Perception: our sensory experience of the world.
Developing your perception as a photographer takes practice. I would say it is a life-long practice that you will engage every time you photograph. For a photographer perception is how we see the difference between an interesting sight in the world and an interesting subject for an image.
Close your eyes and snap a photo. The result will probably tick the failure box on some level. You haven't engaged with the subject. It doesn't matter if the subject is a tree, building or person. To grow that basic photo into something beyond a surface level image you need to see beyond the basic.
I see a tree and while it may be a stunning specimen of a tree, I need to see what is it that makes it deserving of a photo or will make it something the viewer will stop and stare at. Is it the bark? Could it be the pattern of the leaves or needles? Whatever it is I need to perceive what that tree has to offer that will make a meaningful image. And then I can begin to develop a plan to bring that tree to life as an image.
Not everything you see in your chosen photographic genre will be worthy of a photograph. Your perception will slowly become aware of what stands out. What makes you stop and look twice today you might not have noticed last year.
Your perception develops as you study and learn about light, shadows, line, and weather. You start to see how all of this affects your chosen subject. You start to engage with the subject. and then you start to realize that rarely, if ever will everything you need for a perfect photo come together perfectly. You start to work the scene because your perception has developed and you are instinctively engaging with the scene.
Before you snap that photo of a pretty subject, stop an take a deep look around. What will make your photo different from the thousand other photos of the same scene or subject?
"Mysterious and little-know organisms live within reach of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions."
E. O. Wilson
I spend most of my time photographing the small things in the forest. My macro lens opens up a whole new world of amazing plants and sometimes the creepy things. You don't need to go to the Amazon forest to see exotic species. Nature is full of exotic species in your own backyard even if they aren't cute and cuddly.
I first noticed these creatures when I photographed some moss on a wet rock. Looking a the images on the computer revealed tiny species on the rock. I've never been able to get a good image of these bugs with my camera set-up, but now I know they are there and I am always looking.
We have rain coming this week after four months of almost no rain. Like the moss these creatures can and will rehydrate with this moisture and life in the forest, on the smallest of scales, will continue. There is so much I have yet to discover in the forest. I could spend a year examining one small area and still not see all that is there.
Next time you stop to rest when hiking take a moment to examine where you are sitting. Move some leaves and see what you can with your naked eye. Pull out a magnifying glass to help bring the exotic to life before your eyes. Whether you look at the big picture or the smallest of the small, I hope you never stop looking and discovering awe.
On your first trip into the forest nothing is really obvious. There is so much to see. It's hard to take it all in. Is this chaos or is this a beautiful wild-scape full of unknown parts?
Those of us who enter the forest often have learned to see what is right before our eyes, to see all the parts that create the whole of chaos. Without practice we are confused by the light patterns, shadows and miss the hidden obvious.
It would be the same for me if I were to walk the streets of a big city. The lights, people, cars and jumble of architecture would blind me. It would take time and practice for me to see all that is basically hidden in plain sight. The photographic eye needs training no matter where or what you are photographing.
I have an exercise that I do often to help me to see the details regardless of the environment I find myself in. I pick a search target for that day. This gives my mind something to search for and relate to. Some days it's a particular species of tree. A tree sounds big and easy to see, but in a forest seeing that one particular species can be challenging. But if I educate myself on the particulars of that species my brain will have something to focus on and the search becomes easier.
Try it for yourself. Whatever it is that you love to photograph pick something that your brain can lock onto. No matter how long you've been creating images this is a practice that will keep you stretching mentally and learning to see, not better, but more with your photographic eye.
Everyday life is full of noise. We're so used to some sounds that we tune them out, but they are still there. Some of those everyday noises are unwanted voices in our heads. You know the ones I'm talking about.
On the way home from a doctor's appointment I stopped by a river to take a short hike. This area usually has a lot of bird activity. But today I only saw a flock of male Common Mergansers. Occasionally I could hear a bird off in the distance, but overall it was a very quiet morning.
We're heading into fall now. There are signs of fall as the leaves are starting to turn color. I found a few of our native hazelnuts that were waiting for the Jays to find them. I was able to find a handful of wild blackberries, two red currents and one red cap for a morning snack. Crisp mornings and cool nights are all telling us to enjoy being outdoors now.
These quiet moments in nature are some of my most productive times. The voices in my head turn to positive conversations and ideas. This is when I realize my future projects or how to proceed on what I am currently working on.
Quiet is a precious place and state of mind. A blessing we should all experience more often.