Learning to See, Final

Learning to See, Final

Make Photographs for Yourself, Critics are Critics for a Reason

Over the past ten installments from the Learning to See series (linked to below), I have hoped to lead the novice photographer through the basic concepts of not only what makes a photograph better, but also introduce some of the theories and principles to why.  I have also received comments of appreciation from advanced photographers who also might have learned a new concept, or perhaps provided a refresher from some long forgotten workshop.  However, at the end of the day this series was for the beginner and I do hope it has inspired you to make even more pictures, and above all else have fun doing it.

Generally speaking, the lessons presented followed a general flow I have employed for quite a few years whilst instructing novice photographers. You should be able to take these basic concepts of colour, tone and composition and practise these for the remaining time you are able to hold a camera – and I do hope that is forever.

As you gain a better grasp of these concepts you will soon discover why many advanced photographers will suggest rules are made to be broken. I also subscribe to this notion, but also believe we have to learn to walk before we can run.  Usually the reason you want to make a picture in the first place will be the reason you should make the picture. Once you have made the image, then it is time to start exploring with your curiosity and creativity by being adventuresome.

Don’t be afraid of failure – there is no such word in the amateur photographer’s dictionary.  If you are not pleased with the results of your efforts don’t see those images as disappointments, but as opportunities to learn.  What could I have done better … what should I have done? By challenging yourself to always advance and to learn from your results, I will guarantee you a lifelong pursuit of enjoyment from an incredible craft. I have known photographers who have been making pictures for 5, 6 and even 7 decades and the one common constant they all have is an insatiable desire to learn.

This image move away from the various "rules of composition" we have discussed, yet uses strong diagonal lines assupporting elements, as well as colour contrast. Yes, I placed the leaves in the foreground; but, somehwere today there is a photographer swearing up and down that those leaves were there just as he found them!

This image moves away from the various “rules of composition” we have discussed, yet uses strong diagonal lines as supporting elements, as well as colour contrast. Yes, I placed the leaves in the foreground; but, somehwere today there is a photographer swearing up and down those leaves were there just as he found them!


As a quick recap let’s reconsider some of the primary components and concepts that have been raised over the length of this series.

Subject:   First and foremost what is your subject? Something caught your attention and made you focus on a specific object; what was it? Once that subject is identified you should try to avoid surrounding distractions other than  incorporatinge those elements as supporting components to enhance the primary subject.

Tonal Range:    The subject will most likely be the most colourful or brightest part of the scene. When this is the case look for supporting colours or tones that will naturally enhance the contrast of the subject, and by default elevate the impact of the subject.  Think of our lesson on complementary colour and how red works well with green, blue with yellow, and so on around the colour wheel. Disregard the arguments of CMYK colours space at this junction of your photo career – think basic, primary colours and they will hold you in good stead until you are ready to explore colour theory further.

Composition: Once you have located the subject consider where you are going to place the subject in the final frame.  Recall our discussion on the Rule of Thirds and identifying the “Point  of Impact.” Also remember we can adjust the Rule of Thirds to become the Rule of Fifths, Sevenths, Ninths, or any other odd number we might choose to place the subject at a location to maximize impact. At this juncture don’t be distracted by those who would have us believe we must understand the Fibonacci theorems; just move the subject away from the centre of the viewfinder.

Elements to Support the Composition:  Think of diagonals and leading lines such as c-curves and s-curves. As you start making pictures try keeping them simple and uncluttered, allow the leading lines to draw our attention to the subject.

There will be occassions when you simply have to get the image and then attempt to refine it later. This is usually the case with animals. This harp seal pup is not the most active critter on the planet, but the mother most certainly can deliver one fast and nasty bite.

There will be occassions when you simply have to get the image and then attempt to refine it later. This is usually the case with animals. This harp seal pup is not the most active critter on the planet, but the mother most certainly can deliver one fast and nasty bite.  This image was made with a Pentax 67 format, with a light reflector held just off frame to the left and rear of the pup.


Conclusion:  Challenge yourself with assignments – perhaps one per week. Analyse your results immediately after you make the photo, and then again just before your next self-assignment a week later. By being self-critical of last week’s assignment, the lesson will be fresh in your mind for this week’s assignment and you will more than likely see improved results immediately from week-to-week.  Start training your eye to see things intuitively even though you don’t have a camera in your hands.  Look at architecture and see how the design of a building affects shadows at different times of day. Study the artworks of the great masters from the different periods and notice how they incorporate all of our discussion points in a single painting. Study the work of photographers whose work you admire, but be careful not to copy.  It is alright to emulate, but once you duplicate you are no longer true to yourself.  Photography, and art in general, is a universal language; learn to express yourself freely and with confidence.

Most importantly, and if I have been able to drive one extremely important lesson into your creative mind that would be: Always have fun.  After all, if you are having fun you are doing it right.

See the Full Learning to See Series

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dale Wilson is a freelance photographer based out of Halifax, Canada. He has been a regular staff writer for a variety of Canadian photo magazines for 18 years. Wilson has also published or co-published four books and was the photo-editor on the Canadian best selling Canada’s National Parks – A Celebration. His practice concentrates on commercial work and shooting natural history images for four stock agencies. After a 10 year hiatus Wilson will once again be offering eastern Canadian workshops with his teaching partner Garry Black.'

Some Older Comments

  • Judy Royal Glenn April 26, 2013 03:27 am

    Thank you for the wonderful series and sharing your knowledge:) ~ Judy

  • Darren April 24, 2013 09:18 pm

    Thanks for the all the info contained in the series.....very educational and great info to know.

    Looking forward to whatever is next....so what is it?

  • iban_g_g April 23, 2013 10:12 pm

    Thanks for all! The final advise is the best: have fun! And that's what I try.
    All the best!

  • JacksonG April 23, 2013 06:09 pm

    Thank you.

  • Sam April 23, 2013 06:37 am

    well done. you did great job here !!!

  • Daniel McBane April 23, 2013 04:08 am

    Excellent series. A lot of good info, but probably the most important thing I got from reading through all the parts is the motivation to just get out there and shoot more.

  • Evan R April 23, 2013 12:03 am

    Thanks for writing this series. Helped me to get this shot, PLEASE take a look!

  • Paul Parkinson LRPS April 22, 2013 09:13 pm

    Can you produce this series as an eBook please? I got bored copy-pasting the bits into a word document ;-))

  • Sue Leonard April 22, 2013 08:28 pm

    I am not one of the world's natural photograph compositors. I really have to work hard at developing my "compositional eye". This being the case, your series of articles entitled 'Learning to See' has been extremely useful. Keep up the good work. You might like to check out some of the photographs on my website - see what you think. Any constructive comments would be very welcome.

    Now I must go and practice, practice, practice.

  • Steve April 22, 2013 06:19 pm

    Thanks for a great series. For me I learned to see rather than just look as a Safari guide which provides a natural extension to photography. It is interesting how differently you see everything around you.

    For this shot I not only had to see but also anticipate and then be patient


  • Salvacion April 22, 2013 01:21 pm

    This is really a great series! Thank you very much for sharing!

  • SteveFromOhio April 22, 2013 05:44 am

    Thank you for the time to write this series. It's been very helpful.