EDFAT - The Art of Seeing

EDFAT – The Art of Seeing


200903260959.jpg Late last year over in a our forums Jim Bryant (pictured left) from (Jim Bryant Photography) put together an article on the ‘Art of Seeing’ as a photographer that has helped quite a few of our members think about the way they approach their work. I thought it might help others too so wanted to share it here.

Over the years, photojournalists reach a point where they refine their personal approach of shooting skills. Each approach is different, but most of whom I have talked too all agrees that the basis of such a visual approach is the trained ability to see everything in great detail.

EDFAT.jpgThe late Frank Hoy, who I had as an instructor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and who later taught at Arizona State University, taught his students an exercise in detailed seeing called the EDFATEntire, Details, Frame, Angles, and Time, a method that allows you to fine-tune your photographic seeing.

This approach works as well with things as well as people. EDFAT will help you explore the familiar as if it was a brand new subject.

For a start, organize your seeing in terms of using three categories: the establishing shot, the medium shot, and the close up. Apply this approach to everything you see.

The old saying, “what you see you can photograph” only applies to someone who sees in reach detail. So take the time to make a short field trip as a practical test method. Sling your camera on your shoulder and carry it with you while you learn to see deeply and in detail during a short walking tour in an area where there are a lot of people.

As a photojournalist you will constantly deal with strangers, so your subject should be someone unknown. Approach the subject and introduce yourself. Explain what you want: A complete portrait of them based on shooting many photographs. You’ll be surprised on just how cooperative most people are when you explain your needs. When the subject agrees to be photograph, move back to about 15 feet and start shooting.


From 15 feet away, focus on the entire person as part of the environment and shoot one or two horizontal shots. Turn the camera to a vertical position and shoot two more. Move around the person and compose each shot differently in some strong composition. Don’t place the person in the center of the frame. While shooting, explore the person through your lens. Move in and from about 10 feet away, repeat the procedure. Then move in to about 7 feet and repeat your shooting process.


EDFAT-2.jpgNow from 5 feet away search for details of the person now you are long longer photographing a person in relation to a large background, but you are making a portrait. So concentrate from the waist up. Shoot two horizontal frames and then to vertical frames. In doing this, you are framing the person in relation to the edge of your photograph and are now exploring the composition possibilities that come to mind. Use feet, books, boots, a hat, hair, eyes, and even the background elements to compose a variety of photographs: no two shots should be the same. Talk with the person as you shoot. Get to know the person’s background and personality. Soon they won’t be a subject anymore, but an interesting individual.


What would this person look like from a different angle? If you had taken all your shots so far from eye level and straight ahead, now take shots from the left and then right, from both high and low angles. Look for something to stand on, or even sit on your butt to get an especially low angle.EDFAT-4.jpg

Now move in really close, to the shortest focal distance your lens with focus. Study the details on the subjects face. Concentrate on photographing a shot with just the eyes, nose, lips and hair and features of the face. At this close distance they are your material for a close-up. Remember to shoot both horizontal and vertical shots. Try to get your subjects hands in the photo, perhaps close to the face to frame it. By now you are working with you’re subject to get a character study, or what is called a personality portrait.


During this shooting exercise, you have been using the fifth element of EDFAT – time – in two ways: first as a series of shutter speeds to capture the action and second, as a span of time that allows you to explore in full details many visual possibilities of a single subject.

More importantly, you have introduced yourself to a way to be photographically perceptive.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • jan g April 23, 2009 06:49 am

    What a fantastic "how to" guide to start deliberately thinking like a photographer. To have a plan, with specific action items, which if used as standard practice will become a naturally intuitive process. Thanks for such a clear, easily implimented approach to "seeing" with a photographer's eyes.

    As for the commentors that couldn't "see" past the few typos and/or grammatical issues in this excellent article, go read your photography manuals. The rest of us will continue to learn from the professionals who are kind enough to take the time to share their experiences and techniques with those of us who appreciate it.

  • Bong Casis April 7, 2009 02:58 am

    This article is really very informative and a great learning exercise to any body interested to improve his or her photography skills. Great and infomative article and it will surely be a great help in my coming San Francisco trip.

