Long before cameras became so ubiquitous, people drew. It was not just a tool for recording what they saw but it was a language of its own. It still is, except fewer people draw today compared to the number of people who take pictures. In fact it is not uncommon to hear people say they became photographers because they could not draw.
It might seem strange to encourage photographers to learn how to draw but there is a good reason. Learning to draw is really about learning to see. The process of drawing requires one to pay attention to details, to really notice what you are looking at and along the way from observation to the final picture, we develop a deeper understanding of all that we see.
Here’s an exercise that will demonstrate what I mean.
The next time you go out to photograph, take a notebook or sketchpad with you. Find something you’d like to photograph and make a picture of it. Then turn around and face the other direction and draw what you think is in that frame. When you compare the drawing with your photograph, what do you see? Your drawing will probably resemble your photograph based on the focus for making the photograph. For example if you wanted to make a picture of a building, you will draw that building. What will be missing from your drawing will be all the details around that building, the things in the background or the things around the edges of your frame.
If you sit in front of that same scene and draw what you see before you, regardless of your drawing skill, you will capture more of those details. Drawing will transform what you perceive and will teach you to think with your eyes. That contemplation of observing something through a concentrated period of time will lead to better photographs.
This quote by artist and observer John Ruskin says it all:
Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.
As a photographer, which person would you like to be?