David Gough Photography


Learning to see – with a camera

Posted on 9th December 2015 by David under Creativity, Learning, Photography

Burnt out forest

Burnt out forest, Montana

Learning to see – with a camera

Photographer Jim Richardson said “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”

There’s something to be said for looking for more interesting stuff to photograph. Pictures of icebergs, mountain peaks, desert sands, exotic wildlife and so on have an obvious fascination because they are out of the ordinary for most folk. On the other hand we shouldn’t ignore the seemingly mundane stuff right here under our noses. You may find it much more interesting than you first thought.

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

Learning to see is as important as going to see. You can be anywhere and fail to see things.

I have a friend who has taken hundreds of photographs over the years of a post industrial wetland area just a stones throw from his home.  He has lovely images of an area many are unaware of even when they walk through it.  Another photographer gave a talk recently and showed some amazing photographs of the landscape within a few hundred yards of where he lives and taken in locations that at first may seem very uninspiring.

I chatted to one professional landscape photographer several years ago about a beautiful photograph showing strands of grass emerging from a small puddle covered with patterned ice. He said that what you don’t see in the photograph are the cars either side of the puddle – he’d taken it in a car park.

I think it is safe to say that none of these photographers take perfect shots all of the time. So here’s a third ingredient to add to the mix. Perseverance.




Ansel Adams, the famous American landscape photographer said “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

I’m sure he took a lot more than this one per month average!

Photographers often have a favourite subject that they come back to again and again. I have several: boats, decay, seeing the abstract side of something, and of course people at work, as you’ll have seen from my earlier blog posts.

Craigmillar Estate prior to demolition

Craigmillar Estate prior to demolition

As I write this at the start of December I’m aware of all the tempting offers around to buy Christmas gifts – including cameras. For those of you contemplating a new camera for Christmas just having the camera will not guarantee anything. Taking it out and using it will not guarantee anything either. What will guarantee satisfaction is learning to use the camera and learning to see beyond the obvious. And of course sticking at it.

One tip for learning to see beyond the obvious is to work on a theme. I don’t mean exclusively, but as a means of exploring an idea rather than just dodging about everywhere looking for the perfect photo.  The guys I mentioned above worked on themes. If you are able to get to the annual Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition in London you will see many entries that are taken from a body of work on a theme. Themes are good and you can have a several going on at once if you wish.

Reflections in a harbour

Reflections in a harbour

Another tip for learning and developing your style is to keep on going even if you find the ideas you pick have all been done before. The thing is you’ve never done them before and as you press on you’ll see more and begin to find your own voice. This article is worth a read sometime, it uses the analogy of bus routes: The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography.

If it’s your first camera or a move to a significantly different camera an hour spent with the manual will work wonders – honestly. Don’t be put off by all the bells and whistles you’ll read about – the camera is a remarkably simple lightproof box with a hole in one end and a sensor of some kind at the other!

Observatories, Mauna Kea

Observatories, Mauna Kea

If you are new to photography a few hours spent with a good photography book will also be a great help and give you guidance (not ‘rules’ you must follow, rather they are ideas you can follow if you want to). Best of all though is to take the camera out and experiment.

If you need help, encouragement, or even a clue about what to look for when you buy a camera, do get in  touch.  And if you’d like someone to help you on your photography journey then again get in touch. I’d be happy to help and if you live in my part of the UK I’ll be starting short courses in the New Year aimed at helping beginners and improvers. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you details as soon as dates are finalised.

You’ll find my details on the Contact Page.


What The Duck. (Used with permission)

© What The Duck. (Used with permission)

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