I have always been an admirer of great photographs. Photography is one of those things that you don’t really think about until you try it and notice your shots aren’t nearly as interesting as the ones you see in magazines. For most of my life, I wasn’t particularly good at photography. To me, a great picture was a mystery, something with an intangible element that couldn’t be learned. One of the reasons I believed that was because I knew a few people who seemed like effortlessly great photographers. I could take a picture of the exact same subject matter, yet somehow their photo was vibrant and captivating while mine seemed flat and lifeless.
The Intangible Talent
There is some truth to the mystery, I think. Like any artist, some people do have an innate talent that seems to make them naturally fluent in their medium. But I was wrong to think they were “good” and I was “bad.” I simply never bothered to try learning some of the basic techniques that can make an average picture significantly better. Pretty much all of the arts have two fundamental levels: the first is learning the general skills and tips that anyone can memorize and practice. In photography it would be things like how to frame shots effectively, learning about aperture and shutter speed, etc. In music it would be basic theory on chords, scales, intervals, etc. And then there’s the second level, which is where the intangibles kick in: taking competency to artistry, transcending the rules by discovering your own.
But this post isn’t meant to be a photography lesson. It’s about how, when I started learning a few simple photography tips, it actually helped change the way I looked at the world. It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but as I got better at taking pictures, I started looking at everything, everywhere I went, as a potential photograph. I’ve always been an aesthetically driven person, but having a little more confidence in my photography skills and having a camera (phone) on me at all times allowed me to start looking at things with a fresh perspective.
Suddenly even dull or mundane things became possible works of art–I began seeing lines, shapes, colors, personalities, stories, life, contrasts, flaws, and patterns all around me. Simple became beautiful, ugly became interesting, and capturing a moment became a new challenge.
Looking For Potential
I’m still an average photographer at best, and I'm not recommending everyone take up photography as a hobby. But I do suggest starting to look at the world through eyes similar to those of a photographer, where everything is a possible work of art and beauty seems to be in more places than you ever noticed before. Because suddenly sitting and waiting for the bus isn’t so boring anymore, standing in line at the DMV is not so excruciating (but probably still is a little bit), and having nothing to do isn’t such a waste of time. Quite the opposite; it gives you a chance to soak in your surroundings and be present and appreciative of what is happening right here, right now. And if we don’t see that, we might as well be missing the whole thing.