Are You Seeing What You’re Looking At? (Am I always able to do it? No. But I strive to do it.)

Are you seeing what you're looking at?

Are you seeing what you’re looking at?

Sometimes we just don’t know if what we see is real and sadly enough most times we just take what we see and never really process it to its fullest. Everyday things happen in our lives and we never really see it even though we are looking right at it or I guess I should say we never notice it and it doesn’t just stop with what we see, but also what we hear. We as humans just tend to tune out both visually and tonally. Children are very much more attentive to all the little things that we adults have tuned out. I remember myself as a young child and how attentive I was to extremely small details in my surroundings, more so than most. I did not realize it at the time because as a child many times you think that what you do is what everybody does, until somebody points out that you are different. So I thought everybody noticed small details. As I got a little older I remember a high school teacher giving the class a simple test of taking one plain piece of paper and a pencil and he gave one simple instruction of “take the pencil and draw a house on the paper. There are no rules; you can make the house whatever you’d like. Just put your vision of what you see as a house.” Of course there are always the students that didn’t understand and had fifty questions. But all he said “was draw a house as you see it in your mind.” After the last student completed the task he collected the papers and we had a discussion about how some people are more detailed than others. See some students had drawn a house that was simple and basic; some added a door and a window and others had two windows and so on. Oh… and then were two papers that really stood out, my paper and that of a female student. The teacher looking at my paper quite perplexed, looking at me then at the paper, then back at me. Mr. Roberts walks up to me and asks very calmly “Richard can you tell me what the instructions were.” My heart started to sink and I said in a low voice “you said draw a house,” he looked at me and smiled and said “why yes I did, so tell me why you also drew a tree and a dog, four windows, a chimney… and with smoke I might add. You also have grass and a walkway and somebody looking out of the window and you even have the windows divided into quarters to show four separate panes in each window (he chuckles). He then turns to the female student and gives her a rundown similar to mine. She had two trees and a car, windows and a door. After class he called me aside and told me that you have a knack for detail, well more than a knack. It doesn’t make you any smarter than the next person, but it shows how creative you are. Some could even argue that you did not follow the instructions because the instructions were to “draw a house” and not a dog, a tree, ect… My reply was “you said draw your vision of a house and my house has trees, a dog and several windows ect… That is how I see a house. He smiled and then put my paper in his briefcase.

So in regards to detail and our surroundings; “are you seeing what you are looking at?” I think it was renowned photographer Jay Maisel that was quoted as saying that. And it is so true; many times we don’t really see what we’re looking at. As a photographer it is a great piece of advice to get in the habit of asking yourself that question as your setting up a shot or scouting a location. And another odd but incredible tool for “seeing what you’re looking at” is to use a mirror. Smack my face and call me crazy, but I noticed many years ago how different a scene looked in a mirror. Because most times we use a mirror in our house to look at our self and we are so familiar with the scene we tend to just take it all for granted… But take a mirror and stand outside and look behind you and you surely will see the whole scene just a little differently than if you look at it straight on. Try to use a rectangle mirror, a side mirror from an old truck door will work and change between landscape & portrait. This really is nothing new as I had seen a director doing this while setting up shots for a video he was working on. At the time I thought he was crazy, years later it hit me while driving down the road and I figured it all out. Looking in my rearview mirror one day I saw the most beautiful landscape scene. It looked as if it had been taken from a storybook. But this is a road I had driven on for many years of my life and I had just never seen it from that perspective. Not to mention mirrors will sometimes cast a bluish color to the scene and this can give a little different feel to a scene, making the sky & clouds stand out.

It really comes down to perspective and how you approach a scene and what you can pull out of the scene that is being overlooked. My weakest point can sometimes be seeing reflections. Many times I have looked at a scene that had a wonderful water reflection and it would not stand out right away. However they say learn from your weakness and I have. Now I force this to the front of my mental checklist and after a while it comes as second nature. Another great tool is having a second pair of eyes. When doing a model shoot it can sometimes be daunting trying to interact with the model/s and dealing with ambient issues such as wind, heat or cold, maybe your lighting is causing you a nervous breakdown and now you are also supposed to see the little things like stray hairs across the eyes & face or maybe a wrinkle in the wardrobe. These are just a few of the things that can drive me crazy in post. If it is a large shoot then of course I will have an assistant as my second eyes, plus the hair stylist and makeup artists and maybe even the clothing designer. Or there could be an art director overseeing the project and working together as a team is so much easier to see when a small detail is out-of-place. But if I’m working on a personal project it may be just me and a makeup artist and it makes it a little harder to see what is out-of-place. Again I have to ask myself; “are you seeing what you’re looking at?” It is so easy to get caught up in the moment and distracted. I’ll be the first to say that “yes” I make note cards for when I’m shooting. I know my weaknesses and I know I am a disorganized mess. As much as I can notice details about a lot of things in life, however like most people when I am rushed or there is pressure I tend to get three steps ahead of myself. If it is just me and the camera shooting wildlife or nature I’m ok and I can handle the pressure (if there is any). Maybe rain is moving in and I’m trying to finish the shot, not a big deal. But if I’m working with people I know full well there is a chance for pressure. It does not mean there will be pressure, but the potential is there so I will prepare my little note cards a day or more in advance. Most times I will have a shot list and wardrobe changes or looks. I will also have a locations list if we are outside and I may go further and put some plan “B” notes on the card, just in case a location becomes unavailable at the last-minute. I try not to make my notes too complicated; they are mostly a guideline to follow. But aside from those notes I will have a mental checklist that I will stop and think about. Asking myself; are you shooting both landscape & portrait? Are you seeing everything you are looking at? Is focus sharp? What would this look like with another lens? Where is the light coming from? (Natural light) And the list goes on and it repeats as I’m shooting. I equated it to being a professional driver because a professional truck driver should always be scanning his mirrors. He/she should be in a mode of constantly scanning from looking at the path of travel as well as what is happening alongside of the vehicle. For me shooting a camera is similar if I want to see what I’m looking at. I try to keep my mental checklist rolling through my mind as I’m working the shoot. Am I always able to do it? No. But I strive to do it. Sometimes distractions or the situation will hamper me from the flow; however it is what I strive for.

Thanks so much for reading and have a great day.

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