Training your Eye for Photography


It took many failed shots, many failed attempts to do what you read on those camera magazines and the result wasn't always perfect. That's how analog photography was in its heyday.

I started shooting on those point and shoot 110 cameras. No brainers really, they were fun...and limited in every aspect. I was in high school and there wasn't any money to buy better gear. I used my Dad's Minolta SRT which still works now, but the thing was far too heavy a responsibility for me to carry around if I accidentally lost it.

Besides, I spent whatever money I had on Popular Photography Magazine, and that had to pay off. You learn to use techniques featured to capture interesting photography. Take for example the Orton Slide Sandwich or double exposure. For me, I started to experiment with 110 cartridge film double exposure by taking one exposure and going to a dark place to open the camera, take out the film cartridge and winding the next frame in camera before putting the film cartridge back in. It worked!

The Orton Slide Sandwich was a failure though, I got a slide duplicator and sandwich two slides in between them to see what you got....the Orton technique wasn't rocket science. How you determine your line of sight needs some training. This is what people refer to as the Photographer's Eye.

What you see is what you Get

The first steps towards good imaging is that you have to engage your brains and heart all at the same time. I know that digital photography has changed things to the point that you don't really wait for a moment to happen but rather just fire away. What you see in frame is what you get. That's a whole lot easier than shooting with a compact film camera like the 110 camera I started with.

Learning to compose isn't that difficult. With digital, your learning curve is much lower. With every shot you make on a digital camera doesn't cost you a cent, shooting film on the other hand does cost you dearly.

Michael Doohan. Copyright Benard Quek
When I was shooting film, I could not afford to waste the moment. You had 36 frames and if you actually ran out of film at a crucial moment, you'd have lost that one moment while you were busy switching rolls.

The judicious use of film was crucial and you had to learn to spot the moment. You could of course carry two cameras but in the days of analogue you only did so because you carried different stocks of film in each camera. If you had one roll of slide in one camera, you'd carry b/w or faster slide film in the other. You did so as to avoid replicating what you are shooting with one camera to the next. People these days shoot countless selfies i the toilet. That's how cheap it is to capture a picture.

Today, with digital, you don't have to worry about this since you can dial in the filters even after shooting them. Post processing allowed you to do lots of stuff later. In analogue, you can't. The roll had to be processed, and to do any kind of post production, you had to scan them. Digital images on the other hand could easily be edited in-camera. No need to worry about highlights or blowouts. In RAW format, you can recover that in post processing.

Composition is Key

People often ask, what's the most important thing to learn in photography. For me, it was only one thing...composition. How you place you subjects within a frame mattered. Everything else is secondary.

Copyright Benard Quek

When I started in analogue, I didn't know that until much later. Then after countless rolls, you get the idea that you can compose better pictures by taking it from various angles and placing objects in the frame according to a grid of thirds. Once you get this, there is nothing else to learn as digital cameras often do everything for you, from calculating the right exposure to the white balance settings.

In film, we had so much more to worry about. White Balance had to be corrected using colored filters. And if you were shooting slide film like Kodachrome, the exposure latitude is very narrow and if you miss it, you are totally fucked. The wrong exposure will leave you with a unusable picture.

Learn to be Aware of your Surroundings

When you get up in the morning walk down the path to your nearest Starbucks, your level of awareness is not at the optimum. This is why you need to train your level of awareness to be alert for photo opportunities. Think of yourself as a hunter, except that you're on the look out for picture perfect moments. 

Copyright Benard Quek

In the digital age, we have a camera by our side all the time. Your smartphone is your weapon of choice. So learn to use it. 

By being aware of what is going on around you, everyday things starts to take on a different dimension. It becomes a challenge on how you can capture it as a good picture. You become aware of the angles, the dimension of given to your by the chose focal length of the lens, that sort of stuff.

You then realize that by training your eye constantly to look out for such things that it becomes second nature to you to chose the best angle and the best composition allowed.

Be Smart and See what Others See

After being exposed to a place or location for too long, you don't get to see much as you have seen it all before this is why photographers who want to build their eye for composition need to get out, see new things and get new inspiration. You get the lazy eye and you stop looking for picture moments. 

This helps to alleviate 'photographers fatigue' which often happens when you keep going back to the same place too often. I do agree that some places are just plain boring but it is for you to challenge the norm and come out with a picture to tell the tale. Other times, you get plain lazy to get out of the car just to snap a picture when you see one.

Once you have the Photographer's Eye, it remains with you until you consciously learn to turn it off. You learn to spot moments along the street, or as you go out for lunch and dinner and see something which you can do to make a beautiful picture.

Photography today is more accessible more than ever for people to take it up as a hobby and you don't need big heavy equipment for this like in the old days.

I started capturing photos used in print magazines using two used cameras, a Nikon FE2 and a Nikon FM2. The learning experience was extremely valuable but when transitioned to the digital age, most of what you needed to know no longer applied. All you need was your eye for a good picture and the camera would do the rest.