Visual Exercises for Photographers

The Internet is filled with hundreds of tutorials on how to use what gear and why, but very little of it really focuses on how to become a great photographer. In fact, some people confuse getting the gear and mastering techniques with being a good (or even great) photographer, but professional filmmaker and photographer Sean Tucker would disagree. In the video below he gives some practical tips to help you develop your “photo-awareness” in everyday situations, an awareness that will hopefully inspire you to “shoot more often, with more abandon, and to develop your photography as art, not science”:

“Just like owning a paint brush doesn’t make you an artist, owning a camera does not necessarily make you a good photographer.”

There are a lot of wonderful things this age of technology has given us, and yet that same technology can often lead us down the rabbit hole of gear lust: wanting the next best thing to make our photography great. And yet, according to Tucker, that gear lust can get in the way of developing the photographer in you. Mastering the latest in photography or post-processing techniques can help our images, but only if we’ve developed the eye for them in the first place. There’s an art to photography, and no amount of gear or technique can erase that. As Tucker says,

“Developing yourself as a human being, learning about the world around you, living an interesting life, learning to see and notice what’s really around you so you can express it, this is what develops the great photographer in you.”

Learning to see what's around you

His “visual exercise” is pretty straightforward: simply take long walks through the city (or nature) and use only a cell phone as a camera. Because there’s no fancy controls on his phone, he has to compose his shot exactly as he wants it to show up in the final image.

“Everything that’s in the frame needs to be in the correct place. I can’t cheat through a shallow depth of focus or thinking that something is going to be blurred out and not noticed.”

Now, I doubt that shooting with a shallow depth of focus is inherently lazy or that walking around with a cell phone is the only way to develop your photographer’s eye. Yet Tucker does have a point concerning getting out there and not hiding behind your fancy gear; learning to compose your photos with nothing but the simplest of cameras is a great way to develop your eye and artistry. And paying attention to the life that’s happening right in front of you will not only develop your photographer’s sense, it may very well expand your horizon as a human being. Too often we get lost in our own little worlds, ignoring the life that’s happening all around us. Taking frequent walks with improvisational photography in mind can bring us back to the here and now, perhaps even surprising us with its beauty and uniqueness.

walk and interact with life while it’s happening

“My challenge to you is to walk the space around you. Get out of the car, get off the bus, walk and interact with life while it’s happening.”

And if you’re not into using the a smartphone as a camera, take yourself on a walk through your city or hometown with just a prime lens and a single f-stop. Or set it to auto and don’t let yourself crop the photos when you return. Keep the settings simple and make the exercise about capturing what you see. You might find yourself seeing life through a whole other lens.

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One response to “Visual Exercises for Photographers”

  1. Larry Mc says:

    Sean Tucker’s message about getting back out to seeing what’s around us is something we all need to do more of. Nice reminder and well presented!

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