Why your camera acts like a teenager

Think like your digital camera. What does that mean? Read on!

If you can get past the "No Trespassing" and "Private-Stay out" signs posted on your teenager's door, you'll see the same thing your cameras sees every day—a mess.

 Like a teenager's bedroom, most of life is disorganized, and your camera captures everything it sees. Unfortunately, we photographers have a mind that sees selectively—focusing on our prey to the exclusion of all else.

Until you train it, your mind fixates on a subject and sees it like a poster: big, bold, and impressive. The camera doesn't. It sees a subject as it is—smaller than you think, a bit messy, and usually disorganized.


These two pictures show how to wrestle the digital camera's urge to show all (top) by using a simple background (above).

As little Sarah wobbles down the street for her first solo bike ride, you look at her through the viewfinder and in this glorious moment your emotions surge and your mind sees her huge and beaming--the only thing existing at that moment in time—at least in your mind. What does your camera see? A distant speck adrift in a world of clutter.

Not only does the camera diminish things, it sees everything: the telephone wires, the rubbish placed curbside for pickup, the distant yard fence that seems to merge with the bike, the neighbor walking her dog. Even advanced photographers, especially when confronted with an exciting or emotionally important subject, find it difficult to objectively look into the viewfinder and see beyond the subject to comprehend what the camera sees. If you can do that, then you can adjust accordingly and transform reality into the vision that the mind desires.

For practice, find a subject, photograph it, and then review it on the LCD and make a note of every object in the scene. This way you will convince yourself of the difficulty confronting you each time you take a picture.

Next time you find a subject that compels you to photograph it, take a breath and remind yourself to subdue your emotions and see what's actually in the scene. Then begin to exclude all things irrelevant to your purpose. Often that means isolating the subject, either by filling the frame with it or by choosing simple, complementary surroundings that let it stand out. You can fill the frame by moving in close or by using a telephoto setting.

Position the subject within the frame so it dominates and pulls in the viewer's eye. Whether it's rule of thirds, leading lines, selective focus, contrasty lighting, or creative rule-breaking, use composition that directs attention to the subject.

Look at the effects of light and shadow and adjust camera position accordingly, using fill light as necessary.

Fine tune by eliminating distractions, such as debris on the ground or unwanted objects (either literally by picking things up or by choosing an angle that excludes them).

Finally, use Adobe Photoshop to finish off what you couldn't do in the camera. Crop, dodge and burn, and saturate to focus energy on the subject.

The more you can see like the camera, the more you'll realize your vision.


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