Learning to See

The Bear Woods article (below) gives some good insights on seeing the  main visual “elements” of your shot location. (And if you are into landscape photos, Bear Woods is a good blog to follow.)

The scene you’re looking at when you’re out in nature is just a blank canvas until you see it in terms of elements in a composition. Because until you can see a visual dynamic between the design pieces, you can’t frame it. You can’t put stuff together into a composition.

And that’s what you’re doing out there, shooting on a Sunday afternoon, breaking a landscape spot you’re in the midst of into its visual components. And then seeing them whole through your viewfinder. That’s what you do when looking for a foreground element or using the Rule of Thirds.

That foreground bush is an element. A waterfall in the distance, that’s another element to pull into the final composition.

Mission Church in Carmel

Mission Church in Carmel. Chandeliers, alter area, pews, holy water in a large metal bowl… reflection of the chandelier in the water


So once I see the scene as elements, I can adjust my framing to pull those elements into a dynamic arrangement, a little visual engine that’s called a photo.

Below, one of my fellow photographers was playing with this location at Point Lobos and I joined her. The location had several elements that I found enticing, the stone steps leading up to a twisted cedar, a wall of stone and flowers, a tangle of branches and a flash of sunlight.

I spent quite a while getting the framing and angle right. Later in Lightroom, I  adjusted each of the elements separately: darkening the scene locally, adding contrast to the light fall on the steps, lightening and adding clarity to the signature tree and pulling out the textures in the wall of stone on the left. Lightroom helped fix lots of light issues here (you need to when shooting into the sun). But I needed to see the elements first.

Evening, Point Lobos, Cypress Cove

Point Lobos State Reserve

I can’t control everything at a shoot location. But I can’t control anything if I haven’t started seeing the elements. And as I engage with the location, framing, moving here or there in order to fine tune the visual elements, I discover more about how all the pieces fit together.

Maybe I can’t make the composition work. That happens a lot. Maybe I can get the elements to sing. If nothing else, I’ve provided myself with an enjoyable afternoon.


Seals, Sunset, Moonstone Beach

Bear Woods Happenings

Secret Canyon 071016h copy

Learning to See.
When I am out photographing or for that matter teaching, I study the elements in front of me. I talk to my students and try and get them to identify a subject and other elements within an area. I emphasize the idea of studying the relationship of the elements and how they compliment or contrast the subject. In short, I teach them to “See” a scene. Tunnel vision is something that can block a composition quickly, so I like to start wide and work down or start tight and work out. In doing so, you see lines and shapes that form patterns to help complete your vision. That is another reason I love photographing in the slot canyons, you learn to see and how things can flow to or away from your subject.
Tamron SP 15-30mm f2.8 Di VC USD lens on a Canon 5Diii…

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