Develop A Photographer’s Eye

Guitar photo by Scott Bourne

An old-time, professional photographer once told me that we don’t get paid to take pictures. We get paid to see things that “normal” people do not. It took me several years to understand what he was trying to tell me, and when I figured it out, everything changed for me. Bare with me as I tell you a little story…

I once led a photo workshop to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Our group was there to photograph fall color and we had a cornucopia of opportunity everywhere we looked.

There were gorgeous streams surrounded by maple and birch trees that were exploding with color. There were leaves on the ground, on the road, in the trees, in the water, and it was truly amazing.

One of the students on the trip was from India. He had never seen anything like it. He did admire the beauty. But over and over during the workshop, he kept approaching me and my co-leader saying “I don’t get it. What is there to photograph here?”

Some people have an eye. Others have yet to develop it. Regardless of your camera budget, if you have an eye or can develop it, you will go far in photography.

The purpose of this post isn’t to determine whether or not you have an eye, or even how to develop it. It’s to get you thinking about it and to get you SEEING as something new.

Ansel Adams used to scout with no camera in hand. Just a notebook. Making notes and creating sketches, he gathered all this visual data in hopes that he could be inspired to pre-visualize a photograph. Perhaps months or even years later he would go back to those places; this time camera in hand, and make images that are still talked about today, long after his death.

I have tried (as hard as I can) to get people to open up the part of their soul that has nothing to do with camera or lens. Unfortunately, in today’s instant gratification-hungry world, it’s rare to find someone who will look past the superficial to find something special. Everyone just wants a magic camera, or lens, or camera setting or post-processing, preset. Unfortunately there is no magic anything. What there is well, that is all about SEEING. I know there are few of you but all I need to want to share this story is you few. There are still some among you who understand that there is something more to photography than gear.

And it’s you I am talking to. I want to encourage you to “feel” your way to a photograph.

Let me explain…

I love the intersection of music and photography, since I am both a photographer and a musician. One of the most important lessons I learned while studying music was that I should treat my musical instrument as a vehicle for expressing myself. In my case, the guitar – it exists to help me share my point-of-view and my feelings. I can use it to express my emotions and hopefully, the music I create to bring others along with me on a journey past the superficial and onto something more meaningful.

Guess what. The camera is just like the guitar in that situation. The camera exists simply to help us express ourselves. Far more important than which f/stop we use or which focal length lens we want, is having something to say – being able to look for things that help us to express ourselves visually, and to look past the instant gratification stage of our lives and to move on to something deeper. . . something that is keyed in to our emotions.

I will write more about this but for now, look at lots of photographs and start asking yourself is that something that moves you and if not, can you find something that does.

Guitar photo by Scott Bourne

I use the illustration of one of my guitars featured in this post as an example. I love my guitars. I love guitars in general. I love guitar music. I love guitar players. I love anything and everything related to guitars. So it follows that I should have a point-of-view when it comes to photographing guitars. I want to peel back the onion so to speak with my guitar photos and reveal only that which is necessary to get people begging for more.

So rather than make a simple photo of my guitar, head stock to strap button, I decided to use composition tools and lighting techniques to express myself. I wanted to capture just a hint of the guitar. My hope is that this illustrates the allure for the instrument that fills my soul. Maybe it works, or maybe it doesn’t. But that’s the point of SEEING. You find something that moves YOU. It’s up to you. Let everyone else decide for themselves. but don’t wait on their permission. You do you.

Sound like rubbish to you? No problem. This post wasn’t meant for you. If it sounds like something that reaches you inside and where you want to go with your creative pursuits, then stay tuned. I will be writing about this subject more often. Unfortunately there is only a small audience for such posts, but I will write them in any event because I wish I had known about this aspect of photography years before I figured it out.

And one last thought – whether or not you like the image I made of the guitar use it as inspiration to start you on a path to finding something you can photograph and take an approach that goes beyond the expected. Thrill your audience. Thrill yourself. Thrill me. I am rooting for you.


Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com or Alan at alansamhunts@gmail.com or Gary at: gfarber@huntsphoto.com. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.