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Judith Linders

Column, review, essay

  • Writer's pictureJudith Linders

Learning to see

Learning to see?

Almost all of us look and see all day long don't we?

I started with photography because I saw so much beauty during my walks with my father. Beauty struck me and I thought I had a real eye for it. But when I started photographing, I soon found out that I wasn't able to capture that beauty in my photos.

It is true almost all of us look all day long. But do we really see? We seldom do that, in our busy lives. How often don't you see a glimpse of something beautiful, think "that's nice" and walk on, your thoughts immediately returning to all the things you still have to do?

Landscape photography forces one to stand still. The best photos are shot using a tripod, because then you can take your time composing the photo.

To compose well you need to answer certain questions. What do I include in the photo and what do I leave out. How do I create a sense of order, when nature is rather chaotic. How do I use layering? Where does the light come from and how does it influence the image? The answers to these questions determine whether a photographs works or doesn't. Using a tripod also has the advantage that one can focus just right.

So, I attached my camera onto my tripod, stood next to it and started looking. When I thought I could see a good image, I made the composition with my camera. Often I wasn't quite satisfied. So I looked some more, changed the composition and only then took the actual photograph. I love working like that, it's very relaxing.

But when I looked at the photographs at home, I was often disappointed. The photographs turned out to be nowhere near as beautiful as I had expected. Too messy, not enough depth, not enough of the the wonderful atmosphere I had witnessed. So how do other photographers make such beautiful photos? And why can't I achieve that level of competence?

And then I started to really see....

I found out that landscapes can't be understood that easily. You have to really get to know them and to start seeing them with a photographer's eye. And that takes time. You have to learn to delve deeper into what you see, so to speak. Stand still and look. How often do you stand still and look for minutes at a time? How often do you see the variety in tree branches, subtle differences in colour, how land and water interact? How often do you observe the quality of light, that can be so different from one moment to the next?

Imagine a landscape on a grey, sombre November day. Which colours do you see? Brown, grey, dark green? That's about it. How can you take a good photograph of such a landscape? It is so uninspiring.

What I learned when I started to stand still for minutes on end and take the time to really see, is that there is a photograph in every landscape. But you have to practise seeing details. Even a grey brown November day has its beauty, be it very subtle.

Winter trees with bare branches can make for a wonderful image too.

By taking the time necessary, I slowly learned to see. That made me a better photographer. But it meant more than that. Nowadays, wherever I go, I see beauty. A little snail on an old fence, morning light that falls on hoar frosted car roofs. There is so much beauty that I wouldn't have noticed a few years ago. Today I am able to capture that as a photographer. Learning to see has not only made me a better photographer, it has also enriched my life.


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