Discovering my own way of seeing – photographically

A while ago, I posed the question “Why do I shoot what I shoot?” to myself. Lately, I have been trying to work out what ‘my style‘ is, which is kind of connected to my earlier question. So, over my December break last year, I made time for myself to complete Kent DuFault’s suggestions for discovering my own way of seeing (Kent’s suggested steps are in my previous post). I want my way of creating images to become something more conscious. 

Looking at the image at the top of this post… some questions spring to mind:

  • What prompts me to take photos like this?
  • How do I ‘see’ a photo in this?
  • What are the main compositional elements?

The process

I thought I’d share my process for this exercise, as it wasn’t as effortless as I thought it would be. I was quite amazed at what I discovered. Before I started, I thought that my preferences would be towards black and white images, macros of flowers and nature shots. I could not have been more wrong.

Here’s how it panned out and what I discovered …

Step 1

  • I decided to use 500px as the place to find, bookmark and study 20 images from other people that caught my attention in less than 5 seconds. I achieved this quite easily as there were so many beautiful images to choose from.
  • When I started the second part of step 1 however, I began to panic a little. How would I be able to find the consistent elements Kent talks of? My stomach got into a knot (you know the feeling), I distracted myself with a cup of tea. I almost abandoned the exercise but then I realised that in my day job I am an educational researcher, and I encounter this feeling often. I could do this! Once I’d realised this, things sub consciously clicked into place and I began to find a way to go about ‘researching‘ this for myself.
  • I jotted down a few elements in a grid as a guide. As I looked at the photos I had selected, this list grew (the final list is at the end of the post). I found that I could look at each photo and allocate a tally mark to various elements.
  • When I was done doing this for all 20 images, I counted up the tally marks in each element and looked at those elements that had the biggest number of tallies. This gave me the beginning of the clues for the way I see

Let’s use one of the photos I selected as an example:

67fa0b10-21b6-4044-9991-5ff6d3b3e73b_post

This image was sourced from 500px is called “Caged” and is by Tubb Meiko

For me, this image by Meiko has the elements of repeated pattern, lines, shapes, so I put tally marks under each of those elements.

Steps 2, 3 & 4

  • The next step was to identify my top 20 images that have the most likes, shares, comments from a social media site. I decided to use photos that have achieved some level of recognition on my 365 project site. Not so easy, as I have been on that site for about 3 years.
  • Anyway, I eventually narrowed it down to 20 images and I used the same approach as step 1, adding a few more elements as criteria.
  • Surprisingly, there were correlations between the two lists and I began to feel excited!

Steps 5 & 6

Choosing 20 of my best images, disregarding other people’s thoughts, proved to be harder than I thought and took me ages. I eventually gave up!

Kent points out that “discovering your way of seeing may not happen all at once….“, so I didn’t feel too bad. But from what I had already done, I was beginning to find clues to the way I see things when I take photographs.

What did I discover about my way of seeing?

Happily, I discovered that I am drawn to colour images, strong shapes, textures, lines and patterns, details, interesting light and shadows, particularly in images of buildings, land and seascapes. I’m not drawn to people (or portraits), which I think I subconsciously knew already.

Here’s one of my all time favourites, which has beautiful lighting, strong lines and shape (and surprisingly, people! Well it is always good to break the rules, yes?)

GHT railway and people

Trudging (C) Deborah Ann Stott 2015

Where to now, with my new found knowledge?

So now I need to apply what I have learnt so far when I take photographs. I like that I now have a more conscious idea of what I am drawn to and I am going to use 2017 to experiment with it and see where it takes me. I am looking forward to my journey of self-discovery.

The elements I used as criteria?

I used things like:

  • Horizontal / vertical format
  • B&W / Colour
  • Pattern / Shape / Line
  • Buildings / Cityscapes / Landscapes / People / Animals / Portraits
  • Light / Shadow
  • Macro / Wide Angle
  • Low / High POV etc.

I can highly recommend this process if you are a photographer who is trying to find ‘your style’. If you do try it I’d love to hear what you discover! If you enjoyed this article, please share it too!

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