Creative Exercise – Learn to See More

First of all, make sure it is an interesting day! Secondly, this is not about you but taking the time to see more of the world that exists around you every single day.

Now that I have more of an interesting intro for the Facebook leader post, let’s start from the start.

I was recently interviewed by Photographer Stories and was asked a question about how I got started. Without boring you to the point of insanity, one of the most formative exercises I did was take a Holga plastic toy camera and a bunch of film with me to work one day. I shot what I saw all day, from the early morning commute from San Francisco to Oakland where I worked, until I returned through the front door of our apartment building.

I think it was this one single day that really defined the genre of photography that I have pursued to this day – Street Photography. I had a nice new Nikon D80, which was a ripping camera, but had been dabbling in film with the Holga. I quickly found that the dreamy plastic lens and vignetting on the Holga seemed to be perfectly suited to transforming street scenes into something wonderful.

At the start of the morning (back in 2007!), I thought I was documenting a day in my own life. By the time mid morning had come around, I realised it was not about me. It was about seeing more of the world that passes me by every day, and recognising the beauty of the everyday.


Here are four of my favourite images from the day. The image featuring the car, and the image of the bat signal are two of my favourite framed prints at home!

This one day, spent with a camera on me all day, was the final step in deciding to pursue street photography. Enough of the story, what did I do and what did I learn?

The How

Commit to carrying a camera around with you for a full day. Make sure you are going to be doing something suitable. Driving on freeway to and from an office in the outer suburbs is probably not going to deliver enough opportunities. Think about a day when you are going somewhere for the better part of a day. Maybe going to a sport game on the train and having lunch beforehand? Or it could be something as simple as a shopping trip into the CBD for the day.

Whatever it is that you do, make sure that you are covering a lot of ground, preferably on foot and public transport.

Commit to a schedule where you are compelled to take a shot at regular intervals. Force the issue with a timer on your phone or stopwatch. That doesn’t mean you cannot take more, it is about setting a minimum. I recommend every ten minutes.

Every ten minutes find a subject and shoot it. Every. Ten. Minutes. Without fail. Or maybe every 30 minutes – what ever suits you best. Just make sure it is often enough to bother you a little bit…

It may only be for particular periods of your day. For example, if was to replicate the exercise used here, I would have only taken shots on the way to work, at lunch, and on the way home.

Use a film camera, if you have one. The day exercise is targeted at taking single, great shots, one at a time. A film camera is perfectly suited to this. I would recommend getting a cheap Holga and some C41 film for this exercise if you can afford it.

If you only shoot digital, switch off your LCD screen. Commit to only taking single shots – no multiple tries and chimping. Just take the shot and move on. Do not review the results until the end of the day.

What You Might Experience and Learn

1. Learn to See the World.

Forcing an image every ten minutes compels you to find something in proximity no matter how ordinary the environment may seem. You will quickly learn to “see” things as potential subjects when you are forced to. There are images everywhere. The ten minute rule forces you to look harder…

2. See the Next Shot.

Delaying gratification will help you spend more time looking for images rather than your LCD screen. The constant “chimping” – checking your LCD screen after every shot can be a useful feedback tool for technique, but can distract you from the next shot. This exercise is all about “the next shot” – so do your best to resist the need to chimp and, instead, start looking for the next image opportunity. After all, the clock is ticking!

3. Becoming more impulsive.

There is always a reason not to take the shot. Am I in the best spot? Will I get the camera up in time in terms of timing? And so on. By the time you have had the internal debate the opportunity as evaporated. The potential person has moved out of range. The scene has changed. The tram has moved forward. Learn to be more spontaneous and have a bias for action. Never miss another shot.

4. You can only use the camera you have on you.

Learn to keep a camera with you more often. And learn to keep it ready to fire – rather than tucked away in a bag with the lens cap on. Keep it in your pocket or around your neck.


The Results

The day started with me thinking I was going to document my life. When I received the images from the lab, I realised that the best images resulted from when I was in transit – moving from one place to another. On the way to work, in the morning. Going for lunch. And travelling home.

The images from when I was stationary – like the early morning shot of the bed the moment I had gotten up – were the weakest and least interesting.

Here is the whole set for you to make up your own mind as to which images work best.

One Response to “Creative Exercise – Learn to See More”

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