Getting the Picture, Developing the Image

Three Posts have caught my eye in the last 2 weeks or so and caused me to think about the drivers behind my own photography and why I see what I see. If I were to attempt to summarize those posts in three words then they are in essence about ‘The Seeing Eye’.

The Seeing Eye is the complex concept that lies at the very heart of what causes us to press the shutter button.

What I’ve read has made me want to add my own contribution to this topic: to attempt to offer my own explanation of why I end up taking pictures.

The first post that impressed me was ‘It’s what’s inside that matters’ from Otto Münchow – a blogger whose writing is always insightful and thoughtful and challenges my thinking about Photography. This is such a good post – do read it. It discusses how we all see the world differently. It’s difficult to pick out a single sentence but here is a snatch of it: ‘…nothing is without photographic potentials…I try to expand my own vision; I try to see pictures where I never thought a picture existed’.

The second was a post by CJ Schmit that I first heard about from Toad’s weekly round-up on Light Stalking of posts worth reading (if you haven’t come across Light Stalking you are missing something very impressive). CJ Schmit posted ‘What I see that you do not’. This is another excellent piece of writing along very similar lines to Otto’s. This is the last paragraph from that post: ‘I can’t always explain why things I see hit me just right and make me take the shot but they just do. That is one part of what makes art fun, seeing things that others normally wouldn’t and then showing it to them in a different way’.

The third was from Andy Beel whose blog is one I never miss because it always challenges my photographic thinking. In ‘Bay Of Laig – Eigg’ he writes ‘…successful photographs are made and not just taken. A vision of the possible outcomes is critical for creative success before you press the button. Without that vision possibilities will be lost or not recorded to work on later.

My thanks to all three authors for allowing me to quote from their posts. Do click the links in the text above and read their posts in full – they are all well worth reading.

There is so much in what these three writers say that rings true for me. And between them they convey an essential fact: that creating an image is a two-part process.

Firstly, Getting the Picture, and secondly, Developing the Image.

Unedited original No 1

If you don’t carry a camera, you don’t get a picture – simple as that. I try always to carry a camera. It’s carried not ‘just in case’, but as a tool of my trade to be used. It signifies a state of mind, that I would go so far as to say amounts to a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Carrying a camera is a statement – I’m image hunting.

The concept of having a Seeing Eye is not something we are born with, nor is it likely to be the impetus that led us into photography.

But if we pursue photography and start to immerse ourselves in the photography of others; viewing images that others create then if we are passionate about our craft I think inevitably we start to look at

Unedited original No 2

their work and ask the question ‘why did that photographer take that image?’ Would I have seen that? And for some of us, probably not all (because our interests are diverse and perhaps specialized), that may lead us to think differently about how we see the world around us and what we find we are attracted to as potential images.

I think my brain has subconsciously become tuned to look for images. I don’t say that to imply I’m somehow clever. It’s just how I operate when I am out and about – I’m reading the world around me as if through a lens.

What do I search for? That’s the million dollar question – it depends.

Unedited original No 3

It may be Line, Shape or Contrast that attracts me. It might be an oddity, something quirky, humourous even. It may be inter-relationships. The play of light and shade. It may be Above, Below, Around, Behind (always look behind you, the light is different).

 ‘Getting’ the picture is only the beginning as Andy Beel in particular points out. The second part of this process is to ‘develop’ the image within the picture. That may be a very straightforward process when you are on a pre-planned or scouted shoot. Processing may involve just a few minor adjustments: the hard work was in the planning.

But when the pictures you capture are unplanned, chanced upon, or grabbed – the result of the Seeing Eye spotting something in passing – then ideas such as returning when the light is right don’t apply. You get the picture but developing the image may well be harder. I’ll be honest – I don’t always see the ‘image’ within the ‘picture’ when I press the shutter in circumstances like that (but it does make life easier if you can visualize it). Sometimes it’s obvious. But sometimes all I know is that there is something metaphysical going on in my head that draws me in, and because a single frame costs nothing in the digital era, and I may never see that picture again, I press the shutter.

