to focus on. Some topics are:

  • Colors: That leaf is green; that leaf is a certain shade of green.

  • Textures: That leaf has has a smooth waxy surface.

  • Patterns: That leaf has veins that make an interesting pattern.

  • Shapes: That leaf shape has five points, and each of those is divided into three points. Do you find the shape pleasing or disturbing or somewhere in between?

  • Lines: Does what you are looking at have a strong or weak line? Is the line horizontal,? Vertical? How thick is the line, and in relation to what is around it. What is the color and texture of the line?

  • Light: Where is the sun, and how is affecting the leaf? Does the color of the leaf change with differing lighting. Is there a strong shadow? Is there a weak shadow? Is there no shadow? Which do you prefer?

  • Arrangement: How do these visual topics interact? Are there arrangement interactions that draw your eye. Are there arrangement interactions to you find disturbing?

There are more visual topics to look at, but these are a good start, and once you start looking its easy to get overwhelmed. One topic at a time, until you feel comfortable combining them. Later you can add new ones as they occur to you. You could take along a notebook and write down your observations, or not. Just observing with some of these areas in mind, repeatedly can be very helpful.

Its great to revisit the same place under differing light and weather conditions and note how your observations change.

Above all else, slow down, look, and somehow make a note to yourself and confirm what you are seeing, and if you like it or not.

Once you've done this for awhile, start carrying a small camera. Just quickly snap things that you see that you find pleasing. Use the awareness in how you frame your shot that you are developing by your practice of heightened seeing. Awareness of the visual is what you are after.

You don't need a fancy camera for this, and not having one is actually a plus. Technical complication can be a big distraction from seeing. The camera on your phone, or a very inexpensive “point and shoot” camera are just fine. You are not concentrating on any technical manipulation of a camera – let the camera do the work in automatic mode. You are just concentrating on color, shape, texture, pattern, line, lighting and what these do to objects that you see. Experiment! Move and take pictures quickly!

Then when you get home and have an hour, look at your pictures, preferably, on a bigger screen, and ask yourself: what was I trying to capture in that image? Try and make mental note of that, or keep a written log. You are starting the process of self-critique of your own photos.

After doing this for a few weeks, you should be more observant, more mindful of the visual dance that is unfolding around you, and perhaps be able to better identify, and capture, what is pleasing to your eye.