The Photographer's Eye

by Stefan Fletcher January. 12, 2010 4609 views

Part II of my moan. Yesterday, I mentioned kit. As your ample and careful comments show, the camera doesn't matter half so much as the eye needed to seize the moment. I've lost my eye and I'm thinking of ways to regain it.

Bit academic, really, what with being snowed under (on occasion, literally) with work and flu.

But the questions remain.

How is it that some people have an innate ability to “see” a composition?

(A digression perhaps - and certainly not intended as a slur against anyone - but visual artists usually make for poor conventional photographers, in my experience. Many still think the mechanics of photography is more important than the result and accordingly deride the process. Or perhaps, as David Bailey once put it, “artists compared to photographers are lazy because all they have to do is create”.)

That ability can surely be acquired, improved…?

It can be lost…?

I hope it can be regained…

Above are pictures of eyes, not all of which are mine, as you can tell from the make-up (I use different colours). The title of this post is also the title of two extraordinary books on photography, which I heartily recommend:

* One is the spin-off from the seminal 1964 MoMA exhibition, written by its then-curator, John Szarkowski. If you want a work on the “Why?” part of photography, you probably can't do much better.

* The other is an excellent how-to by Michael Freeman which offers a clear and fascinating introduction to composition.

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Ricardo 9 years, 7 months ago

hmm! I dont want to get involved on the discussion above, but yeah! the post REALLY looks identical! I've not noticed it!
Although the meaning of my post was [b]love[/b] based in a music that gave me this idea, and yours is about [b] the eyes of photographers[/b]

in despite of I liked your speech!

9 years, 7 months ago Edited
Stefan Fletcher 9 years, 8 months ago

I'm leaving these comments because I think they say just as much about the person making them. People who feel personally slighted by artists' generalisations about themselves need help. Urgently.

For a consideration of what the (mis)quote means to me, see the next post. Never having met Mr Bailey, I can only quote in good faith what I read from someone who has (Geoff Dyer).

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Rodica O 9 years, 8 months ago

Everybody has the right to say whatever he likes but Come on guys, please - an argument could even be productive, this discussion could be so wonderful if it doesn't get transformed in a fight - I'm sure that nobody meant to offend anybody ... ...I just think the winter blues are getting at both of you and make you irritable ;)
I love, enjoy and appreciate both of your blogs, I'm sure that you could find a way to feel the same about each other's blog - you are both so intelligent and talented - don't waste your creativity on anger

I was thinking exactly what 'thebronzebow' wrote.
Sometimes the best way to find what you are looking for ( or thought you lost ) is to give up searching. At least for a while; after a break everything looks different, refreshed. And surely when we are sick our mind is not at its best, we can not have same efficiency like a machine.
Many people wrote an interesting variety of methods about what to do....but it's just what it works for each of them....we all need to find our own way that clicks within us, not just to follow recipes .
Regarding visual artists versus photographers, I had my own baffling experience.
When I've started photography I was pretty confident that it will be a piece of cake and that I wouldn't have much to learn about it ( except how to use a camera ) as I have a long experience as a visual artist.
It helps a little to know about composition, colours,etc. but I've been very surprised to notice that treating the 'viewfinder' like a blank canvass IT'S NOT WORKING.
Photography it's a different media and has its own life - weaknesses and strengths that should be learned, like of any new tool we use.
Just try to use oil paint technique while using watercolour and you will see what I mean.

But "The more I know the more I realize I know nothing"...And I have to admit that part of my arrogance that I knew a lot was pure laziness. It's true.
On the other side, I do too find lots of photographers focusing too much on technicality and being afraid to experiment and flow freely with emotions...They seem to follow too strictly the "rules"...therefore they don't bring any originality to the pictures...
I think the ideal would be somewhere in the middle: a photographer with at least a bit of artistic flair.

