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7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

Seeing the world through your camera’s lens has certain similarities and definite differences to looking at the world without your camera. Even with the most basic digital cameras available today you can create photographs that you cannot naturally see with your eyes. Understanding how your camera sees differently than your eyes will help you become a more creative photographer.

Here are seven ways that your camera sees differently than your eyes:

1. Frame

7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

Every photograph is bound by a frame; four sides and four corners. You don’t see your daily life with such restrictions to your vision. Learning to create well composed photographs means you must work within the boundaries of that frame and make the most of it.

Don’t see the frame as a restriction, rather an opportunity to enhance and share your vision. Carefully compose your chosen subject. Be selective of what to include and what to exclude so your frame only shows what you want to show.

2. Zoom

7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

If you cannot achieve a composition just how you want it to look, you might consider changing lenses or zooming closer or wider. This is something our eyes cannot do. To see detail in something you are looking at you must move closer, and to see a wider angle of view you must step back.

Changing lens focal length gives your camera the ability to remain in the same position and yet see either a wide angle of view or a very narrow one. Understanding the field of view of your lenses and being selective of how much or how little you include within the frame of your photos will help you make more interesting compositions.

3. Focus

7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

One of the initial things I learned after buying my first camera was the importance of focus. Since I first learned to focus my camera I’ve had to start wearing reading glasses so I can see whatever is close to me clearly.

If your eyes are good you never even think about their ability to focus, they just do, continuously and without delay. It’s important to learn how to focus your camera lens so the most important element(s) in your composition is sharp. Sometimes it’s a photographer’s choice to create soft focus photos, but generally a well focused photo will draw the viewer’s eye to the most significant part of the composition.

4. Depth of Field

7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

Controlling how much of a photograph is in focus is another aspect of photography that your eyes do not naturally do. If your eyes are good, you will see most of what’s in your field of view in sharp focus. Using your camera to control how much of what’s in focus within your frame is a wonderful creative aspect of photography.

There are a combination of factors that enables your camera to make photos in which some of your image is in sharp focus and some of it is not. These factors are your lens and its aperture setting, your camera’s sensor size, and the distance relationship between your camera, the subject and the background. Achieving a good balance of these factors will give your photographs a quality you never naturally see. The clearly focused zone in a photograph is known as the Depth of Field.

5. Motion Blur

7 Tips for Learning How to See What Your Camera Sees

Another photographic technique that can control the amount of blur in your photographs is the thoughtful use of shutter speed. Using a slow shutter speed and making a photograph of a moving subject can result in what’s known as motion blur.

You can control how much or how little a moving subject is blurred by controlling the length of time your shutter is open. If you leave your shutter open long enough, you can even create photographs of moving subjects so your subject is not visible in the frame. Your eyes will never see like this because a photograph is made during one instance in time.

6. A Single Moment

How to Learn To See What Your Camera Sees

Being able to choose the moment you open your shutter and make a photograph is another difference between how you see and how your camera sees. Whether you are taking a landscape or photographing a football game or a portrait, the very point in time you press your shutter release is significant in determining how your photograph will look. One precise instance in time, deliberately selected, to capture a unique image.

You see with your eyes continuously, not in single instances. Learning to recognize the optimum moments to press your finger down on the button and take a photograph is one of the most important aspects of photography.

7. Tonal Range

How to Learn To See What Your Camera Sees

The tonal range your camera can capture in a single exposure and what’s visible to your eyes are still significantly different. I say “still” because as camera technology develops sensors are able to render a wider tonal range than in the past and before long they may well be able to render a wider range than we can see.

Currently I am unaware of any camera that can record such a wide tonal range, from the brightest to the darkest, as we are able to see with our eyes. If you are outside photographing on a sunny day you will have to set your exposure carefully to capture detail in either the brightest or darkest part of your composition. Your camera is not capable of capturing such a wide range of tones as you can see with your eyes.

Learning to see the light and read the tonal range as you are composing your photographs is one of the most essential elements of creative photography.


Seeing as your camera sees, understanding the differences between your natural human vision and the way your camera works to make photographs, will give you more enjoyment and help you grow as a photographer.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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