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The Fine Art of Observation

Photography is as much the art of observing and appreciating things as it is the art of capturing them on film. No matter which branch of photography you prefer, you will find that the best photographs are a result of a photographer seeing things that most people miss out on.

Observation Defined:

The action or process of observing something or someone carefully or in order to gain information.

Much of the time that a Wildlife or Landscape Photographer spends is in observation. It is also spent in the study of Nature and in learning what to expect of a given situation (this counts towards experience).

Being a good observer is not something that comes naturally to all people, but it is possible to build it into your daily life.

In this post, I’ll be offering you a couple of tips on what to look out for on a regular basis if you want to improve your powers of observation. Try looking out for these things consciously and you’ll find yourself becoming more aware of a number of new things.

The next post in this two part series will help you make ‘observation’ a habit that is integrated into your daily life.

Observe What?

  1. Observe the Nature of Light

    Photography involves light; however, it’s not every day that we stop to observe light. In fact, to a non-photographer, it may sound downright strange, but remember that light is the photographer’s medium of expression, it is his clay, his canvas; and knowing how light works, observing what it does with various materials, and knowing how to make the best use of it is invaluable if you want to make light work to its greatest potential.

  2. Observe People

    Ok, so you’re not a people photographer. This does not mean that you don’t have to deal with them. Observing people is a mind-opening activity for the insight it delivers to us, about how people behave, how they react to a given situation. To a keen observer & experienced interpreter of these actions, it could reveal truly unexpected details about the person being observed.

  3. Observe Reflections and Shadows

    You may have thought that the first point covers reflections and shadows too. In part, it does. However, I want you to make note of the fact that reflections and shadows are products of a surface’s properties. It is only after light has struck a surface that it creates either of the two.
    Reflections help the observer understand the nature of the material, while shadows define its density and opacity. Light, striking objects at different angles create reflections, revealing textures to different extents. Both reflections and shadows also create intriguing shapes and patterns, and can at times either make or break a photograph. Remember to pay attention to them.

  4. Observe All The Elements in Your Camera Viewfinder

    This is usually a tough one for most people, but I believe that if you’re doing a good job of the previous few points, then keeping track of everything that’s going on in your viewfinder as well as watching your peripheral vision should not be too difficult. Why? Because the edge of your viewfinder is very much a part of your photograph’s composition. Choosing how elements are placed in relation to these edges is important for a good composition.

  5. Observe Daily Life

    Your own life as well as that of others. It is an endless source of inspiration for photographs, art and for life itself.

  6. Observe Other Photographers

    For the things that catch their eye, for their interpretation of common things… for inspiration.

Hopefully these points will get you started off on a more ‘aware’ lifestyle.

If you’ve got any tips of your own, do feel free to add them in the comments.

This is part of the Beyond Phototips Birthday Special Series. Go here to see all the posts so far.

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Published: November 25, 2008 | Last Updated: July 19, 2021

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