Photo Tip: Learning to See – by Sabrina Henry

Posted on Updated on

Have you ever struggled with figuring out how to see like your camera does? There are two parts to that, one of which I mentioned in my last post where I briefly discussed the coverage of your camera viewfinder. The other part is learning to see with different lenses on your camera. Conventional wisdom says that a 50mm lens is as close to how we see with our eyes and that is main reason why that lens is so popular. Figuring out what will be in your frame using other lenses takes lots of experimentation and noting the results.

One tip I found useful came from my photography mentor who once gave me an old slide frame. In the days of film, he used to carry around a slide frame without the film in his wallet. When he saw something interesting, he would use the frame to help decide what to put in his picture. The final photograph would depend on what he wanted to say with the image.

For beginners, the slide frame is a good little tool to help understand what would be in your frame if you used a wide angle lens versus a telephoto lens. Maybe today it is just as easy to slap on your 28-300mm zoom lens and just go make pictures. While that is true, using the slide frame has the added advantage of slowing down and thinking about what you want to say with your photograph. Sometimes I walk around without my camera and use the slide frame to do just that. You can also concentrate on learning to see rather than making pictures.

Here are a couple of photographs that illustrate how the slide frame works. This first photograph demonstrates what you might see with a zoom lens. The focus is on the details of the Japanese lantern and there is no other information in the frame. You can see that there many other things I could have included but did not. The second photograph demonstrates using a wider angle where the entire lantern is in the frame. Here we see more of the context in which the details exist i.e the lantern is part of a Japanese garden and the garden is near the water.

Japanese lantern in the garden

Japanese lantern

These two photographs also demonstrate a technique used in visual storytelling where you, as the storyteller, include photographs that establish for your audience the context without using words or narration to announce it. Typically a wide angle shot is used as an establishing shot but a detailed shot can also be used to establish the main idea of your photo essay or story. Knowing what you want to say will inform which photograph you make.