Back home, when I upload the files to my screen and start to go through them, that may be when ideas suggest themselves; when I see something I didn’t see before that I think I can exploit, extract, develop, distil, refine, derive. But there are other days when I have the equivalent of writer’s block and look at a file and can’t make any sense of it.

There’s nothing radical, or new in what I’ve written here. It’s merely an attempt to explain how, increasingly, I find I personally am operating as a photographer. Previously I have described myself as a Landscape Photographer who always carries a camera and therefore finds images in unlikely places. I feel the pendulum is swinging.  Maybe I am now an Eclectic Photographer whose outdoor pursuits provide opportunities for Landscape Photography.

I hope that what I write rings a few bells in other people’s minds. The great thing about Photography is that it is an Art Form whose limits are only in the mind of the Photographer and the tools at his/her command. And one of the benefits of the Photoblog community is that I am always learning, being inspired, and challenged by what others write and capture.

Isn’t it great that we all see the world differently? Wouldn’t it be boring if we all took the same old pictures?

This post is populated by three unedited ‘originals’ shot over the course of the last 6 weeks. All taken because I saw ‘something’ that caught my attention. And below are the three final Images I processed from those originals.

The first image was of a massive new development on London’s Oxford Street. Modern Architecture interests me and I was drawn by the textured panels that suggested Fretwork. Back home I set about exploiting the lines and shapes and what suddenly struck me (which I had not consciously seen before) was the interplay of the street lamp and part of the fretwork.

Final Image – No 1

The second image was taken in a store in Milton Keynes looking up between the escalators to the roof-light. Shapes and lines and contrast attracted me to this. Back home I discovered I had not got the precise symmetrical composition I was after (careless of me). But I was determined to derive the image. The symmetry was created, the lights moved, and the composition simplified.

Final Image – No 2

The third image was taken 10 days ago in the Cotswolds. The walls of the grounds of a Manor House were undergoing a massive renovation programme and I stumbled upon this new but boarded up gateway that intrigued me. In this instance I knew the final image would be a B&W conversion but it was only when I got to work that I formulated an approach that would produce an image with a bit of drama and mystery.

Final Image No 3

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. This is a fascinating topic – that goes to the heart of our art. One that Otto, CJ and Andy have set rolling. Thanks guys.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you ‘see’ images?

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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17 Responses to Getting the Picture, Developing the Image

  1. hdrexposed says:

    What a great write up here Andy. I think the quote that you pulled from CJ’s article really rings true to me. We are always trying to make things our own, to show others how WE interpret a scene. Something that I enjoy about looking at the photos of others is seeing what I may have “missed” about a particular location, even if I was in the exact same place. It provides motivation for me and room to grow. All that being said, great images today too. The last one is my favorite, love the light and shadows!

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much Dave. I always enjoy your work because I know I’m going to see a new interpretation of a scene. Sometimes it surprises me how we haven’t run out of ideas – I hope we never do!

  2. Fantastic post Andy. First of all I love the before and after images that you’ve posted. What you say is so true. There are times that I have a vision of what the final image will look like so when I’m photographing I plan for that. At other times there’s just “something” that make me want to take the shot but I’m not quite sure what yet. Soemtimes it clicks in post processing and sometimes…well it doesn’t. Thank you too for including those links. I follow Otto’s blog and I’m always impressed by his writing and images. You’re right everyone should be folowing Lightstalking, there’s always excellent content there especially in Toad’s weekly roundup. Finally thanks for helping me discover Andy’s blog.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for your interesting comments, Edith. It sounds as if your ‘eye’ is very similar to mine and your experience sounds very familiar too. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It’s always nice to put something back into a community that gives so much.

