When it comes to exercising one’s eye for pictures, there are many elements to become conversant in: light values (source, indirect – reflected, surfaces, angles and qualities of light per season and latitude), composition (timing and shutter speed of capture, aperture and depth-of-field, focal length of lens/angle of view, alone and in conjunction, lines, proportion, positioning, fore – mid- background, shadow and light), and subject treatment (alone, in context, in contrasting setting, applying filters – lighting – hdr or other influences); not to mention post-processing options and advisability to enhance and clarify versus over-do and separate viewer from intended subjects. Typically of a new photographer’s mind and eye there is a sequence of steps on the road to maturity and developing one’s “voice” –to use a writer or musician expression for the confident walk that a person is able to take once having mastered conventional elements and rules in order to express one’s original compositing, pastiche, or indeed expression and message.
A beginner in the digital camera age has the advantage over the film learner because result of experimenting are instantaneous and the easy and low cost of sharing or producing various printed versions is relatively easy to learn and do singly or in multiples. Thus the cycle of trial and error is sped up thanks to digital cameras, including the ubiquity of cellphone lens and sensors and apps to alter or improve what the phone sees in order approximate what the human eye perceived in a place or time worthy of capture and communication to others. Some of familiar milestones on the road to greater photo experience of seeing, thinking and capturing/producing images include these: cliche shots (well worn compositions from family, work, or community events: blowing out candles of birthday cake, first day of school, sunset at vacation spot, etc), self aware or ironic shots (self in mirror, or reflected in windows; pictures of others taking pictures), visual puns or jokes (antenna that appear to come from one’s head or the shot of a hand that seems to hold a cloud in it), verbal jokes (bumper stickers, posters, public service messages framed against a subject that supports or else contradicts the message; example, “no smoking” but a hand holding lit cigar is foregrounded).
Little by little one’s ability to overcome challenging lighting (mixed, less than ideal, harsh, artificial color temperature), inconvenient shooting environment (rain, windchill, storm conditions, extended effort to get into position, miscellaneous adversity of natural, linguistic, or cultural factors) and the experience to translate what one conceives visually into the limitations of one’s equipment and sensor grows stronger and stronger. One’s sensitivity to the language of light, color, texture and so forth increases; both the ability to “read” and understand these matters, and the ability to “speak” or express oneself in these terms.
The photo sharing sites, and before that the pre-Internet practice of building up visual vocabulary by browsing shelves of library books in the TR 680 classification (Library of Congress system of numbering books) or 770s (Dewey Decimal system), is one way to expand and deepen one’s awareness of locations and qualities of light that others have conveyed already. In so doing daily, one’s learning curve and fluency in the language of lens and light accelerates. The complementary part of seeing other’s work is to be responsive to photo opportunities of interesting location and captivating light qualities in one’s own daily routines. Carrying some form of camera in a holster for quick draw shooting of fleeting scenes is one way to make visual notes during one’s day and year. Some people go further and share their work in a daily blog, 365 or Photo-a-Day, project. Both sides of the exercise –becoming responsive to certain features and qualities from other’s work, becoming responsive to subjects in one’s own photography— work together to move one along the learning curve. Marking “favorite” in the photo sharing sites builds up a collection of images that allow some reflection and searching for the common elements that speak to one’s own eye. The same is true in periodically reviewing one’s own captures to discover what seems to be the connecting thread in one’s shots.