  • Kenneth Hyam April 6, 2009 08:24 pm

    This is a really helpful article, especially the EDFAT acronym + explanation. I think the project of approaching someone you don't know and asking for 10 mins to do a portrait session is great. I will try to summon up the courage to do this maybe five times ( a dare?). By then it perhaps won't seem so daunting.

  • S.Kuss April 6, 2009 02:06 am

    I like it! I also agree very much with Pappy about the typos being distracting.

    I like the idea of having a "script" to follow. It gives direction, focus and, for us amateurs-confidence. BUT-I bet "real" photographers avoid this stuff as it can stifle creativity. Yes or no?

  • Pappy April 2, 2009 06:06 am

    I, too, found this article to be very helpful advice, and I intend to put the advice into practice. However, I'm not sure that the "Time" section was meaningful. It's more an observation than advice, so it doesn't really fit with the rest of the article.

    I also agree with Orovert about the quality of the writing. I see typos in lots of articles on this site, but usually I just ignore them because everyone makes mistakes. However, this article was difficult to read at times. I had to keep stopping to unravel sentences. The clumsy writing distracted me from the valuable content and and, like Orovert, made me question the professionalism of the author and this site.

    I happily offer my services as a proofreader because I've found this site to be very valuable to my education as a photographer.

  • oldwolf March 31, 2009 11:20 am

    Good article Jim. About damn time you got on the front page. :)

  • 0rovert March 31, 2009 05:27 am

    This sounds like a really useful exercise. Thanks for sharing it outside of the forums. I am really going to have to work up the courage to try this out!

    All of that aside, the article needs a serious proof read. There are grammatical mistakes all over the place. Although it is still readable, it is not professional and definitely not the caliber of writing that usually appears here.

  • Darlene March 31, 2009 03:44 am

    When I did my first out-side-of-the-family portrait session, I didn't have the faintest idea of how to approach it. If I had had this list, I would have more confident, and accomplished. I will be using this list from now on for all my photographs. Thanks so much for sharing. I, too, believe this is one of the best articles on how to that I've read here.

  • Eric Mesa March 30, 2009 10:32 pm

    No disrespect to any of the previous authors, but this is the best (or def in the top 3) article I've read on here so far. The technique sounds great and the pictures are quite inspiring.

    I am just a bit too shy to go up to a stranger and start photographing them like this. One technique I've read over and over is to talk to the person as you shoot. Even this article mentioned it. But I guess I just need to work on my photography more because I think if I were talking to the person I wouldn't be paying as much attention to what was in the viewfinder - at least if I wanted to have a meaningful conversation.

    I had to work up a lot of courage to get this shot in South Beach.

  • jay March 30, 2009 05:49 pm

    This is a really great approach that I will definitely use in the future. Great article!!

  • Mable March 30, 2009 04:48 pm

    This is really a very useful tips as I was struggling with portrait photography recently. It really opened my eyes and make me understand where I went wrong. Thanks.

  • Clemens Roeother March 30, 2009 10:58 am

    This is surely one of the best good ideas I have read. Most of the time we are concerned with f-stops ISO, and equipment. But the real secret of better photography is thinking and planning the image. If you know what you want to show, the way to shootw it mechanically will be a natu;ral.

    Thanks for a great EDFAT -- I'll certainly use it every time I'm out.

  • Victor Augusteo March 29, 2009 03:42 pm

    great article.

    i found that the best way to improve in photography is to experiment. to do something crazy. Maybe this also apply to all aspect of living tho. to learn you must leave your comfort zone.

  • Ilan March 29, 2009 09:43 am

    I agree with Lisa.
    It does order the way of things looking at it as this list.
    Learning to use all this EDFAT the right way, to make it subconscious, will surely help in photography

    I can think of one example where I tried to implement many of the things written here - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/07/great-spot.html

    EDFAT or not? :)

  • LisaNewton March 29, 2009 08:42 am

    Wow, that is powerful stuff. It really puts photographing a person into great detail, and not only people, but objects, too.

    A few days ago, I was in a park shooting the some of the skyscrapers, looking at them from different angles, up, down, sideways, close-up, and far away. using angles, frames, details, and entire. I have to work on the time aspect, especially with a single subject.

    You opened my eyes to seeing looking at people, who I tend to shy away from, in a while new way.

    Thank you.