When you will get back your curiosity, enthusiasm and energy for the world around you, your inspiration or ... your "eye" will be back, better than ever or not - entirely your choice ;)

It seems that the "eye" subject is very popular ;), winter makes us be more introspective maybe....Thanks for your "take" on my eye. Your comments bursting with unusual views and humour are delightful.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Moira 9 years, 8 months ago

You Think too much , just get out and create like an artist maybe being lazy will suit you:)
Nice " I " shots !!!!

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Stefan Fletcher 9 years, 8 months ago

@ Ted: not sure quoting a photographer is actually hoodwinking "my" audience, but for what it's worth, here's a link to page of David Bailey quotes. It's not verbatim exact, but then the internet is a fallible resource...
Click [url=]here[/url] for hoodwinking.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Thebronzebow 9 years, 8 months ago

Historically and in modern times, art evolves and is practiced after all of the other needs of daily living are met -- when humans have the luxury of time and energy to spend on non-survival based activities. Given our modern "luxuries", I think we sometimes underestimate the tolls and stress of our modern lives. It's hard to create and have fun when we have worries about work, finances, family, etc. or we are worn out from dealing with the same. Of course the flip side of that is that if we can find a way to take a break and allow ourselves to relax, create and just have fun, our perception of our world generally improves and we gain energy and focus to return to our tasks. I suspect that you haven't lost anything. I hope you find a way to stop beating up on yourself and have some fun. Hope you feel better soon too.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Jarvo J 9 years, 8 months ago

A case of being glassy eyed. I think the cure is to do a mixture of forcing yourself and trying something different. Here's three suggestions to try:
1. Take up a 1 a day project. You don't have to commeit to a year, perhaps a month or even a week. Try to shoot something different every day in all that time. (ha ha I really am becoming an evagelist)
2. Get hold of a dictionary - preferrably a little kids one as they have little else but nouns. Pick a subject at randon from it and commit to taking an interesting photo. When you've done that pick another topic and start again. Repeat until you feel like throwing the book out of the window.
3. Get a map of your nearest town, pick a grid-square at random (not quite random - discard your choice and start again if it turns out to be an area you know well) visit it that are with the aim of getting a photo. I saw this on someone's blog here and it turned out very well - sorry I can't remember who to credit it to.

Good luck with the eye and with the Man-Flu.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Liz M 9 years, 8 months ago

thought provoking...I just do this for fun though and enjoy it when I manage to take a photo I like...just for makes me go out and look at things in a new way sometimes...but I dont need my camera to do that.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Catherine Hollens 9 years, 8 months ago

As an 'artist' I understand that it's a different disciplne, but I believe that in both one needs an underlying passion and urge to capture a moment and to communicate it to others.
Sometimes one needs to try something new and experimental in order to evolve..rules are made to be broken! Am quite sure you have not lost it, you are just in that 'in between' stage before moving on to even greater things!

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Mikkal Noptek 9 years, 8 months ago

Très intéressant concept

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Jacki 9 years, 8 months ago

Here's an exercise I sometimes use when I feel like I'm "just shooting". Go out to shoot and severely limit the number of photos you allow yourself... like 5 photos! Yikes, right? You WILL start to 'see'. :-)

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Michael Sakowicz 9 years, 8 months ago

I think sometimes we all digress for whatever reason until we become super motivated again to move forward and start finding all sorts of cool images. I'm kinda going through something like this sort of 'creative-funk' right now...

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Monika 9 years, 8 months ago

I recently had a conversation about “perfect” photographs and its final conclusion was, that there are no perfect photographs. An image can be composed to standards and rules tought by the top experts but it still might not be perfect for everyone as people have different perception to life, to beauty. Too much striving for good composition might hold one back from being creative... maybe its better following the rules until you know when to break them. ps. the pair of eyes on no.5 must belong to a gorgeous woman

9 years, 8 months ago Edited
Hanna Westesson 9 years, 8 months ago

I don't believe you've lost your eye!
Your photos are often very inspiring :-)
Just allow yourself some time of rest and your inspiration will surely be back, stress and flu is not helpful for creativity.

9 years, 8 months ago Edited