Friday, July 13, 2012

Learning to See

How does one learn to see, anyways?

Some people suggest that "seeing" in the photographic sense is simply built in, or it's not. Then, amusingly, they will cite Mozart as an example of someone who simply had music "built in" and conveniently ignore the fact that Mozart had an intense and completely rigorous formal education in music. Some people will always "see" better than others, to be sure. Some people can probably never learn to do it, most people can learn to do it pretty well, and a few people will easily learn to do it wonderfully. Pretty much like any other human endeavor.

In broad strokes, there's only one way we learn to do anything, and that's how you'll learn to "see" photographically, learn to play tennis or golf. It's how you'll learn to drive a car, or sail a boat.

We start by getting some some basic ideas about how to do it. We observe someone else doing it, we have someone show us how to do it, we read a book about how to do it.

Then, we try doing it.

Next, we evaluate the results. How did we do? Did we fall out of the boat? Did we hit the ball?

Now, we think about specific ways we could improve our attempts. Don't fall out of the boat. Keep your eye on the ball. Try it again. We hit the ball! Where did it go? Why?

The point is to not try blindly. Start with some understanding, and then try. Figure out something wrong and fix that on the next try. When you're learning to play tennis, there are probably a lot of things you're doing wrong the first time you step out on the court. You work at fixing them, one by one. You have a notion of what you're doing wrong because you have a coach, or you read a book, or you watched a video about how it's supposed to work.

So we're going to get some basic ideas about how to do it, by looking at good photographs, by reading books, by reading other people's discussions of photographs (our own or others). Then we're going to take some pictures. Then we're going to look at those pictures and think about how well we're doing, and how we could make those pictures better. Finally, we're going to take some more pictures, possibly after doing some more reading or looking at other people's pictures.

Of course, we don't actually do it step by step, probably we're doing all these things more or less at random. The important thing is, as with all practice of everything, is to evaluate our results. If you want to improve your golf game, you don't just bash at the ball. You bash at the ball, and then you think about your swing, and you think about where the ball went.

Bash at the ball, but with purpose.

There are two followup posts, here and here.

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