  3. This is an excellent post about the process of seeing and the transition from seeing to photographing – and I don’t only say so because you quote me (but thanks for doing so and thanks for the nice words). What makes it stand out is the fact that you show what you mean with great examples. I find it particularly interesting since when I first saw only the unedited pictures, I thought they were quite unremarkable. But then alas, the transition is simply astonishing. Especially the third picture where I saw absolutely no potential at all, and it turned out to be maybe the most interesting of them all. It really shows that what we see as photographers so depends on each and every individual – which is the beauty of photography. By the way I am also one of those people who always carry a camera with me. I might not be constantly looking for pictures, but when the right light or the right situation occurs I want to be able to photograph it. But I can’t just «snap» a single picture en passant, I need to work myself into a mental state where things starts to happen with me and around me.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks very much for your comment, Otto. I thought it would be useful to attach some examples to show how the image can be really very different from the picture. It is I think fascinating to see how we all operate differently in our approach to capturing images. It’s interesting also to read your observations on your own approach. Many thanks

  4. Geez Andy, this really resonated with me. GREAT writing here, my friend, I’ve come away understanding a little more about my own craft through your article.

  5. seekraz says:

    I enjoyed the pictures you’ve made, Andy, and was struck by much of what you wrote. Still being anovice in this realm, it is all incredibly nutritious food for thought at this point. Thank you for sharing…and sharing in words that surmount the profession and apply to anyone who is even moderately serious about making photos.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks very much for that comment, Scott. I’m very grateful to Otto, CJ and Andy for raising this topic – pure coincidence that they all shared their thoughts in such a short space of time independently. We can learn so much from each other and I am pleased to be able to add something to this debate.

      • seekraz says:

        You’re very welcome, Andy…it’s a pleasure to follow along, picking-up tips, and then applying them when I’m able. Have a ways to go still…and will have more to learn when I upgrade to a fully-functional DSLR…. Thank you again. 🙂

  6. Len says:

    Great post Andy. Wonderful transformation of the images. Otto’s post really resonated with me. When I first started getting serious about photography, I often shot images that I thought others would like but I was not happy with them. I finally realized that I needed to shoot what I felt and I was much happier with them. I now shoot for what I feel and then try to look at the scene from other perspectives to see if I have missed something others might have seen (I just finished writing a post for this for next week). Sometimes I don’t see anything and other times I am quite surprised with what I find.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Len for your comment. You are right – there is always a little pressure to shoot what is in vogue, of the current style, and likely to appeal to others. And this particularly applies if one is thinking of shooting shots for competition or exhibition. We then think of what others would like rather than what appeals to us. But if your heart isn’t really in it, then I think it will show up in the results. I’m of an age now when I shoot for myself; if someone else likes it then that’s a bonus! But your final point is also valid – we never stop learning. Often I look back and see what I should have shot but just failed to get.

  7. andybeel says:

    Hi Andy a very insightful piece of writing – I can only say that you have helped to unravel the instantanous thought processes that we all go through. A question that you might like to mull over for which I have no answer – do we as photographers edit our pictures to soon after taking them, when the experience of taking them is still fresh in our minds and does that proximity colour our judgement? Andy

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Andy for such a thought provoking comment. I’ve been mulling this over since I read your comment a couple of hours ago. I think that when we shoot with the end product firmly fixed in our minds then it is an advantage to get to work sooner rather than later before those initial ideas fade – and this I believe was the thinking behind the quote I used from your post. But…when I shoot ‘from the hip’, perhaps impulsively but attracted by that je ne sais quoi factor, then I think I benefit from time to look and re-look at what I have captured and slowly I develop an idea of how I can extract the ‘image’ from what I captured. And that is why I used a number of words to describe that process: ‘exploit, extract, develop, distil, refine, derive’ because each of those words describes a subtly different approach to unlocking that final image and that process isn’t instantaneous. So, that’s an attempt to crystallize out two approaches to the ‘final’ image – but life is never that simple and straightforward. The honest answer is probably ‘it depends’……..and ‘IT’ is an unknown that I cannot define.

  8. oneowner says:

    I’m a little late to the party but I did want to say that this has been one of the most fascinating and informative post I’ve read in a while. The comment say a lot for the quality as well. My own process of seeing probably starts at a subconscious level and evolves from there for any particular shot. I always viewed photos straight out of the camera as the foundation to a great photo whether from a negative or a RAW file. Possibly another kind of seeing.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for that Ken.I’m glad you enjoyed reading that. I note you use the word ‘Subconscious’ as I did too to describe the process of seeing images. Otto Munchow has just written an excellent piece that is on a broadly similar theme about developing our ability to see/take good pictures. Well worth a read.

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