Degrees of Perception in Photography

If you close your eyes, stage your camera in any direction, and take a picture, I’m willing the bet the particular photo won’t be an achievement. Unless you’re doing some artsy “blindfolded photography” project, it completely lacks intent or any engagement with the scene in front of you.

Terrible Photo - Level 0
Level 0: The blindfolded photographer

It’s not like that’s a common thing photographers do, but I wanted to mention it as the most extreme example of not really perceiving factors in photography. It’s barely more personal than a security camera or a photo a person took by accident.

But it’s something we are able to build from. The obvious action above the blindfolded strategy is to take a photo of an actual subject: notice something, point your camera at it, and capture a fast photo.

That’s sure to lead to a better picture than the prior approach most of the time, but it’s not yet the recipe for success. While your photo does at least have a reason to exist this time around – it reproduces some thing you saw – this still lacks artistic intent, and you’re only interesting with the subject / perceiving it at a very surface level.

Thoughtless Photo - Level 1
Level 1: The thoughtless photographer

The next level (where I hope that most photographers at least start) is to observe something, point your camera at it, and make some basic decisions about the chance, such as your exposure plus an initial composition. It may not become a masterpiece, but you’re putting some thought into the way you want the photo to look or not. This is a good starting point, and it also shows some degree of “working with the scene” – endeavoring to perceive what’s in front of you at a more meaningful level.

Better Composition - Level 2
Level 2: The technically competent photographer

The next step up is to find something worth photographing . You must rule out a lot of topics that won’t make a good photo and deliberately search for subjects that will.

That involves seeing things from the slightly different perspective. Sometimes, what looks good in the photo isn’t all that noteworthy in the real world, and you might skip over it if you’re not paying close attention. A good example that comes to my thoughts is one waterfall in Iceland (Kirkjufellsfoss) that a million individuals photograph every year. It appears amazing in photos, but when I visited it a few years ago, I couldn’t assist but think it did not look as interesting personally, especially compared to Iceland’s additional breathtaking waterfalls. Without the web, I doubt I’d possess ever realized there was a photograph to be had there.

Some subjects are the opposite, where they look astounding in person but don’t fully translate to photos. I find that many landscapes are this way on a bright, sunny day around noon. Place be great conditions designed for hiking and enjoying the scenery, but their lighting problems may not be anything interesting meant for photography. (I’m not stating they’re always bad problems for photos, though. )

In any case, finding a worthwhile subject is as important as it gets. It takes exercise to differentiate between a fascinating sight in the real world and an interesting subject for a photo. Another way to describe this process is  engaging with what’s in front of you plus shifting your perspective through an onlooker to a professional photographer.

With some simple compositional, exposure, and post-processing decisions, you can get a good photo of interesting subjects even if you don’t do anything else especially special. The subject’s personal merits – which you observed and framed the chance around – are enough to carry a lot of images reasonably far.

We hardly did anything specific for the photo below aside from recognize and point our lens at an interesting subject matter. This method leaves a lot to become desired in photography, but if the subject is interesting a sufficient amount of, it can still give you several solid photos.

Better Subject - Level 3
Level 3: The more involved photographer

What I consider the “ideal level” of perception in digital photography is to truly be on the same page as your subject, where you know (consciously or subconsciously) how to portray it as best as possible. You’ve captured the composition and the light which best complements your subject. Your camera settings and the technical side of things are optimal for how you want the photo to look. And lastly, you’ve post-processed and displayed the photo in a way that conveys your own message as well as possible.

This level of perception in photography is aspirational; it is almost impossible to actually attain. You’ll rarely have “perfect” light, a “perfect” subject matter, a “perfect” composition, and so forth, and you don’t need to. Exactly what I’m talking about instead is merely aiming to perceive your subject matter how it really is – partaking with the scene and realizing how to make it look better in a photo (or recognizing if it’s not even worth photographing in the first place). The more tuned-in you are to what’s in front of the lens, the better result you’ll get be behind the lens.

Perceptive Photo - Almost Level 4
Level 4: The particular perceptive photographer (and even though I like this photo, there’s still room to grow)

The last thing I want to emphasize is that despite my snappy captions – “the thoughtless photographer, ” “the more engaged photographer, ” etc . –  you are not a member of one of these categories .   You’re not really a “level 3” or “level 4” photographer; there is no such thing. Rather, all of these are modes that every single photographer assumes with different times ! Heck, the same photographer  took just about all five photos in this article (me), and all except for the last chance were taken within an hour of each other. It’s not like my skills improved from “level 0” to “level 3” in less than an hour; I simply started actually paying attention plus perceiving the subject in front of me personally. If you find yourself taking too many “level 1” shots, it’s not that will you’re a “level 1” photographer, it’s that you need to indulge a bit more with the scene. (Although if you find yourself taking too many “level 0” shots, there may be an issue! )

In my next article, I’ll go through some of the techniques that I have found helpful for perceiving a subject better and taking stronger photos as a result. Keep an eye out pertaining to part two, “How to produce a Photo Feel More Deliberate. ”

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