“The camera is an instrument ...”

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

This revealing quote was from American portraitist Dorothea Lange. quoted in: Los Angeles Times (13 Aug. 1978).

By Alan Ranger 2006

By Alan Ranger 2006

My experience has taught me that it can take a long time for us mere mortals of photography to learn the art of seeing rather than snapping.  It's a principle that I try to instill into all my students when helping them to develop their eye for a shot.

Over the years the camera has allowed me to not only capture moments but, importantly, recognise the photographic opportunity in the first place.  This is not simply a case of applying formulaic rules of composition because the photograph needs to communicate more than just the position of subjects in a frame. 

For me at least, it absolutely starts with seeing something that catches my eye or I feel would translate well into a photographic format.  One of the key elements I think about is of course framing and that generally means simplicity to me - less is often more and in the case of a photograph I find my own preference leans towards images that keep the content and subject unambiguous.  Of course the resulting photograph doesn't tell us everything - it can't.  However it should in my opinion provide us enough information to connect to it on an emotional level and ask the viewer to look for longer than 3 seconds.

Spending more than a few seconds looking at something before you press the shutter will, over time, improve your eye for seeing, feeling and learning how to create a photograph rather than simply taking one.  It's an evolving journey and one that fascinates me as I witness how my own eye has evolved over the years - as a result of looking at the world through the camera the world now looks back at me in a different way.

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