See More Photographs

31.07.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course The best photography hacks by Tom Ang


Today’s hack is very simply stated but very interesting to unpack. It’s this: see more photographs. Note that I said, “see,” and not, “look at.” What’s the difference?

Most of us living in cities will look at thousands of images every day. There’s quite a bit of data that says the average urban person in the US sees around 5,000 advertisements a day. We know that anywhere you see an ad, you’re likely to see an image, and that’s very likely to be a photo. Then, we see photos from newspapers, magazines, TV, and let’s not forget those from our internet browsing.


Looking and Seeing

To most people, “looking” is pretty much interchangeable with “seeing.” But the distinction leads us to the heart of photography. The difference between looking and seeing is in what it means to you. Looking is practical in nature and can be low or without meaning. You look both ways before crossing the road. You look for parking.

When you see, you attach meaning. And when you have given it meaning, what you see can also lead to action. You see a car coming; you hold back from crossing. You see a space; you drive to it before anyone else gets there.

As a photographer too, you’re looking at the world all the time. But when you see a photograph, you move in to make a shot.


How to See Images

So, back to the hack. You look at thousands of images a day without thinking much about them. Perhaps one or two you’ll “Like” on your favorite picture-sharing or social networking site.

What I want you to try is to see photos with clearly focused attention.

How do you proceed? You ask questions. For example:

• Ask when your attention was caught. Why?

• Ask what kind of lighting that was. How did they get that effect?

• Ask where the photographer was, relative to the subject or scene.

• Interrogate the colors: are they natural, toned down, or pumped up?

When you see, really see, images, you will learn quickly.


Your Sources of Inspiration

It’s best to look at books of photos, but there are also many websites offering great images to look at. For this hack, I suggest you actually wean yourself off looking at social media and picture sites for, say, a whole week. That’s not too long, is it?

Here are a few resources you may like:

Library of Congress collections—a vast collection of historic work.

Victoria & Albert museum photography—a superb selection of historical and modern work.

Getty Images—creative images for top-class professional work of all kinds (Full disclosure: I am a Getty Images contributing photographer.)



Picking up from what we learned yesterday, can you guess what happens if you make a practice of interrogating images that are interesting to you? Yes! It becomes easier, almost automatic, and you will unconsciously absorb lessons direct from the great photographers! How’s that for a hack?

Tomorrow, we go technical, in case you’re finding these hacks to be too soft and blurred. We will look at how to get sharp images.

May the light be with you!



Recommended books

Photography: The Definitive Visual History by Dorling Kindersley, Tom Ang

A World History of Photography by Abbeville Press, Naomi Rosenblum


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